Sunday, November 30, 2008

Learning by Master Dogen's example

Aside from the question of what Master Dogen actually meant, it is clear that he personally approached life with great zeal and intensity. Even setting aside the uncertainties concerning his biography, what little is known clearly testifies to the fact that he himself acted in accord with his repeated, energetic exhortations to “master in practice” and “examine sideways and upside down” and “apply yourselves as if your head was on fire” etc.
His own life was an eternal quest; committing to the path at 8 years old, running away at 13 to avoid the barriers of secular life, reading the entire Tripitaka twice by his early 20s, mastering Tendai, the exoteric and esoteric teachings. Not yet satisfied, he set about mastering Rinzai Zen under Myozan, then accompanied him on a journey to China. There, he traveled around and sought wise counsel wherever he could. Then, finding Tendo Nyojo, he intensified his practice and study, realized a profound awakening, then spent a couple more years “entering the room” deepening and refining his realization under the guidance of his teacher.
When he finally returned to Japan, he spent the rest of his life continuously exploring and developing all manner of methods, techniques, and activities to effectively transmit the Buddha-Dharma to his fellow countrymen. To this end he produced hundreds of fascicles which he continuously re-worked, edited, and refined many times, right up to his final illness, and he established Eihei-ji (still regarded as one of the great temples of the world), and he offered instruction to monks, nuns, and secular people from all classes. The energy that Dogen applied in those monumental efforts can still be felt on a visceral level through reading and (trying) to apply his teachings as outlined in some of the most creative expressions in Buddhist history.
Dogen’s life was clearly engaged in actively creating, exploring, and expressing the meaning, function, and experience of the Buddha-Dharma. When we see how vibrantly he speaks of discovering whole worlds in each moment, and in each drop of water, we come to understand his outspoken disdain for the distorted ‘nothing to realize’ and ‘everything is it’ notions of Zen that had taken root in his own time. We are (at least I am) inspired by Dogen’s constant earnestness on the necessity to focus our aspiration and effort that he asserts are essential to genuine practice and enlightenment. His repeated exhortations to “those who have already attained enlightenment” to continue to go ever-deeper attaining enlightenment upon enlightenment, are reinforced by his own example. His constant refrain reminds us that enlightenment without practice is not authentic enlightenment, and practice without enlightenment is not authentic practice.
We don’t need to prove Dogen’s meaning to understand that the necessity of wholehearted effort and focused, dedicated practice is a basic teaching of Buddhism, and a hallmark of Zen. And even those that have not researched much in the Zen records realize that the teachings of “practice and enlightenment” have always been susceptible to misunderstanding and misappropriation. Obvious to even the most casual of readers among Zen students is that some of the most pernicious divisions in the history of Buddhism have been caused by arguments around what this teaching means. The confusion between sudden realization (original enlightenment) and gradual cultivation (acquired enlightenment), has been the most visible and persistent manifestation of this argument in the Zen tradition.
According to his biographers, the apparent contradiction between original enlightenment and acquired enlightenment was the barrier to and eventually the catalyst of Dogen’s own great awakening. Resolving this conflict became the central focus of his spiritual quest. It was through his personal resolution of the seeming contradiction between the doctrine of original enlightenment and the need for spiritual practice that allowed him to—in his own words from Shobogenzo, Bendowa—“complete the task of a lifetime.”After such a powerful experience, it is only natural that the non-dual nature of practice and enlightenment became such a central theme in Dogen’s teaching. By “non-dual” I mean, empty of duality, I do not mean that practice and enlightenment are one, as is propagated by some. Practice and enlightenment in Zen are two aspects of one reality. I think that Dogen is clear on the fact that though they always go together, they each maintain their distinctive aspects.This brings me to, what I think is one of the best passages in Shobogenzo that takes up question raised, “What constitutes practicing Dogen’s Zen?”
The very first paragraph of one of Dogen’s very first teachings, Fukanzazengi, is constructed of four lines—each variations expressing the fundamental point.

“Now, when we research it, the truth originally is all around: why should we rely upon practice and experience? The real vehicle exists naturally: why should we put forth great effort? Furthermore, the whole body far transcends dust and dirt: who could believe in the means of sweeping and polishing? In general, we do not stray from the right state: of what use, then, are the tip-toes of training?”Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross, Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Book 1, p. 279

Coming from Dogen we know this is not a simplistic series of rhetorical statements, but an expression of spiritual realization, urging us to deep contemplation. It seems clear that Dogen is not saying, “the truth is all around: we do not need to rely upon practice, put forth great effort, etc.” Rather, he is saying, “the truth is all around: why do we need to practice, who could believe in the means, of what use, and so on.” His statements are neither rhetorical, nor are they conventional questions wanting answers. Here he not only respond to the question posed, Dogen indicates, at once, the revelation of the truth of Zen and illustrates the appropriate attitude for Zen practitioners to employ.
While his expressions were unique, and may even transcend those of his predecessors, what Dogen actually taught was what all the true buddhas and Zen ancestors taught; enlightenment is the essence of authentic practice, practice is the function of authentic enlightenment. The duality of practice and enlightenment is actualized and transcended, not eradicated or annihilated. It seems obvious in this light, that Dogen frequently used the term zazen in reference to the non-dual nature of practice and enlightenment, not just as a reference to ordinary sitting meditation. In Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, Dogen outlines this fundamental teaching of Zen. Near the end of this essay, he uses a Zen koan to illustrate the non-dual nature of practice and enlightenment.
The koan runs something like this: Zen Master Hotetsu, of Mount Mayu is using a fan. A monk comes up and says, “The nature of air is ever-present, and there is no place it does not reach. Why then does the Master use a fan?”
The master says, “You understand that the nature of air is ever-present, but you do not understand the truth that there is no place it does not reach.”
The monk says, “What is the truth of there being no place it does not reach?”
At this, the master just continues to use the fan.
The monk does prostrations. Dogen goes on to say, “The actualization of the buddha-dharma, the living way of authentic transmission, is like this.”

Ted Biringer

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dogen's use of Criticism in Shobogenzo

Throughout the history of the Japanese Soto sect, much has been made of the influence of the Chinese Rinzai master, Daie Soko, on the teachings of Dogen. Traditionally, Dogen has been presented as being profoundly critical of Daie’s Zen teachings, especially his teachings regarding koans. Of course, Shobogenzo is not unique in its negative criticism of Zen ancestors. Scathing, colorful, and often humorous critiques are characteristic of a number of the classic records of Zen.
Claims about Dogen’s negative criticism of Daie have some basis in fact, but its significance has been exaggerated, and the reasoning underlying Dogen’s criticisms have often been skewed. In light of Daie’s importance to the Japanese Rinzai sect, specifically, his teachings regarding koans, some of the reasons for exaggerating and distorting Dogen’s criticism of Daie seem clear; to infer the inferiority, or even the illegitimacy of the Rinzai sect and posit the superiority of the Soto sect.

While an objective reading of Dogen’s treatment of Daie is enough to cast doubt on most sectarian claims, recent scholarship has decisively revealed a number of fallacies regarding many of these claims--and provided a great deal of clarity on the real issues. As others have lucidly presented the history and details concerning this issue *1, there is no need to dwell on it here. Suffice it to say that some of the distortions were probably legitimate attempts for sectarian survival, but many (if not most) were grounded in sectarian competition for spiritual superiority (and its corollary, the power associated with spiritual authority).

The negative criticism in Shobogenzo does offer some interesting possibilities. In Shobogenzo, Dogen is critical of Daie, but not only of Daie, nor is his criticism simply leveled at his use of koans. Other Zen ancestors, including Rinzai, Tokusan, and Ummon, are subjected to criticism just as harsh as any directed at Daie. These Zen masters are rebuked for the same reasons Daie is rebuked; inaccurate expressions of buddha-dharma (J. buppo).

In fact, in Shobogenzo Dogen does not hesitate to challenges even the most revered Zen ancestors including Hyakujo, Setcho, Joshu, and others. Furthermore, Dogen explicitly denigrates Vimalakirti, the hero of the sutra widely venerated in the records of Zen, and even denounces the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Ancestor, Eno (second in Zen reverence only to Bodhidharma), as a fraudulent text. Moreover, some of Dogen’s more creative ‘misreadings’ and ‘interpretations’ of the Buddhist sutras could easily be regarded as tacit (if gentle) criticisms of the Buddha himself.

(In fairness, two characteristics of the negative portrayal of Daie in Shobogenzo should be noted. The first is a lack of any corresponding positive treatment; most of the important masters upbraided in Shobogenzo are nevertheless acknowledged in other sections of it. Although Daie is tacitly acknowledged as a legitimate ancestor (by Dogen’s acceptance of some of Daie’s descendents, including Bussho Tokko), explicit acknowledgement is conspicuously lacking. The second characteristic unique to Dogen’s charge against Daie is his direct assertion that Daie’s (recorded) teachings disqualify him as a Zen ancestor.)

Dogen’s criticism of Zen ancestors can be viewed as justified based on the rationale of Shobogenzo, which consistently asserts the nonduality of realization and expression in the buddha-dharma. That is, in Shobogenzo, realization and expression are interdependent aspects of the authentic buddha-dharma; each contains and is contained by the other. Hence, in Dogen’s view one’s realization of buddha-dharma is evident in one’s expressions of buddha-dharma. In fact, according to Shobogenzo, evaluating the authenticity of a Zen master’s realization "invariably" includes examining their expressions:

All the Buddhas and all the Ancestors express what They have realized. This is why the Buddhas and Ancestors, when singling out an Ancestor of the Buddha, invariably ask, "Can that person express their realization or not?"
Shobogenzo, Dotoku
, Herbert Nearman

While Dogen rebukes, and even hints at the lack of qualifications of Zen ancestors, he stops short of complete denunciation (except of Daiei), and often lavishes praise on them elsewhere in Shobogenzo. For instance, when Rinzai is denigrated as a ‘weak spirited newcomer’ in Shobogenzo, Bukkyō, Dogen does not dismiss his legitimacy. In fact, throughout Shobogenzo Rinzai is quoted as an authority, and in some fascicles of Shobogenzo, like Gyōji, and Hotsu Mujō Shin, Dogen praises Rinzai’s example, singling him out as an outstanding model for Zen practitioners.

One of the most illuminating examples of Dogen’s technique of challenging Zen ancestors based on their recorded sayings is in Shobogenzo, Shin Fukatoku, where he asserts the inaccuracy of five of the ‘giants’ of Zen tradition. In that fascicle Dogen exposes the ‘blindness’ of Joshu, Kyozan, Gensha, Kaie, and Setcho, taking them all to task for their ‘mistaken’ expressions concerning a koan. Significantly, there is no hint of their disqualification as Zen ancestors. To the contrary, Dogen asserts that although "it may be hard to believe" that people who do not understand one aspect of buddha-dharma are able to understand the rest of it, we should "realize that ancient Ancestors may also make mistakes":

In that the five worthy Masters did not at all understand the everyday practice of the National Teacher, they are, to that extent, similarly inaccurate. For this reason I have now let you hear about ‘the mind not being able to grasp It’ in the Way of the Buddhas. Although it may be hard for you to believe that people who are unable to thoroughly understand this one aspect of the Teaching are apt to understand all the rest of the Teaching, you need to realize that ancient Ancestors may also make mistakes and compound them, as in this case.
Shobogenzo, Shin Fukatoku
(Written Version), Herbert Nearman

Dogen’s recognition of the reality of human limitations is indicative of the realism—highlighted in the title of Hee-Jin Kim’s landmark book, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist—which permeates his records. Dogen’s realistic acknowledgement that even ancestors "may also make mistakes" seems to be much more than a reluctant admission of human weakness, or fallibility; but more of a realistic assessment of the human condition, hence, of reality itself. In the Shobogenzo, Shizen Biku, fascicle, Dogen assures his listeners/readers that "having mistaken views" is not unique to time or circumstances by asserting it even happened when the Buddha himself was actively teaching:

In truth, even those who had left home life behind and received ordination when the World-honored One was in the world found it difficult to avoid having mistaken views and personal opinions, due to their not giving ear to His Teaching.
Shobogenzo, Shizen Biku
, Herbert Nearman

To deny this characteristic of reality is, in Dogen’s teaching, to be ‘in delusion adding to delusion.’ Knowing the reality of buddha-dharma, on the other hand, is contingent on recognizing the reality of delusion. Herein lies the fundamental difference between ‘ordinary beings’ and ‘Buddhas’, as Dogen says in Shobogenzo, Genjokoan: "Ordinary beings are deluded about enlightenment, Buddhas are enlightened about delusion."

If Dogen is to be regarded as an authentic Zen master, then his teachings must be viewed as having the same goal as any authentic Buddhist master; the alleviation of suffering. Thus, all of Shobogenzo’s expressions, including those challenging Zen ancestors, must be understood as legitimate efforts to transmit the buddha-dharma. In light of this reasoning, it should be clear that Dogen’s criticism in Shobogenzo has more to do with instructing students then with admonishing long dead masters.

In summary, what can Dogen’s use of criticism teach us about applying ourselves to the Zen path of authentic practice-realization? Anything? Everything?

*1. For instance, see:

How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China (Studies in East Asian Buddhism) by Morten Schlütter.

The Linji Lu and the Creation of Chan Orthodoxy: The Development of Chan's Records of Sayings Literature, by Albert Welter

Dogen and The Koan Tradition, and Did Dogen Go to China? What He Wrote and When He Wrote It, both by Steven Heine.

Dogen's Manuals of Zen Meditation, Carl Bielefeldt.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Awareness, Nonthinking, Zazen, the essential art of Zen?

A skier mustering whole body-and-mind, totally absorbed in the activity of skiing down a mountain, forgets his or her "self" and is actualized by the myriad dharmas (the many things). With no ideas of self and not self, there is simply swoosh, swoosh, chunk, swoosh, swoosh. There is no "snow" there is whiteness, coldness. There are no "sounds" there is shoo, shoo, tweet, weeee! There is no "thinking" there is left, right, straight, watch out. In Shobogenzo, Hossho, Dogen gives us a delightful expression of this experience:

In the Dharma-nature there is no "non-Buddhist" or "demon," but only "Come for breakfast! Come for lunch! And come for tea!"
Shobogenzo, Hossho, Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross

The Genjokoan tells us:

To be actualized by the many things is to allow the body-and-mind of your self and the body-and-mind of other than your self to fall away.

This expression reveals the essence and function of the dynamic quality of awareness itself. When the body-and-mind of "our self" and the body-and-mind of "other than our self" both fall away, there is only, "Come for breakfast! Come for lunch! And come for tea!" All along our inherent awareness, that is, our buddha-nature or true-nature, has been functioning perfectly. Is this why people often laugh upon their initial enlightenment experience? There seem to be a number of wonderful gems about this in the Zen literature:

Q: What is implied by ‘seeing into the real Nature’?
A: That Nature and your perception of it are one. You cannot use it to see something over and above itself.
Bloefeld, John, The Zen Teaching of Huang-Po, 116

The nature of perception being eternal, we go on perceiving whether objects are present or not. Thereby we come to understand that, whereas objects naturally appear and disappear, the nature of perception does neither of those things; and, it is the same with all your other senses.

Bloefeld, John, The Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening, 22

The Surangama Sutra, contains a passage that presents this point so directly that it is included as case ninety-four of the Blue Cliff Record:

The Surangama scripture says, "When I do not see, why do you not see my not seeing? If you see my not seeing, naturally that is not the characteristic of not seeing. If you do not see my not seeing, it is naturally not a thing–how could it not be you?"
The Blue Cliff Record

The Rinzai Zen master, Hakuin, comments on this koan in part:

Because it is not a thing, it must be your own awakened mind. The realm that is not a thing is your true vision; true vision is your essential nature. That’s the message.
Cleary, Thomas, Secrets of The Blue Cliff Record, 328

The Soto Zen master, Tenkei, comments in part on the same case:

The point is that of all the myriad things, none is not you. You are you; I am I. One can only know oneself. That’s what this means.
ibid., 328

Dogen’s words "To be actualized by the many things" are an original and marvelous expression of the same truth that Master Tenkei makes here as "of all the myriad things, none is not you."
Significantly, the Genjokoan goes on to explain:

All traces of enlightenment fall away, and the falling away of all traces of enlightenment is continuous.

Dogen is here expanding on a point he alluded to earlier (in Genjokoan) with the words "There are people who continue to realize enlightenment based on enlightenment." Realization of enlightenment is not a static event but a vigorous, dynamic condition of continuous manifestation. On the authentic Zen path of practice-enlightenment, each moment is experienced as the continuous unfolding of the entire universe, perpetually fresh and new. Engo calls this "continuous awareness from mind-moment to mind-moment":

When there is continuous awareness from mind-moment to mind-moment that does not leave anything out, and mundane reality and enlightened reality are not separate, then you will naturally become pure and fully ripe and meet the Source on all sides.
Cleary, Thomas, Zen Letters, 45

Compare these words with Dogen’s own wonderful expression in Shobogenzo, Gyobutsu Yuigi:

[To research] this truth of moment-by-moment utter entrustment, we must research the mind. In the mountain-still state of such research, we discern and understand that ten thousand efforts are [each] the mind being evident, and the triple world is just that which is greatly removed from the mind. This discernment and understanding, while also of the myriad real dharmas, activate the homeland of the self. They make immediate and concrete the vigorous state of the human being in question.
Shobogenzo, Gyobutsu Yuigi, Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross

No thing, time, or event can escape the momentary nature of existence. Dogen points out in Shobogenzo, Uji (being time) that one quality of time is its ever-changing flow. He says:

The entire world is not unchangeable, is not immovable. It flows.
Shobogenzo, Uji, Tanahashi & Aitken, Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen

Dogen expresses the ever-changing, ever-renewing aspect of reality throughout his works in startlingly provocative and creative ways. For example, in his essay, Shobogenzo, Tsuki, Dogen says you should master in practice the fact that tonight’s moon is not yesterday’s moon:

So although the moon was there last night, tonight’s moon is not yesterday’s moon. We should master in practice that the moon tonight, at the beginning, middle, and end, is the moon tonight. Because the moon succeeds the moon, the moon exists and yet is not new or old.
Shobogenzo, Tsuki, Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross

At the same time, Dogen reveals that the very fact of its momentary existence demonstrates its inevitability, that is to say, its inevitable existence as an aspect of the whole of time and space (being time):

Each moment is all being, is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment.
Shobogenzo, Uji, Tanahashi & Aitken, Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen

With the body-and-mind of self and other cast off (in nonthinking or forgetting the self) each moment is experienced as all being, "the entire world with nothing left out of the present moment." Each moment, each thing, including even such things as worry, and surprise contain and are contained by the whole of time and space. According to Dogen, "there are myriads of forms and myriads of grasses throughout the entire earth, and yet each grass and each form itself is the entire earth.

"Even worry itself is just the matter which is it, and so it is beyond worry. Again, we should not be surprised that the matter which is it is present in such a state. Even if it is the object of surprise and wonderment, it is still just it. And there is it about which we should not be surprised."
Shobogenzo, Inmo, Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross

Ted Biringer

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Reading Shobogenzo, Ejo's words on Dogen's intentions

Dogen’s successor, Ejo, added the following explanation to Shobogenzo, Hachi Dainingaku:

This was our Master’s last discourse, drafted when he was already ill. Among other things, I heard him say that he wanted to rework all of the Shōbōgenzō that had previously been written in Japanese script and also to include some new manuscripts, so that he would be able to compile a work consisting altogether of one hundred discourses.

This present discourse, which was a first draft, was to be the twelfth of the new ones. After this our Master’s illness worsened. As a result, he stopped working on such things as the drafts. Therefore, this draft is our late Master’s final teaching for us. Unfortunately, we will never see His full draft of the hundred chapters, which is something to be greatly regretted. Those who love and miss our late Master should, by all means, make copies of this twelfth chapter, and take care to preserve it. It contains the final instructions of our Venerable Shakyamuni and is the final legacy of our late Master’s Teaching.
I, Ejō, have given this final account.
(Translated by Hubert Nearman)

This statement by Ejo, supports and augments the evidence of two important aspects of Shobogenzo that are widely agreed upon by both scholars and the Zen orthodoxy. First, that Dogen intended Shobogenzo as a singular canon consisting of one hundred fascicles. Second, that Dogen died before completing all one hundred fascicles. What is not so widely agreed upon, and is in fact much debated, are how many of the fascicles Dogen did complete, and which ones were intended for Shobogenzo.

There are a number of versions of Shobogenzo, including 12, 28, 60, 75, 89, 92, and 95 fascicle versions that have had, and/or continue to have their proponents as representative of Dogen’s intent. Of these, the official 95-fascicle Shobogenzo of the Soto sect is the most well known edition. As the most inclusive version (other than those including obviously separate or spurious texts), it is an important version for understanding Dogen’s message. However, as this version was not created until 1690, more than four hundred years after Dogen’s death, few seriously consider it as an accurate representation of Dogen’s intention.

The version that is most widely acknowledged as best representing Dogen’s intention is the 75-fascicle version. Including extensive commentary by one of Dogen’s own disciples, this version was the earliest published edition of Shobogenzo. This fact, combined with a number of other factors (style, dates of composition, subject matter, etc.) seem to offer the most convincing argument for considering it as ‘Dogen’s’ Shobogenzo.

(For an overview of the history and recent scholarship on the various versions of Shobogenzo, see Steven Heine’s, Did Dogen Go to China?: What He Wrote and When He Wrote It, esp. pp. 51-87)

Throughout his writings Dogen consistently asserted the interdependence of understanding and expression. While common sense reveals the fallacy of expression without understanding, Dogen points out that understanding without expression is just as fallacious. His writings are filled with exhortations to ‘express it in your own words’, and assertions that ‘if you cannot express it, you have not yet understood it.’ Moreover, his writings offer many evaluations of the depths of the understanding of ‘Zen ancestors’ based on their (recorded) expressions. Nor is his criticism restricted to ‘what’ an ancient expressed; just as often they are appraised by what they fail to express. Not even Joshu, who Dogen often highly reveres as ‘an eternal Buddha’ escapes being chastised by Dogen for an inadequate expression.

In light of this, if Shobogenzo was intended to form a definitive canon, as it evidently was, every fascicle that was admitted to it, regardless of its length, date, or subject must be read not only as part of a unified whole, but as inherently consistent with Dogen’s understanding. While exclusion can be regarded as intentional or unintentional, inclusion can only be regarded as an assertion of approval. There is convincing evidence that the fascicles of Shobogenzo were subjected to Dogen’s ongoing editorial refinement throughout his teaching career. Genjokoan, for instance, written in 1233 and included in every major version of Shobogenzo, was re-edited by Dogen shortly before his death in 1253.

This is not to imply that Shobogenzo is limited to a ‘singular message’, but that all of its various fascicles, by their very admission, must have been harmonious with Dogen’s understanding. Therefore, if fascicles of Shobogenzo seem to be at odds with each other we should attempt to reevaluate our own understanding of Dogen’s meaning rather than simply dismissing them as inconsistencies in Dogen’s teaching.

Thank you for your comments.
Ted Biringer

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Like and Dislike - The Blue Cliff Record Case 2

What Does the Blue Cliff Record teach us about Like and dislike, about Picking and Choosing?

Here is Joshu in Case 2


Chao Chou, teaching the assembly, said The Ultimate Path is without difficulty, it just avoids picking and choosing. As soon as there are words spoken ‘this’ is picking and choosing ‘that’ is clarity. This old monk does not abide within clarity "Do you still preserve anything or not?"

At that time a certain monk asked, "Since you do not abide within clarity, what do you preserve?"

Chao Chou replied, "I don’t know either."

The monk said, "Since you don’t know, Teacher, why do you nevertheless say that you do not abide within clarity?"

Chao Chou said, "It is enough to ask, make your bows and withdraw."

"Chao Chou, teaching the assembly, said." Yuan Wu comments, "What’s the old fellow doing?" Chao Chou did not start teaching until he was 80 years old. That is almost sixty years of polishing and deepening his realization after his initial awakening. Anyone interested in Zen ought to perk up like Yuan Wu, "Shhh, the old fellow is speaking…"

"‘The Ultimate Path is without difficulty.’" Yuan Wu comments, "Not hard, not easy."

Once the Layman P’ang was sitting in his cottage with his wife and daughter:
"Difficult, difficult, difficult," he suddenly exclaimed, "[like trying] to scatter ten measures of sesame seed all over a tree!"

"Easy, easy, easy," returned Mrs. P’ang, "just like touching your feet to the ground when you get out of bed."

Neither difficult nor easy," said Liang-chao. "On the hundred grass-tips, the Patriarchs’ meaning."
A Man of Zen, Sasaki, Iriya, Fraser

If Liang-chao and Yuan Wu are right, what about the layman and his wife? What about Chao Chou?

Leaving aside difficult and easy, what is the Ultimate Path, sometimes translated as the Great Way? Is it Buddha Dharma? Is it Tao? A monk asked Chao Chou about that:

The master said, "It’s just outside the fence."
The monk said, "I’m not asking about that."
The master said, "What ‘way’ are you asking about?"
The monk said, "The Great Way."
The master said, "The great way leads all the way to the capital."
The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, James Green, p.108

He says outside the fence, what about inside the fence?

"It just avoids picking and choosing." In case 2 of the Mumonkan, we learn how old Pai Chang’s five hundred lifetimes as a fox became lives of grace when he was avoided picking and choosing.

One time Chao Chou revealed his own fox-nature while he was walking with an official in a garden and they saw a rabbit run away.
The official said, "you are a great and accomplished person, why did the rabbit run away when it saw you?"
The master said, "I like to kill."
The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, p. 151

Chao Chou’s words seem incredible. However, if you can see the rabbit here, you will have mastered this case.

"As soon as there are words spoken." Chao Chou is setting out a pot of glue; it is hard to avoid being stuck here. What if words are not spoken?

Venerable Pi Mo Yen of Wu T’ai Shan Monastery used to carry a wooden pitchfork with him. Every time he saw a monk approaching him and bowing down for instruction, he pinned him by the neck with the fork and demanded, "What devil forced you to renounce the world (by becoming a monk)? What devil made you wander on pilgrimage? If you can say a word of Ch’an under the fork, you will die. If you can’t say a word of Ch’an under the fork, you will die. Now! Say something!"
There were few students who were able to respond to this demand.
The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata, p.370

He does not say there were none who were able to respond, just that there were few. Have you seen Hsueh Tou’s comment on case 23?
"Today what is the purpose of travelling the mountains with these fellows" He also said, "Hundreds of thousands of years hence, I don’t say there are none, just that they will be few."

"This is picking and choosing." As soon as there are words spoken, "this" is picking and choosing. What is "this?" This is it. Does "it" go along with picking and choosing? Look at case 29.

A monk asked Ta Sui, "The conflagration at the end of the eon sweeps through and the universe is totally destroyed. I wonder, is this destroyed or not?"
Sui said, "It is destroyed."
The monk said, "If so, then this goes along with it."
Sui said, "It goes along with it."
Blue Cliff Record, Case 29

Is the "this" in this is picking and choosing "it?" The Ultimate Path is without difficulty; "it" just avoids picking and choosing. Could we re-phrase this, "The Ultimate Path avoids picking and choosing; it is just without difficulty"?

Dogen likes to remind us that nonduality is really nondual. Listen as he comments on the line, "In following worldly circumstances there are no hindrances", from a poem by the Layman Cho Setsu:
To turn one’s back on the Truth is wrong, and to approach the Truth is also wrong. The Truth is the approaching and the turning away, which, in each instance of approaching or turning away, are the Truth itself. Is there anyone who knows that this wrong is also the Truth?
Shobogenzo, Kuge, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Can we put this koan in the format of Dogen’s comment? Picking and choosing is wrong, and not being without difficulty is also wrong. The Ultimate Path is without difficulty and avoids picking and choosing, which, in each instance of without difficulty or avoiding picking and choosing is the Ultimate Path itself. Is there anyone who knows that this wrong is also the Ultimate Path?

"That is clarity." He said that "this" was picking and choosing; now he says "that" is clarity! What is going on here? Yuan Wu says, "People these days who practice meditation and ask about the Path, if they do not remain within picking and choosing, then they settle down within clarity." He means both remaining and settling down are wrong. How can we respond to the implicit challenge here?

What is not remaining? The Diamond Sutra says, "If Bodhisattvas practice giving charity with their minds not dwelling on things, they are like people with sight in the sunlight, seeing all sorts of shapes and colors." (T. Cleary)

What is not settling down? The Diamond Sutra says, "Dwell nowhere and bring forth that mind." (Misc. Koans)

"This old monk does not abide within clarity." He says he’s not settling down, and he demonstrates he’s not remaining.

"Do you still preserve anything or not?" This is Chao Chou’s reason for all his words; he is, after all, teaching the assembly. "Do you understand?" he asks. "My presentation about the third ancestors message is, this old monk does not abide within clarity. How would you say it?"

There is a dialogue where Tung Shan responds for a monk who was asked a similar question from an opposing point.
A monk asked, "What is the talk on no-talk?"
The Master {Pao Yun} asked, "Where is your mouth?"
The monk answered, "I have no mouth."
The Master said, "With what do you eat your food?"
The monk had no response. Tung Shan answered for him: "He does not get hungry, why should he eat food?"
The Transmission Of The Lamp, Sohaku Ogata, p.222

"At that time a certain monk asked." We should not skip over this line. At that time a certain monk is existence-time. Dogen reminds us, "Time does not pass."

The particular time of the deity [of yesterday] is also experienced precisely as my existence-time; though it appears to be far off, it is the realized now.
Shobogenzo, Uji, Hee-Jin Kim

"Since you do not abide within clarity, what do you preserve?" This monk shows his own non-preservation. He is saying, "As soon as Chao Chou’s words are spoken, ‘this old monk does not abide within clarity’, "this" is trailing mud and dripping water." This monk is like Pao Yun’s, "With what do you eat your food?"

"Chao Chou replied, ‘I don’t know either.’" Bodhidharma said, ‘I don’t know.’ They are not different, but they are not the same either. Yuan Wu says, "Many followers of Ch’an these days will also say when asked, ‘I don’t know either; I don’t understand.’ Nevertheless, though they are on the same road, they are not in the same groove." In case 51, Yen T’ou said, "Though Hseuh Feng is born on the same lineage as me, he doesn’t die in the same lineage."

The monk said, "Since you don’t know, Teacher, why do you nevertheless say that you do not abide within clarity?" This monk was sharp, but he did not know it had been settled. There was a similar exchange between the Layman P’ang and Ma Tsu:

Layman P’ang asked, "The unveiled original man asks you to look upward, please." The Patriarch looked straight down. The layman said, "Only the Master can play so wonderfully on a stringless lute. The Patriarch looked straight up. The layman bowed, and the Patriarch returned to his quarters. The layman followed him; when he entered the room, he said, "Just now bungled it trying to be wise."
Sun Face Buddha, Cheng Chien Bhikshu

Chao Chou said, "It is enough to ask, make your bows and withdraw."


Ted Biringer