Monday, August 27, 2012

(Pre-"Soto") Soto Style Koan Introspection in Dogen's Zen

(Pre-"Soto") Soto Style Koan Introspection in Dogen's Zen

The final exceptional passage in the Goyuigon concerns the content of Zen enlightenment and its relationship to koan training. Gikai prefaces this conversation with Ejo by stating: “During the prior meditation period, I was aided by our former teacher’s great enlightenment situation, the shinjin datsuraku words.” …in this passage… the words “shinjin datsuraku” represent a stock phrase or device (i.e., an “old example,” kosoku or koan) for contemplation during meditation. This use of shinjin datsuraku as a formal meditation device is confirmed by the fact that Ejo then tested Gikai’s understanding by asking him to present an “appended phrase” (jakugo, i.e. a passage… summing up the meaning of a koan.) Their dialogue is as follows:
Gikai: I have attained an insight based on our former teacher’s saying, “shinjin datsuraku.”
Ejo: Good. Good. What do you understand?
Gikai: I understand “datsuraku shinjin.”
Ejo: What is the meaning?
Gikai: I had thought only (my) barbarian beard was red, but here is another red-bearded barbarian.”
Ejo: Among the many permitted [answers to] shinjin [datsuraku], there is this kind of shinjin.
This conversation has been quoted in full because it reveals three practices usually thought to be incongruous with the method of Zen practiced in early Soto. It implies that Gikai had been occupied with Dogen’s words during his meditation; that Ejo used koan instruction as part of the dharma succession process; and that formal quotations of stereo-typed expressions were used to test the understanding of the koan. Modern Soto scholars cannot accept the Goyuigon account at face value, because to do so would force them either to revise their usual interpretation of Dogen’s Zen as a religion of unmediated meditation or to attempt to argue that both Ejo and Gikai had failed to understand Dogen’s teachings.
William M. Bodiford, Soto Zen in Medieval Japan, pp.55-56

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The True Nature of Existence, Experience, and Nonduality in Dogen's Zen

The True Nature of Existence, Experience, and Nonduality in Dogen's Zen


(Excerpt from the Flatbed Sutra Zen Newsletter Jan. 2012)

As the fundamental elements of reality in Dogen's cosmology, "dharmas" are primary and primordial, the manifestation and the source of the universe (self/world). In Dogen's writings, which maintain a particularly strict (radical?) adherence to the principles of nonduality, dharmas (objective or subjective) are always viewed and treated as qualitatively equal in regard to the significance of their reality, importance, value, and meaning - a dream, a concept, and a fleeting thought are as real, important, valuable, and meaningful as a pebble, a cup, a scripture, and a solar system.

[Note: Staying mindful that Buddhism regards "mind" as one of the sense organs (with eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body) and "thoughts" as its "objects" of perception keeps us from becoming too abstract about the notion of "objects" (dharmas); all "the myriad dharmas" amount to (and only to) "six objects of consciousness" (sights, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile sensations, and thoughts).]


In Buddhism, all divisions between objective and subjective dharmas are recognized as conceptual conveniences, not metaphysical or literal facts. Thus, to say that dharmas constitute the fundamental elements of reality, is simply to acknowledge that they cannot be analyzed into "more fundamental" elements - in this context dharmas can be discussed "as if" separate entities, only by accounting for their interdependence and stressing the import of maintaining a conscious understanding that dharmas are impervious to generalization, classification, and categorization, as well as literal description or definition. For, according to the principles of nonduality (i.e. nonduality/duality) each dharma is recognized as a coextensive realization or exemplification that is both nondual and dual - each dharma is one with all things (nondual; indistinct and undifferentiated) and unique, one-and-only instance of existence-time (uji) (dual; a distinct element, one of the many). The nonduality/duality of "nonduality" is the true nature of dharmas that is often designated in Buddhism as "thusness" (immo). "Thusness" is the "as it is" reality of dharmas.


The two aspects of the nonduality of dharmas (i.e. nonduality/duality) can be generally understood thus: "the "nonduality" aspect of dharmas is their unequivocal real existence (ontology) in/as the universe (i.e. the totality of existence-time); and: the "duality" aspect of dharmas is their irreplaceable uniqueness, their one-and-only place-moment (dharma-position) in/as the universe (which is what makes them impervious to classification, literal definition, etc). The Buddhist recognition of the "thusness" of dharmas, then, is recognition of the inherent denial of any likeness among dharmas adequate for precisely accurate comparability; a dharma is exactly as it is - it is not exactly like any other dharma.


In his criticisms of "Indian Naturalism" (particularly the "Senika School"), for instance, Dogen outlines the obstructive potential of views or theories that posit (or imply) a noumenal nature or aspect of dharmas. Thus, the affirmation that "dharmas are always phenomenal" is followed-up with the assertion that "dharmas are never noumenal." In expressing the obvious - an obvious negative at that - this assertion may seem superfluous, but its significance is important in light of certain notions prevalent in Dogen's day, as well as within the contemporary Zen community.


The particular notions that make it important to understand dharmas "are not noumenon" primarily involve views on the nature and role of language, thinking, and reason in Zen practice-enlightenment. More specifically, within the contemporary Zen community the prevailing views - which are variable and indistinct, thus more accurately "general notions" - that regard language, thinking, and reason as less important or inferior to other aspects of practice-enlightenment (particularly seated meditation; i.e. zazen, shikantaza, etc.). Not infrequently, such notions go beyond views of inferiority and demonstrate a tendency to see language, thinking, and reason as nonessential, dispensable, or even as hindrances to Zen practice-enlightenment.


Such notions, especially the more extreme forms, are rarely explicitly stated. First, most of those holding such views are doing so unconsciously (or largely so); second, when such notions are explicitly articulated they tend to collapse rapidly due to their inherent lack of logic as well as their failure to harmonize with Buddhist principles. They fail to harmonize with Buddhist principles because they are inherently dualistic. The inherent dualism of such notions is sometimes extremely subtle, not only because it is expressed in vague or ambiguous language (implicit rather than explicit), but also because it is typically couched in terms of "nonduality." Thus, it is crucial to understand that dharmas are "not noumenal" in order to see through, avoid, or overcome wrong views (dualistic notions) that are largely unconscious, often subtle, widespread, and possessed of the power to obstruct accurate understanding (not to mention authentic practice-enlightenment).


To help clarify this, we will begin by observing the following quote of the contemporary Soto Zen master, Shohaku Okumura:


...Dogen Zenji is discussing this relationship between the self and all beings. He is pointing out that we like things we think are useful, meaningful, or valuable, but we dislike or ignore things that do not suit us. This evaluation occurs within the relationship between self and the myriad dharmas, but there is no such dichotomy within the reality of the myriad dharmas. Within the relationship between self and all beings, there is good and bad, positive and negative, right and wrong. We don't really see the myriad dharmas as they are. We think about things we encounter and name them, assign value to them, and put them into categories such as good and bad, valuable or worthless, likable or unlikable. Our life is actually formed by what we encounter because we create our own world of likes and dislikes based on how we categorize the things we meet. Within this world of likes and dislikes, we do not perceive the myriad dharmas as they really are. Things we like and things we hate look bigger than they are, and things we are not interested in become small or invisible to us. The world we live in is the world we create based on how our mind encounters the myriad dharmas, We cannot prevent our mind from creating our world as it does, but it is possible to realize that the world of our creation does not reflect true reality.

Shohaku Okumura, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo, p.49


[Note: Okumura's comments attempt to elucidate a passage of the Genjokoan fascicle of Shobogenzo. The passage in question (as translated by Okumura) is, "Therefore flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them. Conveying oneself towards all things to carry out practice-enlightenment is delusion. All things coming and carrying out practice-enlightenment through the self is realization. Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded in realization are living beings. Furthermore, there are those who attain realization beyond realization and those who are deluded within delusion."]


First, this is one teacher's interpretation of one passage of one fascicle of one writing by Dogen - thus it should not be considered as a full or accurate indication of Shohaku Okumura's views, much less Dogen's; that is not our purpose in citing it. What this passage does present is an unusually explicit account of a subtle form of dualism common to the general view we been discussing. As mentioned, there are many variations of this view, thus this passage should not be taken as representing a "universal view" of the contemporary Zen community or even the Soto Zen community. Nevertheless, it is my experience that the basic notion expressed here generally accords with the views held by a majority of contemporary Zen practitioners, especially those identified with Soto Zen.


Now, Okumura's comments diverge from the classic Zen teachings on a number of points - all of which are grounded on the dualistic presupposition succinctly revealed in his statement, "We don't really see the myriad dharmas as they are." This statement presupposes the same subtle form of dualism found in a variety of common "Zen" expressions like, "The true nature of reality cannot be perceived," "The forms we see are illusory," "The 'appearance' of things is relative (or provisional) while their 'essential nature' (emptiness) is absolute" (i.e. ultimate, real), "The world we perceive is not thusness as is," etc.


There is one flaw inherent to all such statements (i.e. dualism), and there are two traits that reveal this flaw; first, its violation of a basic Buddhist principle, second, the speciousness of its basis. In the first case, for Okumura's assertion to be true there would have to be more than one reality (a "false" one we see, and a "real" one we don't see) - this would violate the Buddhist teaching of emptiness which unequivocally refutes the existence of independent entities. The second case presents a two-fold problem; a) the failure to account for or explain what or where "the real reality" (that we don't see) is, and, b) the failure to account for or explain how it is, or what means were used to attain or acquire the "knowledge of a reality" that "we don't or can't really see" - in short, how is/was it perceived that things "are not" as "they are" perceived? If they were truly "not as perceived" then "perceiving that truth" would instantly disprove that very proposition.


With this in mind, let's look a little closer at Okumura's expression. He speaks about a "relationship" between "the self and all beings" (synonymously with the "self and the myriad dharmas"). Next, he goes on to explain that we "don't really see the myriad dharmas as they are" because an "evaluation occurs" within this relationship that ultimately results in "the world we create" which "does not reflect true reality." This "evaluation" is described as a process in which we "think about things we encounter and name them, assign value" etc.


Here consider, what could this "relationship" consist of? According to Buddhism the "self" (experiencer) and "all beings" or "myriad dharmas" (experienced) are not two different things - each depends on and is dependent on by the other. Also recall that "thoughts" (including "evaluations") are regarded as one of the six kinds of "myriad dharmas." If this "evaluation occurs" as Okumura contends, then this evaluation itself must be qualified as a dharma - as it is - an expression of Buddha-nature. All dharmas are dharmas - as they are; thus Dogen often points out the Buddha-nature expressed as "doubt," "fear," and "surprise," even "wrong views" are real manifestations of Buddha-nature; a wrong view is, as it is, a wrong view.


This being so, the present is the "form as it is" of the state of experience, and even "alarm, doubt, and fear" are nothing other than reality as it is.

Shobogenzo,Hokke-ten-hokke, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


Now notice that Okumura includes the phrase asserting "there is no such dichotomy within the reality of the myriad dharmas." Why say this? This is a good example of what we mentioned earlier about dualistic views being couched in terms of nonduality; here it sounds as if "self and other" are being recognized as "nondual," while in fact they are actually being merged into one thing (or nothing). In failing to account for the distinction (not separation) between self and other, this "explanation" amounts to a casual dismissal of the infinite variety of the universe, the multitudinous array that make the dharmas "myriad" rather than "uniform." Dogen explains the basic fallacy of this view is based on a misunderstanding of the Buddhist teaching that "all things are empty." Rather than recognizing that this means "all things - as they are - are empty," they mistakenly think that "all things - despite or behind appearances - are empty." In short, they think that the "emptiness (non-form)" of things is separate from the "form (non-emptiness) of things." Dogen explains this, for instance, in Shobogenzo, Kenbutsu:


When people without eyes of learning in practice take up the Tathāgata's words "If we see the many forms [and] non-form. . ." they think, "To see the many forms as non-form is just to see the Tathāgata." In other words, they think the words describe seeing the many forms not as forms but as the Tathāgata. Truly, a faction of small thinkers will [inevitably] study the words like that, but the reality of the words which the Buddha intended is not like that...


Zen Master Dai Hōgen of Seiryō-in Temple says, "If we see the many forms [as] non-form, we are not then meeting the Tathāgata."


This expression of Dai Hōgen now is an expression in the state of meeting buddha... "Because this concrete form is just the form of the Tathāgata, we say that the many forms should be the many forms." This is truly a supreme discourse of the Great Vehicle, and the experience of the masters of many districts. Decisively determining it to be so, we should believe it and experience it. Do not be fluff following the wind to the east and to the west. "The many forms are the form of the Tathāgata, not non-form": investigating this and meeting buddha, deciding this and experiencing conviction, we should receive it and retain it, and we should recite it and become thoroughly versed in it.


Therefore, there is only one way to comprehend the state in experience, namely: "the many forms are already beyond non-form, and non-form is just the many forms." Because non-form is the many forms, non-form is truly non-form. We should learn in practice that the form called "non-form" and the form called "the many forms," are both the form of the Tathāgata.

Shobogenzo, Kenbutsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


In sum, the deluded notion that we "don't see the myriad dharmas as they are" can only be entertained by presupposing that dharmas are independent entities - that "objects of consciousness" exist independently of "conscious subjects"). This necessarily implies that our (subjective) self is also an independent entity. This is a clear violation of the basic Buddhist principle that regards dharmas as nondual essence/form unties. In Zen, all forms (all six types of objects) are real, as they are - and their reality is not different from their appearance. In Dogen's terms, "Nothing in the whole universe is concealed."


The realization of the Buddhist patriarchs is perfectly realized real form. Real form is all dharmas. All dharmas are forms as they are, natures as they are, body as it is, the mind as it is, the world as it is, clouds and rain as they are, walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, as they are; sorrow and joy, movement and stillness, as they are; a staff and a whisk, as they are; a twirling flower and a smiling face, as they are; succession of the Dharma and affirmation, as they are; learning in practice and pursuing the truth, as they are; the constancy of pines and the integrity of bamboos, as they are.

Shobogenzo, Shoho-Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


With a solid, practical grasp of these teachings comes a clear, even obvious, that each and every dharma is a phenomenon, and each and every phenomenon is a dharma. This also means that dharmas are never regarded as noumenon. Thus, we come to see that those demonstrating views that dharmas "are llusory," "are not as we perceive," "are temporary or provisional expedients," etc. are harboring, and hindered by, dualistic (non-Buddhist) viewpoints. In Dogen's cosmology, on the other hand, dharmas are never concealed, invisible, unverifiable, mysterious, or supernatural; rather, dharmas are always accessible as they are. Most significantly, dharmas exist, and the existence of each is of equal status in regard to its reality, importance, value, and meaning.


[Note: Our meaning of "phenomenon" and "noumenon" coincide with the first definitions offered by Encarta: phenomenon, 1. something experienced, a fact or occurrence that can be observed; and, noumenon, 1. something beyond the tangible world that can only be known or identified by the intellect, not by the senses.]


Dogen's emphasis on the phenomenal nature of dharmas serves to underscore their real, spatial-temporal, manifest existence. According to Dogen the true nature (essential reality, emptiness) of each and all particular dharmas is "as it is" (thusness). The significance of this becomes clearer as our study and practice increasingly expands our realization of the Buddhist principles of nonduality.


Let us try to bring all this together by considering Dogen's treatment of a saying by Daie Soko (Dogen's archetypal symbol for unreliable Zen masters):


A certain monk called Meditation Master Daie Sōkō, once said:


Folks today are fond of talking about mind and talking about nature, and because they are fond of talking about profundities and talking about wonders, they are slow to realize the Way. Since mind and nature form a duality, once these folks have discarded this duality, and have forgotten all about the profound and the wondrous as well, then dualities will no longer arise, and they will experience the Truth that the Buddha promised them.

Shobogenzo, Sesshin Sesshō, Hubert Nearman


Here we find a demonstration of the same subtle dualism inherent in the view expressed by Shohaku Okumura. It is doubtful that such a superficial view was really expressed by Daie Soko. Nevertheless, it is the view, not Daie, that Dogen is concerned with; and the way the view is voiced here captures the essential nature of the fallacy at the heart of even the most sophisticated forms of dualism. First, this view presents an almost perfect subversion of Dogen's own, as his comments make perfectly clear:


These remarks of his show that he was still unaware of the silken thread that binds the Buddhas and Ancestors together, nor had he comprehended what the lifeline of the Buddhas and Ancestors is. Accordingly, he only understood 'mind' to refer to discriminative thinking and consciousness, so he spoke this way because he had not learned that the various functions, such as discriminative thinking and consciousness, are what the intellective mind is. He wrongly viewed 'nature' to mean something that is abundantly clear and peacefully inactive, and did not understand whether Buddha Nature and the nature of all thoughts and things existed or did not exist. And because he had not seen his True Nature as It is, not even in his dreams, he had a false view of what Buddha Dharma is. The 'mind' that the Buddhas and Ancestors spoke of is the very Skin and Flesh, Bones and Marrow. And the 'nature' that the Buddhas and Ancestors have preserved is a monk's traveling staff and the shaft of a bamboo arrow. The Buddhas and Ancestors have profoundly realized the Buddhahood promised Them by the Buddha, and this is what is meant by being a pillar of the temple or a stone lantern. How wondrous it is that the Buddhas and Ancestors hold up and offer to us Their wise discernment and understanding!

Shobogenzo, Sesshin Sesshō, Hubert Nearman


[Note: Dogen's scorn for a teacher that "wrongly viewed 'nature' to mean something that is abundantly clear and peacefully inactive" makes us wonder what he might say of contemporary teachers that advocate "letting go of thoughts" or "just sitting without goals" (often appealing to the authority of "Dogen" as they do so!).]


Dogen's comments are clear enough, but it is worth stressing his emphasis that "the various functions" of mind are just what the "mind is" - as it is (thusness). Dogen's point, then, is that the very substance of the myriad dharmas is our experience - as it is- of them. The directly perceived image or form of a thing (dharma) is the thing itself. "An idea" is really "an idea" as it is, "an abstract concept" is true nature totally exerting itself as "an abstract concept."


The "general dualistic notion" we have been discussing is grounded in the same misunderstanding that caused Dogen to say Daie "did not understand whether Buddha Nature and the nature of all thoughts and things existed or did not exist." Notwithstanding the fact that many contemporary Zen teachers do not know the meaning of "Buddha nature" or "the nature of all thoughts and things" or even whether they exist or not, there is no reason for any genuine Zen practitioner to fail to verify it. Apart from "the nature of all thoughts and things" what is "Buddha nature"? Apart from "discriminative thinking and consciousness" what is "mind"?


Thus, for Dogen, the particularity, specificity, and uniqueness of things (dharmas) is far more important than their uniformity, equality, or mutual identity. So here are some juicy bits to get that Dharma-Eye lighted up:


And, just because sentient beings are always having their doubts about anything and everything that they have not directly experienced, this does not mean that what they may have previously doubted is the same as what they may now have doubts about, for doubts themselves are merely "just for the moment" kinds of time, and nothing more.


When you reach such a fertile field of seeing the way things really are, then the earth in its entirety will be "one whole sprouting, one whole form"; it will be comprised of forms that you recognize and forms that you do not, sproutings that you recognize and sproutings that you do not. It is the same as the times we refer to in "from time to time", which contain all forms of existenceand all worlds. So take a moment to look around and consider whether there is any form of being, that is, any "world", that does or does not find expression at this very moment of time.

Shobogenzo, Uji, Hubert Nearman


Buddha Nature is not the existence of something that arises arbitrarily or conditionally, for the whole realm of our being-which is Buddha Nature-is never hidden from us. But saying that the whole realm of our being is never hidden from us is not necessarily the same as saying that our physical world is what existence really is. The statement "The whole realm of my being is something that I possess" constitutes a false view of non-Buddhists. Buddha Nature is not the existence of something that one possesses at the start, for It pervades both our past and our present. It is not the existence of something that has arisen for the first time, for It does not partake of a single bit of illusory dust. It is not the existence of some particular being, for It encompasses all beings. It is not the existence of something that is beyond having a beginning, for It is something that makes Its appearance just in the way that It does. It is not the existence of something that has just come into being for the first time, for our ordinary, ever-present mind is synonymous with the Way.


Above all, you need to know that within this "having It through and through", sentient beings do not readily find an easy or pleasant way to encounter It. When you understand "having It through and through" in this manner, to have It through and through then means to penetrate Its very substance and to let all our notions and opinions about It drop off.

Shobogenzo, Bussho, Hubert Nearman


Keep in mind that, since the darkness of spiritual ignorance is inseparable from the One Whole Mind, deliberate acts, becoming aware of things, and so forth, are also inseparable from the One Whole Mind. Since the darkness of ignorance is inseparable from cessation, then deliberate acts, becoming aware of things, and so forth, are also inseparable from cessation. Since the darkness of ignorance is inseparable from nirvana, deliberate acts, becoming aware of things, and so forth, are also inseparable from nirvana. We can speak in this way because what arises is also what ceases. "The darkness of ignorance" is a phrase we use in talking. "Becoming aware of things", "giving them name and form", and so forth, are no different. Keep in mind that the darkness of ignorance, deliberate actions, and so forth, are not different from Seigen Gyoshi's saying to his disciple Sekito Kisen, "I have a certain Hatchet and would give It to you, should you choose to reside on this mountain with me." The darkness of ignorance, deliberate actions, becoming aware of things, and so forth, are not different from Sekito's responding, "At the time when I was sent to you, I received your promise of being allowed to have your Hatchet, Reverend Monk, and so I would like to receive It."

Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Hubert Nearman


When we speak of "what is set in motion by the flowering of the Dharma", we are referring to the mind's wandering off onto deluded paths. And the mind's delusive wandering, accordingly, refers to what is set in motion by the flowering of the Dharma. That is to say, our mind's wandering off is precisely what is set in motion by the Dharma's flowering. What this means is that, even though the mind's delusions are synonymous with the myriad thoughts and things that arise, the form their True Nature takes is what is aroused by the flowering of the Dharma. This "being set in motion" is not something to rejoice in, or watch for, or obtain, or arrive at; even so, what the Dharma's flowering sets in motion is precisely "neither two things nor three". Since the flowering of the Dharma is our having only One Vehicle to Buddhahood, because it is the flowering of the form of things as they really are, we speak of "being able to set in motion what moves". Even so, it is just the One Vehicle to Buddhahood, just the One Great Matter for which we train, just the ever-moving about of the mind as it is, and nothing more. So, do not reproach yourself for your mind's delusions. As the Scripture says, "Whatever is done by you is the way of bodhisattvas," and "The fundamental practice of the Bodhisattva Way is our serving and paying homage to all the Buddhas." Our opening up to this Way, manifesting It, awakening to It, and entering It are, all together, what is set in motion by the Dharma's flowering each and every time. There are our delusions about what is within the burning house, and our delusions about being at the threshold of the gate, and our delusions about what lies outside the gate, and our delusions about what being on the other side of the gate is like, and our delusions about being within the gate. Because, in our delusion, we give rise to such notions as "being within the gate" and "being beyond the gate", to say nothing of "being at the threshold of the gate" and "being within a burning house", we will, of necessity, open up to It, manifest It, awaken to It, and enter It whilst upon the cart drawn by the White Ox.

Shobogenzo, Hokke Ten Hokke, Hubert Nearman


The realization of the Buddhist patriarchs is perfectly realized real form. Real form is all dharmas. All dharmas are forms as they are, natures as they are, body as it is, the mind as it is, the world as it is, clouds and rain as they are, walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, as they are; sorrow and joy, movement and stillness, as they are; a staff and a whisk, as they are; a twirling flower and a smiling face, as they are; succession of the Dharma and affirmation, as they are; learning in practice and pursuing the truth, as they are; the constancy of pines and the integrity of bamboos, as they are.

Shobogenzo, Shoho-Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dogen, William Blake, and Hee-Jin Kim - 9 Full Bows

9 Full Bows to Dogen, William Blake, and Hee-Jin Kim...

Indeed, Dogen seems to embody the qualification of the ideal teacher that Confucious had in mind when he said: “He who by reanimating the Old can gain knowledge of the New is fit to be a teacher.”
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking: A Reflection on His View of Zen, p.xi

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could percieve.
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

I am not hoping to present a system by which to study Dogen—there is none.
Hee-Jin Kim, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, p.11

Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Dogen “reanimated” the archaic tradition of meditation. It was a hermeneutic imperative for him to live on the boundary where ancients and moderns met and engage them in dialogue. He now challenges us to do the same in a task that has no end. Perhaps that is the only way we can move beyond the ancients (including Dogen himself), and ultimately move beyond ourselves the moderns (and postmoderns).

In view of this, throughout the present work, I situate myself methodologically and hermeneutically at the intersection of Dogen’s Zen and our contemporary crisis, in an attempt to facilitate mutual communication and understanding as emphatically and critically as possible.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking: A Reflection on His View of Zen, p.xi

Thank you William Blake, Eihei Dogen, and Hee-Jin Kim for the wisdom to see the mythical, experiential, ever-advancing reality beyond the literal, speculative, and fixed forms and codes. Thank you even more for your courage to point out that the emperor was indeed a bit underdressed.

9 Full Bows


Thursday, August 09, 2012

On Zazen and Koans - A Response to Kogen

This post is in response to a comment from Kogen (Farmer monk) on the post Aug. 7 2012

Hello Kogen,
Thank you for writing.
To me it seems clear that every fascicle of Shobogenzo is as much about koans as zazen - that Dogen's expressions on "zazen" presuppose "koans" and his expressions on "koans" presuppose "zazen."
Dogen practice-enlightenment is not divided into "Zen" and "other" activities. Practice-enlightenment is not "this is zazen," "that is koan study," "this is samu," "that is kinhin" - rather, practice-enlightenment is shikantaza (sole sitting); SINGLE-MINDED sitting, ONLY sitting.
There is not sitting AND koans, not sitting AND kinhin, not sitting AND eating rice, there is SOLELY sitting.
You ask if there are fascicles that treat of "koans"
" Fukanzazengi does for zazen..."
It seems clear to me that Fukanzazengi, speaks of koan practice as much as sitting practice - more accurately, speaks of meditation and koans as part and parcel of the same activity.
Notice the koans Dogen refers to in Fukanzazengi. They are of the most frequently mentioned in the Zen records to exemplify the "means" which the "changing of the moment" is realized:
Moreover, the changing of the moment, through the means of a finger, a pole, a needle, or a wooden clapper; and the experience of the state, through the manifestation of a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout, can never be understood by thinking and discrimination.
Practitioners familiar with the records will instantly recognize the “means of a finger” from the koan of master Gutei, “a needle” from the koan of Kanadeva meeting Nagarjuna, the “staff” of Teshan, and the “shout” of Rinzai. The specific particularity in which the Buddha is manifest is characteristic of Zen’s universal inclusivity and nondiscrimination –each is an essential person of Buddha-nature, an integral form of Buddha.
Dogen’s insistence to "study this" "get inside these words" "penetrate this saying" "take up these words again and again" are so constant it is easy to become desensitized - especially if we have become conditioned to think Dogen "did not teach that koans were part and parcel with zazen."
Yet, Dogen’s explicit instructions to take up and study specific phrases, words, koans, sutras, and so on outnumber his instructions to dedicate ourselves to Zazen by at least 20 to 1. When Dogen urges us to "investigate these words in practice," I am not about to presume he means "some other kind of practice" - he means the same kind of practice he always means, we should take them up in sitting meditation.
To get a sense of this, consider these random examples form Dogen’s works:
"The truth expressed now in the founding Patriarch’s words ‘What people are able to hear the non-emotional preaching the Dharma’ should be painstakingly researched through the effort of one life and many lives."
Shobogenzo, Mujo-Seppo, Nishijima & Cross
We should quietly investigate the principle of, and learn in practice the realization of words like this.
Shobogenzo, Ganzei, Nishijima & Cross
At the same time we should investigate whether the Great Master’s words ‘I call this thing bamboo and wood,’ and Shin-o’s words ‘I also call it bamboo and wood,’ are the same or not the same, and whether they are adequate or not adequate. The Great Master says, ‘If we search the whole Earth for a person who understands the Buddha-Dharma, it is impossible to find one.’ We should also closely scrutinize and decide about this expression.
Shobogenzo, Sangai-Yuishin, Nishijima & Cross
Thus the words ‘being without the Buddha-nature’ can be heard coming form the distant room of the fourth patriarch. They are seen and heard in Obai, they are spread throughout Joshu district, and they are exalted on Dai-i [mountain]. We must unfailingly apply ourselves to the words ‘being without the Buddha-nature.’ Do not be hesitant.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Nishijima & Cross
Learning these words in practice, we should meet with the ancestral patriarchs of Buddhism and we should see and hear the teachings of Buddhism.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Nishijima & Cross
We must investigate these words quietly; we should replace our heart with them and replace our brain with them.
Shobogenzo, Daigo, Nishijima & Cross
One of his favorite phrases; "learning in practice." I think it is important to understand exactly what he means. Here is one of his own explanations:
’Learning in practice’ means not intending to understand at once but striving painstakingly hundreds of times, or thousands of times, as if working to cut a hard object. We should not think that when a person has something to relate we will be able to understand at once.
Shobogenzo, Mitsugo, Nishijima & Cross

Also notice this explicit instruction offered to some lay practitioners - the FIRST thing they should do upon meeting a teacher:
Good gentelman, when you meet a teacher, first ask for one case of [koan] story, and just keep it in mind and study it diligently. If you climb to the top of the mountain and dry up the oceans, you will not fail to complete [this study].
Dogen's Extensive Record, Vol.8:14, Leighton & Okumura
You wrote: " teachers have been very open to my practicing with anything that works-koans, shamatha, mantras..."
Excellent, if they were not you probably would have kept looking for reliable teachers.
You wrote: "Can you point to any Soto teachers being opposed to it?"
I have worked with teachers from various lineages - and of the 4 I worked with in the Soto, only 1 recognized the zazen/koan nonduality - the others advocated against the "use of koans" in zazen - I should point out that of the Soto teachers I have spoken to, very few have experience with koan training.
The standard line for teachers of the "Soto sect" is that zazen or shikantaza is distinct from, or independent of koan practice. Koans are commonly regarded as "expediant devices" or worse. Koan study is accepted by most, but is strictly distinguished from zazen - Dogen's exhortations to "study these words in practice" are usually "interpreted" as referring to some "other" practice than zazen.
I would rather avoid names - I will say however, it would be easier to name the few Soto teachers that do regard zazen/koans as nondual, than list the ones that don't.
You wrote: "I've personally always thought the distinction between Soto and Rinzai is silly. Dogen was a lineage holder in both and urged his students, like Rujing, that we were Buddhists, just Buddhists."
Yes. It sounds like you have found the one always reliable guide that is always as close as hands and feet.
Thanks again - watch out for the corpses, they are strewn all over.
When Students of the Way are looking at sayings, you must exert your power to the utmost and examine them very very closely.
~Dogen, Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary, Vol.4 p.825

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Zazen is Koan, Koan is Zazen

Zazen is Koan, Koan is Zazen

…evidenced by the prevalence in the Shobogenzo of extensive exegeses and interpretations of carefully selected koans from the classical sources… Dogen’s effort was not to destroy, but to restore, the koan to its rightful status… For Dogen, single-minded sitting and the “realization-koan” were two aspects of a single methodology. In brief, zazen was koan, koan was zazen.
Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.4

Monday, August 06, 2012

Can Zen Sectarianism Continue To Be Taken Seriously?

Can Zen Sectarianism Continue To Be Taken Seriously?

Despite the enormous advances in Zen and Buddhist scholarship of recent decades, many in the actual community of Zen practitioners continue to be largely guided by the vision of Zen fashioned by pre-modern and modern Japanese institutions, rather than the vision presented by the classic masters. Certain stereotypes about Zen are so entrenched in many contemporary Zen communities that even the most incontrovertible revelations of scholarship continue to be largely dismissed or ignored.

There seem to be a number of various reasons for this, but it seems significant that the probability for a discovery to be dismissed increases in proportion to the extent it is sectarian specific.

For instance, the "less sectarian" disclosure that Zen’s claim of being transmitted through “an unbroken succession from master-to-master” was historically untenable met greater acceptance than the "more sectarian" discovery that Dogen regarded koans to be as essential to Zen as sitting meditation.

In fact, propaganda portraying Dogen as someone that regarded “just sitting” as the only essential element of Zen practice was so effective his actual stance continues to be denied by many in the Soto sect to this day.

Let's consider this further in context of the well documented competition for “superiority” between the two major Zen institutions in Japan (Soto and Rinzai), which largely centered on the role of koans. Briefly, the Soto sect advocated “just sitting” and criticized the Rinzai sect for its “preoccupation” with koans.

Now notice that when it was discovered that the “Soto founder” (Dogen) took the Rinzai sect’s side in regarding koans as essential to Zen practice it not only exposed fallacies of Soto dogma, it revealed a necessity to doubt the credibility of everything the Soto sect asserted concerning Zen; if they were ignorant of Dogen’s actual teachings about koans and zazen, how can we seriously attach any authority to their claim of Dogen as being their “founder”?


Until next time, try not to drown in all the blood...