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


Uku said...


thank you very much for this wonderful, truly wonderful post.

*bowing in silence with palms together*

Gassho, Dharmabrother,

Ted Biringer said...


You are most welcome. Thank You!