Appearance & Reality - Form & True Nature
Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded about realization are ordinary beings.
~Shōbōgenzō, Genjō-kōan, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
This passage from Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, perfectly presents Zen’s response to the basic question, “What is the true essence of the things, beings and events we experience as objects appearing in and as the world.” That true essence is, “The very forms of the things, beings, and events precisely as they appear (i.e. exactly as we experience them).” A “Buddha” is a Buddha by the very fact of being aware that (awake to) the “true nature” of things, beings, and events is not other than, and nowhere else but in and as those things, beings, and events as they are (as they exist, hence, as they are experienced).
True, this conclusion directly contradicts the assertions of many contemporary Zen teachers that contend the “true nature” or “reality” of the world is beyond our capacity to experience, or other than the world we actually perceive. That it contradicts popular Zen notions, however, does not mean it is inaccurate, or that Dogen misspoke or was erroneously edited, etc. This message, which is only one of many wherein Dogen and contemporary Zen often diverge widely, is not only repeated throughout Dogen’s works, it is a central characteristic of it. The repeated emphasis, almost a refrain, in the works of Hee-Jin Kim on the priority of the “reconstructive” rather the “deconstructive” element of emptiness in Dogen is reason enough to insist that the fact that this aspect of Zen continues to be largely ignored in the contemporary discussion is unjustified to the point of gross negligence. Setting aside any question about right or wrong, when contemporary Zen teachers proclaim that the reality or true nature of the world is not the world we perceive, they are asserting a view that is diametrically opposed to Dogen’s Zen. In fact, according to Dogen, even the view that the real world is something other than the world as it is, is itself is a mistaken view of the real world as it is.
The triple world is as the triple world is seen, and a view of something other than the triple world is a mistaken view of the triple world…
Great Master Śākyamuni says, “It is best to see the triple world as the triple world."
This view is the triple world itself. This triple world is just as it is seen.
~Shōbōgenzō, Sangai-yuishin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
In Dogen’s Zen, the true nature of any and every form is “just as it is seen” – mountains, stars, and fences, dreams, illusions, and spots in the air – are, as they are, the true nature of reality as it is. As a Buddhist master, Dogen was particularly concerned with the significance of this truth in connection to Buddhist forms, especially Buddhist expressions. Some of the most colorful language of Shobogenzo appear as repudiations of views suggesting that the reality of Buddhist expressions might exist independently of their forms. According to Dogen, the expression of a Buddha is nondual with the form of that Buddha, the very body-mind of that Buddha; thus, such suggestions are not only delusional, they are slanderous. It is no wonder, then, why Shobogenzo heaps such intense scorn on notions suggesting that Buddhist expressions are “merely provisional,” and often goes so far as to identify the advocates of such views as demons and beasts.
Dogen’s colorful, often humorous repudiations of “little shavers,” “bands of demons,” “wild beasts,” and the like provide not only good entertainment, they provide us with the assurance that the lifeless “Zen” of charlatanism and institutional formality so prevalent today is not a new phenomenon. Moreover, Dogen’s frequent technique of clearly articulating deluded or wrong views and approaches common to quacksalvers and deluded teachers offer a wealth of guidance on spotting them in our own day, thus avoiding being mislead by distorted views and teachings. In this connection, there are a variety of popular notions about Zen enlightenment suggesting that “true nature,” “reality,” or “Buddhahood” has to do with something immanent in the things, beings, and events of the world, something concealed within, behind, or underlying the forms ever-appearing before our eyes here-and-now – as if these very “forms” and “appearances” were mere forms and appearances, rather than the actual manifest forms and appearances of reality itself, the Tao as it is, the very face of God, the actual voice of Buddha. In Dogen’s Zen, such views are the very epitome of the unenlightened condition, the common denominator of those bound by the shackles of ego-centricity.
Their state is such that they deludedly imagine that after the triple world and the ten directions which we are experiencing in the present have suddenly dropped away, then the Dharma-nature will appear, and this Dharma-nature will be other than the myriad things and phenomena of the present. The true meaning of the Dharma-nature can never be like that. This universe of things and phenomena, and the Dharma-nature, have far transcended discussion of sameness and difference and have transcended talk of disjunction or union. Because they are beyond past, present, and future; beyond separation and constancy; and beyond matter, perception, thought, action, and consciousness, they are the Dharma-nature.
~Shōbōgenzō, Hōsshō, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
The only “dilemma” as to the difference or sameness between the true nature or Dharma nature of things, beings, and events and the forms in which things, beings, and events appear is, it turns out, only a “dilemma” for those that make it a dilemma by “adding legs to a snake,” to use the Zen phrase. In other words, a thing, being, or event is – as it is – a thing, being or event. It is only by attempting to divide a thing, being, or event into a “true nature” and an “appearance” that we come up against a dilemma.
To clarify, consider an actual dog, manifest before us here-and-now; this dog is the true nature of this dog, this dog is the very form appearing as this dog. Take away the true nature, and you take away this dog; take away the form, and you take away this dog – this dog’s form is nondual with this dog’s Dharma-nature, not even a laser-scalpel can cut them in two. The division of a dog’s (or anything else’s) appearance from its true nature can only be accomplished by the conceptual capacity of abstract speculation; the result of such a division gives rise to (actualizes; begets) a new, real, existent thing or dharma, this new element of reality is called a mistaken view, a deluded notion, a hindrance, or, as in the present case, a dilemma.
From the Zen perspective, the very appearance “of things and phenomena” and the true nature of things and phenomena are far beyond speculative “discussion of sameness and difference” and transcend conceptual hypothetical “talk of disjunction or union.” The actual things, beings, and events manifest right here, right now – as right here, right now – are “beyond past, present, and future,” thus “they are the Dharma-nature.” Because this dog is this appearance (and no other), the form of this dog and the true nature of this dog are “beyond separation and constancy” and beyond divisions of “matter” (from mind), and of “perception, thought, action, and consciousness” (from appearance, substance, agent, and phenomenon), “they are the Dharma-nature” as it is.
Please treasure yourself,