Friday, December 25, 2009

Dogen - The Nature of being Human

Manifesting sympathy means not making differences, not treating yourself as different and not treating others as different. For instance, the Tathagata was a human being just like other human beings.
Shobogenzo, Bodaisatta Shishobo, Hubert Nearman
You and I, right now, are human beings who are the real Body of the whole universe in all ten quarters.
Shobogenzo, Shinjin Gakudo, Hubert Nearman
To meet my former Master face-to-face was to encounter an ordinary human being.
Shobogenzo, Gyoji, Hubert Nearman
The present statement of the Great Master that all human beings, without exception, have the Light within themselves is not saying that It is something that will manifest at some time in the future, or that It was something that existed in some past generation, or that It is something that is fully manifesting Itself in front of some onlooker now. We need to clearly hear and remember his statement that all human beings, without exception, have the Light within themselves...
The Brightness is what all human beings are. Taking hold of this Brightness, they turn It into external conditions and internal tendencies.
Shobogenzo, Komyo, Hubert Nearman
Ted Biringer

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dogen On Koans, Buddha Nature, & Practice

[Introductory Comment] The Bussho (Buddha-nature) fascicle, written by Zen Master Dogen, is one of longest fascicles in Shobogenzo, and also on of the richest. Its structure, as well as its context offer a wide variety of perspectives in which it can be read (e.g. as a single aspect of the whole Shobogenzo, as a 'unity' that stands on its own, as a collection of teachings on Buddha-nature, etc.).
While it is probably best to read it in context of the whole Shobogenzo (and Shobogenzo's context in the Zen/Buddhist literature), breaking it into parts seems more suitable for a blog.
In the following section of Bussho, Master Dogen cites two classic koans to illustrate some extremely profound implications of the Zen/Buddhist teachings on Buddha-Nature. In my view, this section of Bussho contains some of Master Dogen's most powerful, creative, and evocative uses of Zen koan literature in his entire corpus of writings. This particular section not only serves to illumine some remarkable, and often overlooked aspects of Buddha-Nature, it also provides a number explanations on the significance of Zen koans, practical instructions on how to approach them, and a whole array of clues on how they can be skillfuly used.
[Begin Excerpt of Shobogenzo, Bussho]
Ōbaku was sitting in Nansen’s Abbatical reception room, when Nansen asked Ōbaku, “What do you think of the principle enunciated in the Great Scripture on the Buddha’s Parinirvana that, if one trains oneself equally in meditative practice and in spiritual wisdom, one will clearly see one’s Buddha Nature?”

Ōbaku replied, “Within all the hours of the day, It does not depend on a single thing, so we have It right from the start.”

Nansen said, “You aren’t saying this as the view of an elder monk, are you?”

Ōbaku replied, “I daren’t say so.”

Nansen said, “Setting aside for the moment the matter of payment for your rice broth, to whom are you to return payment for your straw sandals?”

Thereupon, Ōbaku remained silent.

‘Training equally in meditative practices and spiritual wisdom’ does not mean that, since training in meditative practices does not interfere with pursuing spiritual wisdom, Buddha Nature can be clearly seen when training in both equally. Rather, when we clearly see our Buddha Nature, then we will be training equally in meditation practice and spiritual wisdom. So Nansen stated, “What do you think of this principle?” This would be the same as saying, for instance, “Who is it that sees one’s Buddha Nature clearly?” Or it can be stated by saying, “How about the principle that Buddha Nature’s equal pursuit of both is what causes us to realize our Buddha Nature?”

The point of Ōbaku’s saying “Within all the hours of the day, It does not depend on a single thing” is that even though twenty-four hours exist within the span of a whole day, It is not dependent on them. Since Buddha Nature’s not depending on a single thing extends over all the hours of a day, It can be clearly seen. As to this ‘within all the hours of a day’ of his, would you ask at what specific time It will show up or in what country? These twenty-four hours that we are speaking of, would they have to be a human being’s twenty-four hour day? Or do they exist as a day in some other particular place? Or are they the kind of day that can occur for a while in Samantabhadra’s Silver Realm? Whether it be in this land or some other world, It does not depend on either. It is already within the twenty-four hours of any day and does not depend on anything.

Nansen’s asking, “You aren’t saying this as the view of an elder monk, are you?” is the same as asking, “You aren’t saying that this is your view, are you?” Although Nansen asked whether this is the view of an elder monk, Ōbaku should not turn to Nansen and affirm that it is indeed his own view. Although the statement was appropriate, it did not apply to Ōbaku alone, because Ōbaku is not the only person who held this view, as the views of many elder monks make abundantly clear.

As to Ōbaku’s replying, “I daren’t say so,” when someone in Sung China is asked whether he is capable of doing something, he uses this phrase, “I daren’t say so,” to acknowledge in a humble way his ability to do so. Thus, to say, “I daren’t say so,” does not mean that one doubts one’s abilities. What this expression says is not to be taken literally. Whether ‘the view of an elder monk’ refers to some other elder monk or whether ‘the view of an elder monk’ refers to Ōbaku, in either case the answer should be that he daren’t say so. It should be like a water buffalo coming out from the water and bellowing “Mu.” To put it like this is to affirm It. You should try and see if you can say, in your own words, the Principle that Ōbaku is affirming.

Nansen said, “Setting aside for the moment the matter of payment for your rice broth, to whom are you to return payment for your straw sandals?” In other words, the cost of your rice gruel is put aside for the moment, but who gets paid for the cost of your straw sandals? We should spend life after life exploring the intent of this statement through our training. We should keep our minds diligently investigating what he meant by ‘whatever the cost of the broth, don’t worry about it for the moment’. Why was he so concerned about the cost of straw sandals? It is as if he had asked, “In all the years that you have spent traveling as a mendicant monk, how many pairs of straw sandals have you worn out?” to which Ōbaku might answer, “If I had not paid back the cost, I would not still be wearing straw sandals,” or, then again, he might reply, “Two or three pairs.” Either way could be how he expressed the Matter. Each way would correspond to his intent.

The statement that Ōbaku thereupon remained silent simply means that he desisted from speaking. He did not remain silent because what he said was negated by Nansen, nor did he remain silent because he was negating what Nansen said. A patch-robed monk of true color is not like that. Keep in mind that silence speaks, just as laughter can wield a sword. This is Buddha Nature clearly seeing that there is enough gruel and enough rice.

In citing this story, Isan asked his disciple Kyōzan, “Don’t you think this shows that Ōbaku was no match for Nansen?”

Kyōzan replied, “Not so. We should recognize that Ōbaku had the wherewithal to capture the tiger alive.”

Isan said, “My disciple’s perceptiveness has excelled itself in this.”

What Isan was saying is, “Wasn’t Ōbaku able to match Nansen?” Kyōzan said that Ōbaku had the wherewithal to capture the tiger alive. If he had already captured the tiger, he could probably have stroked the tiger on its head. To capture a tiger and to pet a tiger are to engage in two totally different things. Is clearly seeing Buddha Nature the same as opening the Eye? Is one’s Buddha Nature seeing clearly the same as losing one’s Eye? Quick, quick, speak! The perceptiveness of Buddha Nature excels Itself in this. As a result, It does not depend on half a thing or on its whole. Nor does It depend on hundreds of thousands of things or on hundreds of thousands of occasions. For this reason it can be said:

The snares and traps of passion are but a single face of It.
On no time within a day does It depend, nor is It outside of time;
Rather, It is like wisteria and kudzu entwined about a tree.
All within the universe and the universe itself are still bereft of words for It, you see
~Shobogenzo, Bussho, Hubert Nearman - Online at:
[End Excerpt of Bussho]
[Closing Comment]
Dogen certainly offers up a rich and juicy harvest here, I am sure you will agree...
What do you make of Dogen's comment immediately following the first koan? In Dogen's language here, so it seems to me, utilizes that old reliable tool in the kit of all the great teachers: "a pretention to naiveté." In my experience, Dogen usually uses this tactic when he wants to be very sure that something is not overlooked or misunderstood. Notice how he carefully states and re-states the point that accurate "Training..." (even if authentic, like the "balanced" method mentioned here) does not mean that Buddha Nature can be seen. Notice also how is careful to state both, what that means, as well as what it does not mean. Here is the part:
"‘Training equally in meditative practices and spiritual wisdom’ does not mean that, since training in meditative practices does not interfere with pursuing spiritual wisdom, Buddha Nature can be clearly seen {even TB} when training in both equally..."
His manner of seemingly "overstating" the issue almost comes across in a way that a teacher might speak to a class of 1st graders--as if very clearly articulating the obvious. Thus he wipes away any dust and dirt, then makes a very clear, direct statement on what this does mean, here:
"Rather, when we clearly see our Buddha Nature, then we will be training equally in meditation practice and spiritual wisdom..."
It is notable that Dogen's emphasis on this point is not unique to the Bussho fascicle. He frequently stresses the fact that simply being able to perform Zen/Buddhist "practice" accurately is not the same as "authentic" practice-realization. This is often discussed in terms of a "non-Buddhist" Indian teaching of "Naturalism" (which is suspiciously very similar to some Tendai "Hongaku" teachings of Dogen's own place and time). These "non-Buddhist" teachings, by failing to fully incorporate the teachings of emptiness, nonduality, and coorigination fostered notions suggesting that since everyone is already, or "originally" enlightened, spiritual effort and practice was superfolous.
Such teachings were given some credibility at the time (and are widely active today) by mixing in a certain number of accurate views with the false ones. The most obvious, most damaging, and most difficult to uproot was (and is) based on the unity of "practice and enlightenment." The "non-Buddhist heretical view" included (includes) the "orthodox Zen/Buddhist" view that practice and enlightenment are (is) "one", but failed (fails) to apply the basic principles of nonduality which require the acknowledgement that the "oneness" of practice and enlightenment is dependent on the distinctions, or the "not-oneness" of practice and enlightenment.
In short, practice and enlightenment are nondual according to the "authentic Zen view"; thus, their "oneness" depends on the maintainence of their differing and distinct aspects; thus, "practice is practice-and-enlightenment", and "enlightenment is practice-and-enlightenment."
In the "non-Buddhist" view on the other hand, practice and enlightenment are fully merged--that is, each is viewed as substantially identical to the other; thus in the heretical view, "practice is enlightnment" and "enlightenment is practice." The unenlightened implications of this fallacy are not difficult to imagine.
I hope that this is useful.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Zen Master Honzhi's Christmas Advice

Christmas message from Hongzhi (1091-1157:

Separate yourself from disturbance and face whatever appears before you. Not one iota seeps through from outside. The two forms (yin and yang) have the same root, and the ten thousand images have one substance. Following change and going along with transformation the whole is not clouded over by previous conditions. Then you reach the foundation of the great freedom. Wind blows and moon shines, and beings do not obstruct each other. Afterwards, settle back within and take responsibility. Wisdom returns and the principle is consummated. When you forget about merit your position is fulfilled. Do not fall for occupying honorable stations, but enter the current of the world and join with the delusion. Transcendent, solitary, and glorious, directly know that transmitting is merit, but having transmitted is not your own merit.
~Hongzhi (1091-1157?)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Dogen on the mind that cannot be grasped

The wisdom of Dogen, excerpts from, Shobogenzo, Shin fukatoko:

The Mind that cannot be grasped is what all Buddhas are, for They personally rely upon It as supreme, fully perfected enlightenment. As the Diamond-Cutting Scripture says, “The mind of the past cannot be retained; the mind of the present cannot be held onto; the mind of the future cannot be grasped.” This expression points to the Buddha’s reliance upon the Mind that cannot be held onto, which is what all Buddhas do. It is what They have come to rely upon, saying that It is the unretainable mind of past, present, and future, and that It is the ungraspable Mind of all thoughts and things. If you do not learn from the Buddhas what They are relying upon, which is what makes this matter clear, you will not directly experience It...

There are people who, upon hearing the phrase ‘cannot be grasped’, have simply assumed that there is nothing to be attained in either case, for these people lack the living pathway of practice. Further, there are those who say that It cannot be grasped because it is said that we already possess It from the first. How does that hit the mark?

...What we call ‘Buddha Mind’ is synonymous with the three temporal worlds of past, present, and future. This Mind and the three temporal worlds are not separated from each other by so much as one single hair’s breadth. Even so, when we are discussing the two as things that are distinct and separate from each other, then they are farther apart than eighteen thousand breadths of hair.
Shobogenzo, Shin Fukatoku (written version), Hubert Nearman