Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thinking, Not-thinking, Nonthinking

Our body-mind is the universe arraying itself as our direct immediate experience here and now. Illuminating and clarifying this experience is one aspect of Zen practice and enlightenment, the aspect of thinking. Thinking is the analytic activity of immediate experience. Analytic consideration involves discrimination; contrasting and comparing various components of the unity of reality. As each instance of immediate experience is one with the totality of existence-time (uji), discrimination itself, as well as each of the various components are the true nature of immediate experience.

The reality that Dogen underscores with one of his favorite sayings, “nothing is hidden in the whole universe” constantly advances in and as each instance of immediate experience, whether it is verified in study and practice or not. Out thinking, communicating, and activity arises in harmony with our own actual state of enlightenment/delusion, which is, in a sense, our own unique form of systematic knowledge and understanding.

The structure or form of this systematic knowledge and understanding defines our characteristic attitude toward and response to the world. The accuracy of our understanding and the skillfulness of our speech, thoughts, and actions are exactly proportionate to our own self-awareness or lack thereof. The authenticity of our Zen practice is dependent on the degree to which “Zen” has become “our Zen,” this “our” is, of course, not the “our” of ego, but that of our true self. Any systematic knowledge and understanding that is not ours in this sense is only an idol.

Any system that does not arise from our true self is only an object of attachment that leads to bondage, stagnation, and ignorance. For Zen students, systems often become objects of attachment due to inadequate intellectual effort encouraged by dogmatic zealots and sectarian idolatry; any system that asserts its doctrines, truths, laws, or methods in “absolute” terms usurps the true self (Buddha) by halting the ceaseless advance into novelty.

Through my body, I have manifested the look of the Full Moon,
Thereby displaying the physical presence of all Buddhas.
My voicing of the Dharma has no fixed form,
For Its real functioning is beyond what is said, or how.

You need to realize that the genuine functioning of the Dharma is beyond any immediate display of what is said or how It is put. A genuine voicing of the Dharma has no set form.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Hubert Nearman

If systems are dogmatized they become immune to logic, creativity, and common sense. Authentic Zen practice is always open-ended and fluid, never fixed and rigid. Zen realization, expression, and activity flows with and as the never-ceasing advance of the universe into novelty, Zen flows from the pivot-point of the true body-mind here and now; refusing to affirm the absolute significance of even the most revered doctrine or method. The true Zen system of actualizing enlightened wisdom is not a doctrine or a method, it is realized by thinking, not thinking, and nonthinking.
Ted Biringer

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Zen: To Philosophize or Not to Philosphize

For those brought up with notions about Zen as something incommunicable, ineffable, or transcendent of thought and intellectual endeavors it was certainly a shock to discover that for Dogen, as Hee-Jin Kim pointed out, “The issue was not so much whether or not to philosophize as it was how to philosophize…” (Mystical Realist, p.98)

In 1975, when Hee-Jin Kim’s landmark book came on the scene, the popular view that the great Zen masters not only abstained from philosophizing but actively disparaged it was deeply entrenched. Some of the most open-minded Zen practitioners had difficulty accepting Kim’s revelation that for Dogen, the “philosophic enterprise was as much the practice of the bodhisattva way as was zazen.” (Mystical Realist, p.98) A certain amount of skepticism regarding this notion is definitely understandable. However, for the better part of 40 years Kim’s assertion has not met one serious challenge; indeed, his argument has been repeatedly validated and reinforced by evidence and studies in every related field—yet popular delusions persist.

The lines of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, “To realize the buddha-dharma is to realize your self. To realize your self is to forget your self” is often cited out of context as if it presents a complete view of Zen practice—to forget the self. As we shall see, this is just one example of how Dogen is frequently a victim of “anthologies.” For now, we will just point out that one thing “forgetting the self” implies in this context is taking up, or embracing, and being taken up by, or being embraced by all the many things of the world:

To realize the buddha-dharma is to realize your self. To realize your self is to forget your self. To forget your self is to be actualized by the many things. 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. All traces of enlightenment fall away, and the falling away of all traces of enlightenment is continuous.
Ted Biringer

To be “actualized by the many things” is a totally inclusive statement. Nothing is to be disregarded or cut off; not specific activities, certain kinds of desires, or particular thoughts, and certainly not emotional involvement, systematic study, or critical and intellectual endeavors. In the condition that Dogen calls, forgetting the self, spiritual practices like zazen (sitting meditation), formal teaching, and ceremonial participation, simply cannot be singled out, or divided from “the many things.” To divide spiritual practice from mundane activity is to instantly “re-member” the self; to revere meditation above philosophizing is not possible in the condition in which “all traces of enlightenment” have “fallen away.”

It is in the context of what Dogen here describes as being “actualized by the many things” that Hee-Jin Kim’s assertion that the “philosophic enterprise was as much the practice of the bodhisattva way as was zazen” applies. According to Dogen, practice and enlightenment is either authentic, or it is not; in the former nothing is excluded, in the latter nothing is included.

Zazen is only true zazen when performed in and as authentic practice and enlightenment, so too philosophizing. Hence, it is clear that the authenticity of “philosophizing” is not inherently concerned with a particular system or philosophy, but with the quality or conditions of the philosophic process itself. This means, for one thing, that Dogen should never be considered as expressing himself from within a particular theoretical system of thought or applying any kind of conceptual formula.

[Moments] when the truth is realized that the arising of mind is the arising of miscellaneous real dharmas and the truth is realized that the passing of mind is the passing of miscellaneous real dharmas, are all moments when the mind is expounding and moments when the nature is expounding.
Shobogenzo, Sesshin-sessho, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

In short, “action” according to Dogen, is not different from thought and perception, but identical with them. Again, forcing Shobogenzo (or any literary work) into a formula necessitates cutting out elements that effectively ruin its integrity, just as cutting out a single piece of the Mona Lisa would ruin it. As Dogen goes on to explain, people make this mistake by speculating about what the “truth of Buddhist patriarchs should not include,” and failing to “think critically about whether or not they have penetrated the great truth.”

Nevertheless, ordinary folk who do not penetrate the mind and do not master the nature, in their ignorance, not knowing “expounding the mind and expounding the nature” and not knowing discussion of the profound and discussion of the fine, say, and teach to others, that the truth of the Buddhist patriarchs should not include these things. Because they do not know “expounding the mind and expounding the nature” as “expounding the mind and expounding the nature,” they think of “expounding the mind and expounding the nature” as expounding about the mind and expounding about the nature. And this is mainly because they do not think critically about whether or not they have penetrated the great truth.
Shobogenzo, Sesshin-sessho, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

For Dogen, then, to philosophize is as much the practice of Zen as zazen, but there are two types of philosophizing. One type professes to understand and explain the world as it is; the other endeavors to transform the world into what it could and should be. Abstract speculators and religious cults are those involved with the former. Calling them “scholars that count words,” Dogen portrays these as people that see their own reflections in the images of Buddhism, rather than reality through those images, thus leading them to characterize reality with their own puny qualities; vague, difficult, boring, mundane, insignificant, and inflexible. Confusing their own ego-creations for reality, they conceive a vast, mysterious world, unconcerned and impervious to human influence. The philosophic enterprise based on such a vision of reality naturally tends toward escape and oblivion; advocating conformity and resignation such philosophies preach the “wisdom” of accepting powerlessness and revere the “serenity” of emotional and intellectual detachment.

Dogen’s view of what constitutes an authentic Zen application of the philosophic process is best illustrated by his own example; the cosmological vision of Shobogenzo. Symbolized by the Lotus Sutra’s flower of Dharma “turning and being turned,” the universe of Dogen’s vision is not unconcerned, vague, or inflexible, but intimate, lucid, and compliant. In contrast to speculating on the hazy, ego-centric ideas and abstract notions of the conceptual theorist, the authentic philosophic process is an intimate engagement of the true person and the “clear-clear” forms of the immediate present in the dynamic coordination of actualizing the universe (genjokoan). Speculation pictures the world through shadows of what is past, Shobogenzo pictures through the world continuously advancing into novelty. The philosophic enterprise demonstrated by Shobogenzo, like all authentic philosophic enterprises, is expressed in the language of myth, the only language that is potent enough to reveal the nature and dynamics of what is of the truest concerns to human beings, that which Zen calls the great matter of life and death.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Dogen On: As Our Eye Reveals Them

As Our Eye Reveals Them...
The Great Earth with all Its hills and streams is the appearance of things as our Eye reveals them.
Shobogenzo, Ganzei, Hubert Nearman

A perception, in Dogen’s writings, is a unification of perceiver and perceived. A concept, on the other hand, is an abstract notion, an idea derived through speculating about perceptions. Perceptions and concepts are both dharmas, real and useful aspects of the world. Perception is what unites us with the world; concepts are tools for acquiring general forms of knowledge and developing systems to organize information and activity. Throughout Shobogenzo, Dogen emphasizes the importance of understanding and remaining attentive to the differences between the two; by uniting perceiver and perceived, perceptions eliminate divisions between subject and object; concepts are produced by abstracting, thus dividing, qualities from dharmas. Concepts are derived from the components of perception (perceiver and perceived) and therefore cannot stand in as substitutes for perceptions.

To clarify, when we perceive a flower, for example, “perceiving the flower” is exactly “what” we are, and “the perceived flower” is exactly “what” it is. The flower here and now perceived is precisely what is perceived as a flower. “Here and now perceived” is our perceiving the flower as a flower; “perceiving the flower as a flower” is the flowers appearance before our eyes. Perceiving the flower is not our “present experience,” it is “what” we are; the perceived flower is not something “previously unperceived,” it is “what” it is. Perception unites subject and object, thus in perceiving a flower, both “we” and “the flower” are the “what” of perception; “present experience,” “previously unperceived,” and similar qualities are concepts – abstract notions speculatively derived from the actual “what” of experience.

What is looked at in this way is what the threefold world really is, and this threefold world is just as we perceive it to be. The threefold world is not one’s fundamental being, nor is it our present existence, nor is it something that newly arises, nor is it something born from causes and conditions, and it is beyond anything that has a beginning, a middle, or an end. There is the threefold world that is left behind and there is the threefold world of the here and now. This is the mutual meeting of a marionette with a marionette. It is the bringing forth and nurturing of kudzu and wisteria vines. The threefold world of the here and now is what we see as the threefold world. ‘What we see’ means our seeing the threefold world as a threefold world. ‘Seeing it as a threefold world’ refers to the threefold world as it manifests right before us, as we manifest it right before us, and as our spiritual question manifests right before our very eyes. We all innately have the ability to make the threefold world be the vehicle for the arising of our spiritual intention, our practice and training, our realizing enlightenment, and our experiencing nirvana.
Shobogenzo, Sangai Yuishin, Hubert Nearman

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dogen and Huike on The Sole Ancestor

Dogen and Huike on The Sole Ancestor
If you completely comprehend the clear purity of the mind-source, then all vows are fulfilled, all practices are completed, all is accomplished. You are no longer subject to states of being. For those who find this body of reality [dharmakāya], the numberless sentient beings are just one good person: the one person who has been there in accord with This through a million billion aeons.
~Huike (Second Zen Ancestor in China) Zen Dawn
, J.C. Cleary, p.39-40
It is not that there is a person inside, for the Ocean of one’s being is not some abode of a worldly person nor is it someplace beloved by a saintly person; it is one’s Self alone within the Ocean of one’s being. It is simply our constantly and openly giving expression to the Dharma.
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai
, Hubert Nearman
Also, you need to hear that the whole of the great earth is your own Dharma Body. That which seeks to know what we truly are is the resolute heart of someone who is truly alive. Even so, those who see what their True Self is are few. Only a Buddha alone knows this Self. Others who are off the Path, such as non-Buddhists, vainly take their unreal, false self to be their True Self. The Self that Buddhas speak of is synonymous with the whole of the great earth. Thus, whether we know or do not know our True Self, in either case, there is no ‘whole of the great earth’ that is other than our True Self.
Shobogenzo, Yui Butsu Yo Butsu
, Hubert Nearman

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Sole Purpose of Zen Buddhism

The Sole Purpose of Zen Buddhism
What was given to him was given solely for the purpose that he might master the wise perception of a Buddha. It was solely the wise perception of a Buddha which he was to master—and without being averse to contemplative meditation and diligence in practice.
Shobogenzo, Butsudo, Hubert Nearman

The fact that Dogen’s teaching is solely concerned with mastering the “wise perception of a Buddha” is a touchstone that keeps us grounded and centered in our study. Dogen’s elucidation of Buddhist doctrines and methods are given solely for the purpose that we might master the wise perception of a Buddha. He is not interested in our acquiring knowledge, learning correct ceremonial or ritualistic forms, or understanding the authentic truths or spiritual practices of Buddhism. Like all authentic Zen masters, Dogen’s task is not at all concerned with teaching people how to be Buddhists, but only with teaching them how to be Buddhas; to that end alone does Dogen make use of Buddhist doctrine and methodology.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Maha Prajna Paramita

Greetings friends,

Dogen fans may be interested in the latest post on our sister blog (The Flatbed Sutra Zen Blog)

Zen, Emptiness, and Understandable Explanations


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Dogen, Shakyamuni, & Dualistic Views of Language, Thinking, & Reason

Our Highest Ancestor in India, Shakyamuni Buddha, once said, “The snowcapped Himalayas are a metaphor for the great nirvana.” You need to know that He is speaking metaphorically about something that can be metaphoric. ‘Something that can be metaphoric’ implies that the mountains and nirvana are somehow intimately connected and that they are connected in a straightforward manner. When He uses the term ‘snow-capped Himalayas’, He is using the actual snowcapped Himalayas as a metaphor, just as when He uses the term ‘great nirvana’, He is using the actual great nirvana as a metaphor.
Shobogenzo, Hotsu Mujo Shin
, Hubert Nearman

Without seeing through the dualism of instrumentalist views of language, an accurate understanding of Zen remains impossibly out of reach. Any presuppositions (conscious or not) about words being mere signifiers, pointers, surrogates, or substitutes for “real things” (non-words) apart from themselves is inherently dualistic, thus prohibitive of the nondual experience of Zen practice-enlightenment.

The “blue sky” does not exist apart from the human mind. Even if we admit, for argument sake, that “waves” of certain lengths and frequencies exist independently of human beings, the actual experience (thus existence) of a “blue sky” could only arise if such waves interact with a human mind through a human eye. Thus, the reality of the blue sky and the words blue sky, are both produced by the exact same process with the exact same material: human experience. All “dharmas” (things, beings, events, etc.) are real particular things insofar as they are distinguished as particular things through human perception; the more distinctly they are perceived, the more real they are. We only perceive a blue sky insofar as we distinguish “blue sky” from “not-blue sky” (or “other than” blue sky). The words “blue sky” (and all their verbal and symbolic equivalents) are actualized simultaneously with the human perception of the “blue sky.”

Dogen says that Shakyamuni is speaking “about something that can be metaphoric” to emphasize that words are only significant insofar as they both contain, and are contained by (intimately connected) the real dharmas they describe (depict, portray, present). When Shakyamuni “uses the term” he is using “the actual snowcapped Himalayas” and “the actual great nirvana.” In the same way, we can only say “blue sky” meaningfully if we use the actual blue sky – the actual blue sky only becomes “actual” by being distinguished (thus, marked, or “named”) with the words “blue sky” (and their equivalents). Thus, the words (“blue sky,” “Himalayas,” and “nirvana”) are the actual dharmas (“blue sky,” “Himalayas,” and “nirvana”). For Dogen, any word that signifies or points to “something else” or “other than” is not an actual word (a real dharma); it is only a conceptual construct, an abstract notion. “A finger pointing to the moon” is not the same as “a finger pointing to something else,” nor is “the moon being pointed to by a finger” the same as “the moon not being pointed to by a finger.” The “actual moon” of “a finger pointing to the moon” is real insofar as it is “the moon” that is “pointed to by a finger.”

The term, or name of a dharma is its nature, its life; a dharma becomes a dharma (is actualized) by its being distinctly perceived, distinguished (described, discerned, marked, named, etc.). This is one of the reasons that Shakyamuni is the expression of Buddha nature in Dogen’s works; Dharma (truth) is expression (e.g. understandable explanations). That Dharma is “expression” means that Dharma is, only and always, “intelligible” (knowable, or comprehendible to the mind); the Buddha or ancestor is the being that “enlightens delusion,” “forms, emptiness,” or “fashions intelligibility” from the chaotic stream of ceaseless experience. The Buddha ancestor utilizes enlightened vision to transform general randomness, to actualize this particular thing from “thusness,” that particular meaning from “suchness.”

The view that the significance or meaning of a word exists somewhere outside of the word itself is based on the same kind of dualism that divides emptiness from form, mind from body, existence form time, and appearance from reality. Like all the myriad dharmas, the true “form” and the true “essence” of a word are never construed as two different things in Dogen’s Zen. True words, like all expressions of truth, are only and always fashioned by the creative force of the true human being (Buddha nature). The significance of a word, then, does not, and cannot exist in some “external world” apart from itself. For Dogen, a word (form) and its meaning (essence) constitute one and the same dharma (thing, being, event, etc.) as nondualistically as body-mind, existence-time, and practice-enlightenment.

Advocates of “correspondence” theories conceive of words as mere artificial (or provisional) “representatives” or “surrogates” of “real dharmas” that exist in the outside world (e.g. things, beings, events, etc.) or in the mind (e.g. ideas, concepts, thoughts, etc.). For such theorists, a word can have only one definite meaning, the one meaning that “corresponds” to a reality that exists “objectively” apart from the word. Dogen (and Buddhism) denies the nondual basis of such theories; for him the meaning or significance of a word is totally unique to its dharma-position. That is to say, the meaning of a word is unique to each actual instance of its appearance, depending on its particular context as well as the particular hearer or reader.

The speculative theorist that fails to see that the “dictionary meaning” of a word is an abstraction, and therefore general, and approximate, will fail to perceive the significance of Dogen’s (hence, Zen’s) expressions. For Dogen, a real word is a real dharma, and like all dharmas, its reality (in existence-time), and thus its meaning, is unique to each and every actual instance of its occurrence. Also like all dharmas, each word is a particular manifestation of the totality of existence-time – when one word is illumined, the rest of existence-time is darkened (thus present, potent). Herein lies the reason for the centrality of language in Dogen’s Zen; to Buddha ancestors a word, as a dharma-position, is a focal point of existence-time to which all sounds, forms, voices, expressions, and meanings radiate out from and return to – in short, a true word encompasses and is encompassed by the infinite potential of Buddha nature, and is therefore charged with an infinite potential of meanings.

Words, then, like all real forms (dharmas), display the attributes of real existents (a temporal form, or body) insofar as they are actually perceived (experienced) by human beings. True “perception” being synonymous, in Dogen’s Zen, with true activity, expression, and understanding, to perceive a word is to actualize the koan (genjokoan) here and now – “I” make the word what it is, the word makes me what “I” am. Thus, we can sense the wonder and urgency of Hee-Jin Kim’s words in, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, as he forcefully reiterates one of the central principles resonating throughout his works; listen again to Kim’s refrain that so often goes unheeded:

Language, thinking, and reason constitute the key to both zazen and koan study within Dogen’s praxis-oriented Zen. The koan’s and zazen’s function is not excoriate and abandon the intellect and its words and letters, but rather to liberate and restore them in the Zen enterprise. In short, enlightenment is not brought about by direct intuition (or transcendent wisdom) supplanting the intellect and its tools, but in and through their collaboration and corroboration in search of the expressible in deeds, words, and thoughts for a given situation (religious and secular). Zazen and koan in this respect strive for the same salvific aspiration of Zen. The language of the old-paradigm koan (kosoku koan) becomes a living force in the workings of the koan realized in life (genjo koan). With their reclaimed legitimacy in Zen, language, thinking, and reason now enable practitioners to probe duality and nonduality, weigh emptiness, and negotiate the Way. Method and realization, rationality and spirituality, thinking and praxis, go hand-in-hand in Dogen’s Zen. Such is “the reason of words and letters” (monji no dori).
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.78

Please note that Kim does not deny the significance of satori or kensho (direct intuition) or suggest it be replaced by the “intellect and its tools” (i.e. language, thinking, and reason), but that the two need to collaborate and corroborate. Indeed, one obvious inconsistency of views asserting the nonessential or provisional role of “words and letters” is that the very “reason” of such assertions, which implicitly posit the irrationality of Zen (hence Buddhism), deny the possibility of their own validity.

Now, it is the infinite potential of meaning inherent to words that necessitates, and makes possible, the “search” and “striving”, in Kim’s terms, for the expressible and salvific expressions (deeds, words, and thoughts) of Dogen’s “praxis-oriented Zen.” As long as words are confined to the general meanings of dictionaries, they remain abstract potentials, possibilities so broad (infinite) that any significance they may have could only be considered vague at best. This is exactly similar to the state of sense experience in the absence of any organization or arrangement. And, just as the Buddha ancestor “fashions a universe” and “fashions a self” with the selection and arrangement of “bits and pieces” of existence-time, so she fashions expressions of truth with the selection and arrangement of words. Just as “bits and pieces” of existence-time only become real, particular things (dharmas) when they are actually fashioned, formed, or pictured, so the infinite potential of words only achieve real, specific meaning when they are actually fashioned, formed, or expressed.

Dogen’s profound insight into the infinite potential of words and letters would also helps to account for his apparent disfavor of systematic or formulaic classifications and devices. As mentioned previously, Dogen’s lack of any explicit use of Zen devices (e.g. Five Ranks, Positions of Host and Guest, etc.) in his own works probably has less to do with his rejection of their validity as expressions of truth and more to do with his view of the infinite potential language, and the absolute uniqueness of every true expression of Buddha nature.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Zazen, Shakyamuni & The Lotus Sutra in Dogen's Zen

The Lotus Sutra in Dogen's Zen
The Lotus Sutra, hailed by Dogen as the “Sutra of Sutras,” being the greatest (most complete) expression of truth (Dharma), forms the hub of his vision of existence-time (Buddha). The Lotus Sutra is thus qualified by Dogen because it presents (makes present) a lucid, definitive, and (most importantly) comprehensive picture (image, form, expression) of the whole Buddha Dharma, from “before the empty eon” to “after the kalpa ending conflagration.”
In its comprehensive treatment of Buddhas and Buddha realms, the nature and activities of Bodhisattvas, the significance of similes and parables, and graphic depictions of the meaning of expedient means, various vehicles and individual capacities, the Lotus Sutra achieves a vision that not only reconciles the many and various aspects of the Dharma, which otherwise might appear inconsistent, it reveals their interdependence. Being inclusive of the entire lifespan of Buddha (the totality of existence-time), the meaning, manner, and affirmation of “opening up, manifesting, awakening, and entering” into Buddhahood of all beings (i.e. the certain affirmation of universal salvation), the Lotus Sutra clearly and unequivocally illumines the eternal connection of “Buddhas” and “ordinary beings” that appears as a gap to the deluded eye, and is often depicted only vaguely in less complete expressions, thus making the connection seem hazy, obscure, or mysterious.

“The content of the buddha lands of the ten directions” is the “sole existence” of the “Flower of Dharma.” Herein, “all the buddhas of the ten directions and the three times,” and beings of anuttara samyaksaṃbodhi, have [times of] turning the Flower of Dharma, and have [times of] the Flower of Dharma turning. This is just the state in which “original practice of the bodhisattva way” neither regresses nor deviates. It is the “wisdom of the buddhas, profound and unfathomable.” It is the “calm and clear state of samadhi,” which is “difficult to understand and difficult to enter.” As Buddha Manjusrī, it has the “form as it is” of “buddhas alone, together with buddhas,” which is “the great ocean” or “the buddha land.” Or as Buddha Sakyamuni, it is “appearance in the world” in the state of “Only I know concrete form, and the buddhas of the ten directions are also like that.” It is the “one time” in which he “desires to cause living beings” to “disclose, to display, to realize, and to enter,” [saying] “I and buddhas of the ten directions are directly able to know these things.”
Shobogenzo, Hokke-ten-hokke, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

The inclusion in this passage of the symbolic images of the Lotus Sutra as “equivalents” with symbolic images common to the literature of Zen (most importantly Dogen’s own writings) is typical throughout the entire Shobogenzo. When he describes the Sutra’s symbolism as “form as it is,” “buddhas alone, together with buddhas,” “the great ocean,” “the buddha land,” etc. Dogen conveys a new significance to both symbols. For example, “as Buddha Shakyamuni, it is ‘appearance in the world,’” succeeds in expanding the connotations of both “Shakyamuni” and “appearance in the world.”

Here we want to stress two important points about Dogen’s use of the Lotus Sutra; first, all the fascicles of Dogen’s Shobogenzo are centered on a single myth (Buddhism); second, that single myth is most clearly portrayed (so far as Dogen is concerned) by the Lotus Sutra. The significance of this cannot be over emphasized; if we come to terms with Dogen’s understanding of the Lotus Sutra, that is, when we understand how he read it, the difficulty of the symbolism of Shobogenzo is enormously reduced.

Key to Dogen’s view is that, for him, the Lotus Sutra (hence, the Buddha Dharma) is a single unified vision; thus, is totally consistent. As the central and primary expression of the Buddha, it is the source of all the Buddhist sutras, shastras (treatises), Zen records, expressions of truth, and finally, all real dharmas (things, beings, events, instances, etc.).

While the Lotus Sutra is the “Sutra of Sutras” from which all arises, it would be a serious mistake to think that Dogen regarded the Lotus Sutra as a complete or even uniquely exclusive form of Buddha. Such an understanding would be as narrow and misguided as the vulgar interpretations of Zen as “a special transmission outside the sutras” that Dogen so vehemently criticized.
The Lotus Sutra is the hub of the total form of Shakyamuni Buddha, the axis mundi, the source of all true expression; it is not the totality of Buddha nature, and certainly not the totality of expressed truth.

The comprehensiveness of the Lotus Sutra means that it can and does accommodate the totality of Shakyamuni, the body or form of Buddha (the universe); the Lotus Sutra does not exhaust the form of Buddha. The significance of an expression of truth is experienced in its connection to the source of human existence. When we truly perceive (with the Dharma-eye) a real form (an expression of truth), subject and object are united; we make it what it is, it makes us what we are.
This is the nature and function of zazen, the authentic practice-enlightenment of Dogen’s Zen that “re-links” (religion) us with our source, or true nature. The true nature (Buddha nature) of an expression of truth has nothing to do with biographical or historical accuracy, nor is it concerned with ontological, epistemological, cosmological, psychological, physiological, or any other “ological” fact or even possibility. One of the “miscellaneous koans” assigned to students early on in the lineage where I underwent koan training runs:

“A man raised a goose inside a bottle; set it free without breaking the glass or hurting the goose.”

After several responses to this koan were rejected over the course of a couple of weeks, I exclaimed, “It is impossible!” My teacher calmly replied, “In Zen, nothing is impossible.” While I eventually arrived at a point where the truth of the koan allowed me to free the goose, the truth of my teacher’s calm reply has been an even more treasured companion for the nearly two decades since.

Zen starts at the heart of reality and thus accommodates new horizons of truth without needing to be reformed or revised. While the circumference of enlightened vision is capable of infinite expansion, the hub of truth is not and cannot be disrupted. Authentic zazen is being seated (based, centered) within the hub of true nature which allows us to clearly perceive when, where, and how any particular form can be – in truth – accommodated, even freeing geese from bottles. The Lotus Sutra, as the axis mundi of Dogen’s Zen, is the central perspective, the pivot point from which the true nature of the whole universe expands spherically outward in the ten directions. It is the bodhi-seat, the immovable spot where Shakyamuni realizes enlightenment; it is the eternal center point from which existence-time expands infinitely outward, and to which all things return.

That is to say, from today it passes through a series of moments to tomorrow; from today it passes through a series of moments to yesterday; from yesterday it passes through a series of moments to today; from today it passes through a series of moments to today; and from tomorrow it passes through a series of moments to tomorrow.
Shobogenzo, Uji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

It is not the task of expressions of truth to convey knowledge or information, but to unite subject and object, to re-link us to our source. Expressions of truth do not instill wisdom, they evoke it. If we listen to a piece by Mozart with an ear to understand its meaning, we will not understand it nor truly hear it; we will fail just as surely if we attempt to not understand it. Only when we forget (cast off) our “self” as well as “Mozart” (the body-mind of self and other) will we truly hear and understand.

The true form (shape, body, appearance, sound) of a dharma (thing, being, event) and its true nature (essence, meaning, significance) are not two separate things. Expressions of truth are not signifiers of truths or realities apart from themselves; they are not simply “fingers pointing at the moon.” The meaning (nature, essence) of an expression of truth is not in its relation to the “real things” in the “external world” to which it “points.” Even in an actual instance of “a-finger-pointing-at-the-moon” the finger is as essential as the moon; the expression, “the-moon,” is an entirely different dharma (form, thing).

In fashioning expressions of truth, Buddhas and Buddha ancestors will readily use whatever “material” the world makes available, including philosophical concepts, historical facts, fictitious beings, and anything else they can appropriate; the final product however, may well have nothing to do with any of those materials. If it is an authentic expression of truth it will be a novel creation with intrinsic significance to the central truth of human life and death.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Many know about zazen - Few know zazen

All Zen Buddhists know about zazen, but few actually know zazen.

Near the end of Himitsu-shōbōgenzō, Butsu-kōjō-no-ji, Dogen says:

In the house of the Buddha there is Bodhisattva Regarder of the Sounds of the World. Few people have not seen her but very few people know her.
Himitsu-shōbōgenzō (Secret Shōbōgenzō), Butsu-kōjō-no-ji
, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

This Bodhisattva is, of course, Avalokitesvara, one of the most important Bodhisattvas in Buddhism and the great hero of the Heart Sutra.

Clearly, as Dogen says, “Few people have not seen her.” However, what does Dogen mean by, “but very few people know her”? The reason that millions know about her but very few know her is the same reason that all Zen Buddhists know about zazen, but few actually know zazen.

[Note: This failure to “know” has nothing to do with what Zen calls “not knowing” or “don’t know mind” – if we don’t know Avalokitesvara or zazen we certainly don’t know “not knowing.”]

"Zazen" is a term that is often taken for granted, glossed over, and misconstrued. We all know that the literal translation of, “zazen” is “seated meditation,” but what is that? That is the same as saying “2+2” is “4” - which is only saying the same thing in two ways; both of which are generalizations. We may understand the terms, but apart from "knowing" what they actually stand for (e.g. “4 apples,” “2 dogs plus 2 cats,” etc.) the terms are meaningless. There is no such thing as a “general” 2+2, or a “general” 4, 5, or 6; there are only particular, actual things that posses such qualities.

A general “seated meditation” is as non-existent as a general “zazen.” Defining zazen as “non-thinking,” “casting off body-mind,” etc. is no more meaningful than defining 4 as 1+1+1+1, or 7-3 Only particular, actual instances of zazen have actual significance.
So how do we “know” Avalokitesvara or zazen? We know them by becoming aware of their reality in actual experience. We come to know 4 (or 2+2) by experiencing its reality within actual, particular things of the world that possesses its quality; our hands are 2, Mommy’s hands are 2, together there are 4 hands, and on it goes. We come to know zazen and Avalokitesvara by experiencing its reality within actual, particular things of the world that possesses its quality; looking at forms with the whole body-mind, and listening to sounds with the whole body-mind we experience them directly – this is knowing zazen, knowing Avalokitesvara.
Dogen describes this condition as that in which the “body-mind” of “self and other than self” is cast off. The Zen masters tell us that this experience first occurs (kensho, or kenbutsu) when we actually awaken to our own true nature. The significance of this kind of knowing is demonstrated by the fact that all the great Zen masters are in agreement that it is essential to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment. Such an awakening is, in Dogen's terms, “that one experience that we cannot omit.”
To clarify, consider Dogen’s criticism of Zen Master Soko (Daie). There is a widespread misunderstanding among Zen students, especially those identified with the “Soto” tradition, that Dogen’s refutation of Soko’s teaching was based on his association with Zen koans. This claim is based on a simplistic grasp of the issue at best, at worst it is a blatant falsehood designed to detract us from the real issues. Dogen’s rejection of Soko’s teaching was based on the criteria he always used to verify or deny expressions of truth: authentic practice-enlightenment.
Regardless of the “Urban Legend” surrounding his view of Soko, Dogen’s rejection was due to the fact that Soko had failed to realize that one vital experience. Dogen’s own words on the matter are clear and straightforward:
Even though time and time again Tandō aimed at opening Sōkō up, the latter ultimately kept missing that one experience, and there is no way of compensating for that, for one cannot omit that experience.
Shobogenzo, Jishō Zammai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

There are “certified Dharma heirs” that spend a lot of time and energy minimizing this experience, a few even suggest it might be “expendable” (some deny such an experience exists), but as we see, that is definitely not Dogen’s take. By why does Dogen (like the classic Zen masters) say that this is one experience that cannot be omitted? Because without it we can’t “know” zazen (and Avalokitesvara); zazen will simply be a general notion, a concept – and there is simply no way to practice a concept of zazen no matter how long we “just sit” in the lotus position.
In his criticism of Soko, Dogen not only criticizes his failure to experience kensho, he criticizes Soko’s failure to penetrate the sayings (koans) of the Buddha ancestors as well as the words and ways of Buddhas. Dogen was a Dharma-heir of both the Rinzai and Soto Zen traditions and his teachings demand authentic awakening as well as a thorough study of the sutras and koans. In his critique of Soko, he insists on the need to both, awaken or, “intuitively grasp what the Buddha Dharma is” and to study and learn, or, “to intellectually understand what the Buddha Dharma is.”

Sōkō did not thoroughly explore his own statement, “That is precisely what Sōkō is suspicious of,” nor did he drop it off, or break it open, or give rise to the Great Doubt, or break through that doubting.

It is so pitiful how he failed to understand what the Ancestors of the Buddha were saying to him in their talks and writings. He did not grasp that to study and train is to awaken to one’s True Self. He did not hear that to delve deeply into the writings of myriad generations is to come to realize what that Self truly is.

Without proper study, there are errors like these and there is self-deception like his.

Because this was the way ‘Meditation Master’ Sōkō was, in his assembly there was not a single disciple, or even half a one, who had a trustworthy nose ring, but there were many who were pretend monks.

Failure to intuitively grasp what the Buddha Dharma is and failure to intellectually understand what the Buddha Dharma is are both just like this. Beyond any question, novice trainees here and now should explore the Matter in detail with their Master. Do not be negligent out of pride.
Shobogenzo, Jishō Zammai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Until we actually manage to cast off the body-mind of “self and other,” we do not know zazen, which means we do not know the “state of Buddha.” If we do not know the state of Buddha, we can certainly not know the “ascendant state of Buddha.” Here we come to the only point in Dogen’s Zen where we can in any way say that the experience of kensho, or kenbutsu (the initial experience of enlightenment) is of “minor” significance; it is minor insofar as it is only the beginning of authentic Zen practice-enlightenment. In short, it is “major” in that if we omit it we cannot truly realize Zen, it is “minor” in that it is only the true start of Zen.

Thus we come to the real blood and guts of a lifetime of Zen practice-enlightenment: the ascendant state of Buddha.

Great Master Gohon of Tōzan said, “You should know that there is the matter of the ascendant state of buddha. When you know of the matter of the ascendant state of buddha, you will truly possess the means to speak.”

“The means to speak” is the means to turn the wheel of Dharma. In truth, if we do not know the matter of the ascendant state of buddha, we idly stagnate without penetrating to and getting free of the state beyond buddha. If we do not penetrate it and get free, we do not transcend the worlds of demons. Once we find the Way that arrives at buddha, we leave the area of the common person immediately. The people who have mastered this Way are few. Still, just because we are unable to know it, we should not, so saying, leave it at that. If, with a true will, we learn in practice under good counselors who have truly illuminated [the Way], we will be able to attain it without fail.
Himitsu-shōbōgenzō (Secret Shōbōgenzō), Butsu-kōjō-no-ji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Sunday, October 10, 2010

If Zazen is the Medium, What is the Vehicle?

If Zazen is the Medium, What is the Vehicle?
Because it furnishes effective, methodical training for the development and utilization of the Dharma-eye, zazen (and its synonyms) in Dogen’s writings, is the channel, or medium, through which religion (Dharma) is transmitted...
Because they contain and convey the “words and ways” of Buddhas and ancestors and have “carried” them “into nirvana” the Buddhist Sutras (scriptures) is the vehicle of religion (Dharma).

Practicing what the Buddha taught means making the words and ways of all the Buddhas manifest. Because this is what Buddhas and Ancestors have done for the sake of Buddhas and Ancestors, the Teachings have been accurately passed on for the sake of the Teachings. This is what the turning of the Wheel of the Dharma is. From within the Eye of this Wheel, these Teachings have caused all the Buddhas and Ancestors to manifest and to be carried into nirvana.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo
, Hubert Nearman

The Buddhist Sutras, for Dogen, are “the entire universe itself,” which of course, includes the records and koans of Zen. Revelatory of the nondual (unified) reality of human existence, the Buddhist Sutras are the vehicle of the Buddha Dharma, and are the key to the authentic practice-enlightenment of Zen. So, authentic zazen is the channel, or medium of religion, the Sutras are the vehicle of religion, therefore, religion (the Buddha Dharma, in Dogen’s terms) is equally zazen and sutras. As always in Dogen's writings, this unity does not mean “undifferentiated oneness,” but nondual interdependence; authentic zazen is always inclusive of the sutras, the sutras are always inclusive of zazen.

“Practicing” (authentic zazen) “what the Buddha taught” (the sutras) “means making the words and ways of all the Buddhas manifest” (actualizing the enlightened vision expressed in the Sutras). Making the words and ways (contained and conveyed by the sutras) manifest in the world here and now is to actualize the Dharma. It is then, through the words and letters, which are never apart from the whole of existence-time, that Zen practitioners may come to know the “one-taste” reality of Zen. Thus Dogen wrote:

The monastics of future generations will be able to understand one-taste Zen (ichimizen) based on words and letters, if they devote their efforts to spiritual practice by seeing the universe through words and letters, and words and letters through the universe.
Tenzo kyokan
, trans. Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.60
For when we encounter the sutras we encounter the Buddhas and Ancestors.
The one who encounters the twelve divisions of the Scriptural Teachings encounters the Buddhas and Ancestors, and the one who speaks of the Buddhas and Ancestors speaks of the twelve divisions of the Scriptural Teachings.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo
, Hubert Nearman

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Zazen, Enlightenment, and the one "Religion" of Dogen

As a young prince, Shakyamuni perceived all the various dharmas as existing separately from the rest of the universe, himself, and from each other. Some innate capacity drew him to believe in the possibility that there was something much grander to the myriad diversity of the world than he could see. This possibility culminated in sincere aspiration to discover the truth. After much time and various approaches, his endeavors came to fruition and he experiential realized the integration of the infinite variety of dharmas into the one body-mind of Buddha nature.

According to one account, following this realization Shakyamuni exclaimed, “How wonderful, all beings are the Tathagata (“thus come one,” Buddha), only their delusions and preoccupations keep them from testifying to this truth.” Technically, such an exclamation does not “say” anything that had not been said many times to Shakyamuni (who was thoroughly versed in the Upanishads) before; its meaning, however, was vastly different for Shakyamuni – it was an expression of personal verification. This is not to say that the teachings of Hinduism or the Upanishads is the same as (or different from) Buddhism; the point is that learning truth and verifying truth are two totally different processes with two vastly different results. As the Zen tradition eventually came to epitomize, there are two distinct forms of religion or spiritual wisdom, one that is communicated from institutions to individuals, and one that is communicated from Buddha to Buddha.

In Dogen’s Zen, no religion or spiritual wisdom is or can be communicated from an institution to an individual. Religious institutions would be instantly eradicated but for the innate human capacity for self-doubt and self-hindrance. As such institutions are keenly, if tacitly, aware of, their very existence is dependent on men who are unable or unwilling to recognize their own identity with the one mind. If suffering (delusion) exists, such men reason (with much encouragement from institutions and their agents), it is due to some inherent flaw in humanity and cannot be ascribed to Buddha. For Dogen, of course, such reasoning is literally non-sense, as it amounts to the generalized notions of abstract speculation which has no basis in actual sense experience. Dogen does not so much refute the various systems and views that purport to classify the relative depths and types of “good and evil” as much as he avoids them altogether by refusing to grant validity to the abstractions they are based on. For Dogen, “pure light” (or “good”) is as nonexistent as “pure” awareness, consciousness, blueness, sharpness, or any other general, abstract quality.

The only true religion or spiritual wisdom is that transmitted from Buddha to Buddha; existence is experience and any religion or wisdom that is not experienced does not exist. In Buddhism such experience is referred to as enlightenment and is described as an awareness or awakening to true nature. In the Zen tradition this experience is often described in terms of death or dying.

When expressing this experience in terms of death and dying, Zen often calls it the “great” death. The “greatness” of this death lies in the fact that with this experience not only the individual Zen practitioner dies, but the entire universe itself. This total destruction of the universe is symbolized by the Buddhist version of the “apocalypse,” called the “Aeonic Ending Conflagration” in which the entirety of space and time is destroyed by fire.

As in western versions, the Buddhist apocalypse is followed by the actualization of a new world in which peace, joy, and liberation abound. The great death of Zen then, is the expression of a vision in which the individual’s experiential world of ceaselessly streaming chaotic confusion is utterly destroyed, thereby making way for a new world of ceaselessly advancing enlightenment of ongoing creativity, freedom, joy, and peace.

In this sense, the “great death” is synonymous with “great enlightenment.” Contrary to popular notions and seemingly reasonable assumptions however, great enlightenment does not imply an eradication of delusion, at least as far as Dogen is concerned:

“We do not see “not being deluded” as great realization.”
Shobogenzo, Daigo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

While one of the names for the realm in which Buddhas dwell is the “pure land,” it would be a serious error to equate the reality of this realm with the usual notions of purity:

A monk asked Joshu, “What is the Pure Land?”
Joshu said, “A puddle of piss.”
The monk said, “Can you show it to me?”
Joshu said, “Don’t tempt me.”
(James Green)

Far from some kind of empty, undifferentiated realm of bliss, detachment, or quietude, the world in which Buddhas or Buddha ancestors dwell has nothing to do with “pure” awareness or consciousness, at least insofar as that implies an absence of delusion. To be a Buddha does not mean to be separate from delusion, it means to be enlightened about delusion.

“Buddhas are enlightened about delusion; ordinary beings are deluded about enlightenment.”
Shobogenzo, Genjokoan

It is common to misunderstand enlightenment as an experience that eradicates, or at least transcends, delusion. Buddhism professes to offer a way to realize liberation from suffering. Asserting that the anguish of old age, sickness, and death is due to our deluded notions of “self,” Buddhism asserts that the experience of enlightenment, that is, awakening to our true nature, can liberate us from suffering. If enlightenment does not mean an eradication of delusion (which is the cause of suffering), how does the experience liberate us from suffering? This question, which should be an obvious one, often seems to go unexplored in Buddhist study, as well as on the cushion (in meditation) by Zen practitioners. Needless to say, Dogen exhorts us to carefully examine this important issue thoroughly. For instance, here is a passage from Shobogenzo, Daigo [Note: in the following translation, “mei” is rendered as “illusion” rather than “delusion,” as we are doing].

Let us consider this for a moment. Is a person of great enlightenment who still suffers from illusion the same as a person who is not yet enlightened? When a person of great enlightenment still suffers from illusion, is s/he making illusion by means of great enlightenment? …when we say “A person of great enlightenment still suffers from illusion,” are we to construe the addition of great enlightenment as “still suffering from illusion”? We must investigate these issues in various ways.

…we must realize that hearing the statement “A person of great enlightenment still suffers from illusion” is the ultimate penetration of our inquiry. Note that “great enlightenment” is ever joined with “still suffering from illusion.”
Shobogenzo, Daigo, Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.148

This is, undoubtedly, a complex issue, though it is not a complicated one; it demands serious investigation and consideration, but it is not paradoxical, esoteric, or enigmatic. Anyone that takes up the issue in serious study and meditation will find resolution without too much difficulty; anyone that does not take it up will not resolve it. We will meet with this issue again, for now the main point is that enlightenment and delusion are mutually interdependent and non-obstructive, that is, they are nondual, and as such are coessential and coextensive.

Before summarizing the main points of this discussion in Dogen’s terms let us briefly consider the etymology of the term “religion” which is the meaning applied to it here. “Religion” comes from the Latin; religio, which means “re-link” or “re-connect, to the source.” More specifically then, by “religion” we mean “re-linking to our source.” This should not, however, be read as implying a reconnection to some source of the past. Our source, in Buddhism, is not restricted to the past, present, or future but is inclusive of existence-time as a whole. In other words, our true source has always been, is now, and will always be our source.

Now then, for Dogen the one only true religion is communicated from Buddha to Buddha through practice-enlightenment which accompanies the casting-off (apocalypse, great death) of the body-mind of self and other (the world of chaos and confusion) which illuminates the true nature of the unity of the one mind (true self) with the myriad dharmas. Not a “stage” or “level,” but a dynamic, ongoing activity, enlightenment penetrates and illumines delusion in a continuously advancing creative process of actualization (becoming, manifestation). This “actualization” is the unified of practice-enlightenment wherein “practice” is enacted by and as “enlightenment” and “enlightenment” is realized in and through “practice.” Such is the transmission of wisdom to wisdom, of Buddhas alone together with Buddhas, face to face, mind to mind. This then, is the one and only religion recognized and advocated by Dogen, his favored term of which is, “genjokoan” (genjo; actualization, manifestation, expression, realization; koan; truth, public document or demonstration, the universe, yin-yang).

Enlightenment means illumination, that is, to illumine and be illumined by; thus illumination is seeing and being seen. This seeing and seen are activity of what Dogen calls, the Dharma-eye. The result of such illumination is not “belief” in the Dharma, or “faith” in the reality of nirvana, liberation, or a pure land, it is seeing reality directly, it is, in Zen terms, “face to face transmission,” which Dogen describes as directly “meeting Shakyamuni Buddha” (kenbutsu). This illumination (which is of course not limited to the visual sense) is actualization of true religion, the re-linking with our source which is not a static state but a ceaselessly advancing process. Although not static or fixed, it is nevertheless, the ultimate end of religion – the ever advancing casting-off of the “old world,” or the “false self” in the continuous clarification of the Dharma-eye’s ceaseless actualization of universe here and now.

There may be no human being who clearly understands this state; “it keenly avoids verbal expression.” If we express it with words, horns will appear on the head. It is simply illumination of the mind in seeing forms, and realization of the truth in hearing sounds. The mind described as “the mind to be illuminated” may be the mind of Buddha. The truth to be illuminated may be the truth of Buddha. In the truth of Buddha and in the house of Buddha, we just illuminate the mind by seeing forms and realize the truth by hearing sounds; there is nothing else at all. A state that is like this, being already in the Buddha’s truth, should preach, “To those who must be saved through this body, I will manifest at once this body and preach the Dharma.” Truly, there is no preaching of Dharma without manifestation of the body, and there can be no salvation that is not the preaching of Dharma.
Himitsu-shōbōgenzō (Secret Shōbōgenzō), Butsu-kōjō-no-ji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Dogen uses a number of terms synonymously in referring to the authentic practice-enlightenment (shusho) of the Buddha Dharma. These include sanzen (the practice of Zen), shiryo fu-shiryo (thinking not-thinking), hi-shiryo (nonthinking), shikan-taza (sole sitting), and of course, his favorite, zazen (seated meditation). As “terms” these posses various and unique connotations, but his use of these terms are in reference to a reality that he regards as the one and only authentic activity of Buddhas and ancestors. Until the reality of zazen, sanzen, etc. are practically actualized in the everyday world they remain, at best, in a state of potential. To be practically actualized, of course, means to be actualized authentically (accurately verified and understood); Dogen’s writings are sprinkled with cautions about confusing authenticity with formality. He relates in Zazenshin, for instance, that while “everyone from the abbot to the monks” (in many temples) practice zazen and regard “sitting in zazen as the main task,” very few truly know zazen.

If [people] are not able to be illuminated by the brightness, they lack this state of maintenance and reliance and they lack this belief and acceptance. This being so, even since ancient times, few people have know that zazen is zazen. On the mountains of the great kingdom of Song today, leaders of top-ranking temples who do not know zazen and who do not learn of it are many; there are some who know [zazen] clearly, but they are few. In many temples, of course, times for zazen are laid down, and everyone from the abbot to the monks regards sitting in zazen as the main task. When recruiting students, too, they urge them to sit in zazen. Even so, those abbots who know [zazen] are rare.
Shobogenzo, Zazenshin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Obviously, simply performing the physical activity of Zen practice (zazen, shikantaza, etc.), even if it is regarded as “the main task,” is nothing more than an exercise in futility as far as Dogen is concerned. To sit in zazen, regard it as the essential practice, and accurately perform the physical aspects of it (e.g. correct environment, posture, breathing, application of consciousness, etc.) is certainly not what Dogen means by authentic practice-enlightenment. In short, “sitting in zazen” is not what Dogen means by “zazen.” When Dogen uses the term “zazen” he does not mean the zazen of those that do not “know zazen.” Authentic zazen is not “sitting in meditation,” it is the “state of maintenance and reliance” that is “illuminated by the brightness” of Buddhas and ancestors. This is worth insisting on because cultists and charlatans have long been proclaiming simplistic and superstitious views about “zazen” in Dogen’s name. To this day, popular “teachers” and “Zen” books advocate simplistic and superstitious “Zen practices” (citing Dogen as their authority) professing that even the “first sitting of a rank beginner” is the “complete and perfect” actualization of Buddha, or “just sitting is itself enlightenment.” It is no wonder that the followers of such “teachers” (and even the teachers themselves) often speak of zazen as something that is dull or boring. While such an expression is a clear demonstration of not knowing that “zazen is zazen,” one can only wonder how those that make such (honest?) expressions manage to attract large flocks – it seems that one could find “less boring” ways of being bored. As I heard one (authentic) teacher say, “If you are bored, it is because you are boring.” Again, boredom is a sure sign that one has not yet come to know that zazen is zazen, at least not the zazen that Dogen recommends.

When we use [this state] it is totally vigorous.
Shobogenzo, Zazenshin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

The standard state of real experience, when activated, allows no idle moment. Zazen, even if it is only one human being sitting for one moment, thus enters into mystical cooperation with all dharmas, and completely penetrates all times; and it therefore performs, within the limitless universe, the eternal work of the Buddha’s guiding influence in the past, future, and present.
Bendowa, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

This sitting in zazen is not learning Zen concentration. It is simply the peaceful and joyful gate of Dharma. It is the practice-and-experience which perfectly realizes the state of bodhi. The universe is conspicuously realized, and restrictions and hindrances never reach it. To grasp this meaning is to be like a dragon that has found water, or like a tiger in its mountain stronghold.
Fukanzazngi, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Essential Books for the Dogen Student

Essential Books for the student of Zen Master Dogen
(From the September edition of The Flatbed Sutra Newsletter)

By far, the best two books available in English on Dogen and his teachings

-Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, by Hee-Jin Kim
-Dogen: On Meditation and Thinking, by Hee-Jin Kim

Two complete translations of Shobogenzo essential for all Dogen students

-Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo (Complete translation in four volumes), by Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross
-Shobogenzo (Complete translation), by Rev. Hubert Nearman

Essential works with selected translations of Shobogenzo

-Flowers of Emptiness: Selections From Dogen’s Shobogenzo, by Hee-Jin Kim
-The Heart of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, by Norman Waddell and Masao Abe
-Rational Zen, by Thomas Cleary
-Minding Mind, by Thomas Cleary
-Shobogenzo, by Thomas Cleary
-Moon In A Dewdrop, by Kazuaki Tanahashi
-Enlightenment Unfolds, by Kazuaki Tanahashi
-How To Raise An Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, by Francis H. Cook
-Sounds of Valley Streams: Enlightenment in Dogen’s Zen, by Francis H. Cook
-Dogen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation, by Carl Bielefeldt
-Flowers Fall: A Commentary on Zen Master Dogen’s Genjokoan, by Hakuun Yasutani

Essential translations of some of Dogen’s works other than Shobogenzo

-The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans, by Kazuaki Tanahashi (includes Dogen’s preface)
-Shobogenzo Shinji (Dogen’s Koan Collection), by Gudo Nishijima (does not include Dogen’s preface)
-Dogen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Koroku, by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura
-Dogen’s Formative Years in China: An Historical Study and Annotated Translation of the ‘Hokyo-ki’ by James Kodera
-Record of Things Heard: The Shobogenzo Zuimonki, by Thomas Cleary
-The Zen Poetry of Dogen, by Steven Heine

Two Classic Zen Records related to Dogen’s Zen

-Cultivating the Empty Field: A Translation of the Record of Honzhi, by Taigen Dan Leighton (An influence on Dogen)
-Transmission of Light, by Thomas Cleary (Influenced by Dogen)

Essential scholarly studies on Dogen

-Dogen and the Koan Tradition, by Steven Heine
-Impermanence Is Buddha Nature: Dogen’s Understanding of Temporality, by Joan Stambaugh
-Did Dogen Go to China? What He Wrote and When He Wrote It, by Steven Heine
-A Study of Dogen: His Philosophy and Religion, Masao Abe

Essential scholarly studies related to Dogen

-Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism, by Jacqueline I. Stone
-Soto Zen In Medieval Japan, by William Bodiford
-How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute Over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China, by Morten Schlutter
-The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan, by Duncan Ryuken Williams

Other notable works related to Dogen

-Zen Classics, by Steven Heine and Dale Wright
-Zen Ritual, by Steven Heine and Dale Wright
-The Zen Canon, by Steven Heine and Dale Wright
-Zen Skin, Zen Marrow: Will the Real Zen Buddhism Please Stand Up?, by Steven Heine
-Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism, by James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The True Nature of Horror, Suffering, & Samsara?

The True Nature of Horror, Suffering, & Samsara?

Dogen’s era was a time of tremendous chaos and suffering. The whole of Japan was suffering from the instability caused by the ever shifting hierarchies that accompanied the rise of the warrior class. The fierce internal rivalry of both the nobility and the Samurai compounded the confusion and turmoil in their struggles against each other over the governing powers of Japan. Regardless of the accuracy of the evidence linking Dogen’s own familial lineage to both the warrior and noble classes, there is little doubt that many friends and family were deeply enmeshed on various sides of the struggle, some at the highest levels.

To “leave home” and live as a Buddhist monastic in 13th century Japan was much different than most of imagine today. Becoming a monk in any of the temples around Kyoto in those days certainly did not free anyone from the chaos of the secular and political worlds. All the major Buddhist temples controlled vast amounts of Japan’s wealth (mostly in the form of land grants) and were deeply entwined with the court which dictated temple leadership. At the same time, they depended on Samurai families for patronage as well as armed protection from rival sects. Moreover, Japanese Buddhist sectarianism was way beyond “bickering” or “competition” – it would be less than accurate to define the sectarian rivalry of the 12th and 13th centuries as anything less than out and out warfare. The major Buddhist institutions found it necessary to employ thousands of “warrior monks.” More “warrior” than “monk,” these monastic were trained in the martial arts and armed to the teeth. Ostensibly needed to defend the Dharma and the temple properties, they were often used as a threat to force secular decisions. And if opportunity arose they were used to kill the members of rival Buddhist sects. The “ordinary monks” often joined their brothers in the larger killing ventures that sometimes ended by burning the losing sect’s temple to the ground.

During the same period, Japan suffered a long and devastating series of catastrophes; homes, roads, and whole cities were laid waste by waves of unprecedentedly severe hurricanes and earthquakes, a succession of droughts caused a massive shortage of rice, and severe outbreaks of plague swept the entire region. In hindsight, we can all be grateful for the explosion of Buddhist creativity and reformation that directly resulted from this turbulent period of Japanese history, but for Dogen (as well as Eisai, Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren) things must have looked much different.

Even if his upbringing among the elite offered some insulation from the horror, it did nothing to shield Dogen from personal tragedy. Dogen’s lost his father at age 2 (possibly to assassination), his mother died when he was only 8, his first four Dharma teachers were dead by the time he was 17, his fifth teacher, Myozan (from whom he received transmission in Rinzai Zen), died when Dogen was 25, and his last teacher, Tendo Nyojo (from whom he received transmission in Soto Zen), died when Dogen was 28.

Any of these factors would have been enough to make Dogen intimate with the “cruel facts” of life-and-death (samsara) and the first noble truth (truth of anguish), all of them together must have seared it into his bones. And indeed, his massive corpus of writings testify to his profound intimacy with the realities of samsara and the truth of suffering – nevertheless, at first glance we may wonder how a world as full of tragedy and horror as Dogen’s could be described in the terms he used here, for example:

How could this fail to be the Land of Old Buddhas! What a joy it is that the Flower of the Dharma has existed for eon after eon! What a joy it is that there is a flowering of the Dharma day and night! Because the Flower of the Dharma continues from eon to eon and flowers throughout both day and night, even though our own bodies and minds wax and wane in strength, this very waxing and waning is also the flowering of the Dharma. Everything, just as it is, is a rare treasure, a luminous radiance, a place for training in the Way. Everything, just as it is, is great, vast, profound, and far-reaching in its influence; everything is the profound, vast, and far-reaching supreme, fully perfected enlightenment; everything is the mind’s wandering off into delusion at the turning of the Dharma Flower; everything is the mind’s awakening which turns the Flower of the Dharma; everything is truly the Flower of the Dharma setting in motion the Dharma’s flowering.

The mind’s wandering is its being turned by the Flower of the Dharma:
The mind’s awakening is its turning of the Flower of the Dharma.
If what we fully realize is like this,
It is the Flower of the Dharma setting in motion the flowering of the Dharma.

When we make offerings to It, bow in respect to It, honor It, and praise It, the Flower of the Dharma is the flowering of the Dharma.
Shobogenzo, Hokke Ten Hokke, Hubert Nearman

From the midst of ruthless, bloody political turmoil, from the midst of destruction, poverty, disease, crime, and starvation on unprecedented scales Dogen sings out, “How could this fail to be the Land of Old Buddhas! What a joy it is..!” He is not praising a “Buddha land” that is far away in space or time or a potential of the world we live in, nor is he speaking of a hidden realm behind or underlying the appearance of the very forms we see all around us. Anuttara samyaksambodhi (fully perfected enlightenment) is, Dogen unequivocally proclaims “everything, just as it is.” To clearly grasp what Dogen means, we need to honestly acknowledge what “everything, just as it is” signified in his particular circumstances. Part of that which Dogen describes as a “rare treasure” were politics of mass corruption, assassination, and execution (sometimes of entire clans, including the children); this “luminous radiance” was also inclusive of mass destruction, disease, and death. In short, what Dogen plainly said was that the very forms of war, poverty, brutality, starvation, and all the other evident evils are, just as they are, inclusive of “the profound and far-reaching supreme, fully perfected enlightenment” (anuttara samyaksambodhi).

Once we are clear about what he actually said, we can begin to discern what it means. One encouraging implication is that, if Dogen is correct, anuttara samyaksambodhi could be the “as it is” of our own era, which is certainly no more chaotic or evil-ridden to us than his was to those around him. The meaning that informs Dogen’s joy for the Buddha Land that is “everything, just as it is” is intimated in the terms, “a place for training in the Way,” and “far-reaching in its influence,” in his description from the above passage.

What “place” is Dogen referring to when he says, “a place for training in the Way”? This is certainly something worth taking up on the cushion. There is no doubt that this place has a specific coordinate in existence-time, for Dogen all places are specific places and all times are definite instances. When we find this place we will certainly be able to verify that it is truly “far-reaching in its influence.”


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Your very mind is Buddha - Reality, Existence & Experience

While we may have doubts about the fact that “our very mind is Buddha,” there is no reason for any Zen practitioner to be unaware, or unclear of the fact that this is exactly what Zen (and Mahayana) Buddhism teaches: your mind, here and now, is Buddha. Anyone can understand what this is asserting, and though we may doubt it, the Zen masters, including Dogen, tell us that having learned this, we can put it into practice and thereby verify the truth for ourselves. With this verification, Dogen assures us, we will realize that, “Your very mind is Buddha” means exactly what it says.

Since this is the way things are, “Your very mind is Buddha” means, pure and simply, that your very mind is Buddha; all Buddhas are, pure and simply, all Buddhas.
Shobogenzo, Soku Shin Ze Butsu, Hubert Nearman

The mind here and now is Buddha, is the myriad clear, clear real dharmas. In accord with the Mahayana scriptures, Dogen affirms that our “self” is nothing other than our “experience,” which is the nonduality of “experiencer/experienced.” Therefore our true self is exactly our experience here and now. While human experience is facilitated through the six sense-gates (i.e. eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind), human experience is singular (i.e. there is only one “experiencer” of all six senses). What is Buddha? Your very mind is Buddha. What is your very mind? Your very mind is your experience here and now. What is your experience here and now? Your experience consists of the sum of what you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, and think at each instance of existence-time.

Now let’s see if we can get at the significance of the Buddhist doctrine on the identity of “experience” and “existence,” and the reason for Dogen’s constant reminder of it. In Buddhism “existence” connotes “real form” (jisso) and “all dharmas” (shoho; all things, beings, events, etc.) are defined as “existent,” thus, “all dharmas are real forms” (shoho-jisso). So the significance of the teaching that existence is experience is in its illumination of the fact that anything and everything (shoho) we experience actually exists as a real form (jisso). In fact, “to really exist” is synonymous with “being experienced,” and “to experience” is synonymous with “real existence.”

One of Dogen’s classic elucidations of this is his interpretation of “sky-flowers” (kuge). Conventionally a metaphor for “unreal” or “illusory,” sky-flowers is a term for the “appearance of spots floating in the air” due to injured or diseased eyes. Dogen points out that insofar as a sentient being actually experiences these spots in the air, they are as real mountains, stones, walls, or any other dharma. To be experienced is to exist as a real form. To exist is to be an instance of existence-time (uji). To be an instance of existence-time is to be an instance of eternity – thus a “sky-flower” is as intrinsic to the real Buddha as a lotus-flower, the morning star, the Buddha ancestors, and every other real form.

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.

Sakyamuni Buddha says, “Buddhas alone, together with buddhas, are directly able to perfectly realize that all dharmas are real form.
Shobogenzo, Shoho-jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


Friday, August 27, 2010

Kensho & Kenbutsu - Dogen On Seeing True Nature (or Buddha)

Seeing True Nature (Kensho) - Seeing Buddha (Kenbutsu)

As previously noted, Dogen advocates two essential aspects of practice that he calls “study with body” and “study with mind.” Study with body, usually symbolized as “zazen,” is the aspect of practical verification (expressed and enacted in the world) and also the Dharma-gate through which practitioners initially awaken to true nature: kensho (seeing true nature), or Dogen’s preferred term, kenbutsu (seeing Buddha).

It is important for Zen practitioners to clearly understand that this awakening is essential, but should not thought of as an end in itself; truly, it is but a beginning. In contemporary Zen literature, this experience (when it is not avoided altogether) is often over-emphasized, under-emphasized, or simply presented in obscure terms. Because of the widespread confusion about the significance of this important aspect of Dogen’s teaching (and Zen generally) it may be worth making a few comments in an effort to help clarify the issue. First let’s consider these words from Shobogenzo:

Those who have not yet given rise to this enlightened Mind are not our Ancestral Masters.

Question 120 in the Procedures for Cleanliness in a Zen Temple states, “Have you awakened to enlightened Mind?” You clearly need to realize that what this is saying is that, in learning the Truth of the Buddhas and Ancestors, awakening to enlightened Mind is unquestionably foremost. This is the continual Teaching of the Buddhas and Ancestors. ‘To awaken’ means to have something fully dawn on you. ‘To awaken’ means to have something fully dawn on you. This does not refer to the great, ultimate awakening of a Buddha.
Shobogenzo, Hotsu Bodai Shin, Herbert Nearman

Here we can clearly see what this awakening “means” to Dogen, and see that he considers this experience as being both “essential” and only a “beginning.” It means to fully grasp, understand, or realize truth in that it means, “to have something fully dawn on you.” It is essential in that this awakening is “unquestionably foremost” in learning the truth. It is only an “initial” awakening in that this experience is not the “ultimate awakening of a Buddha.”

While definitely not an end in itself, this experience is essential insofar as it is an “initial opening” (of the Dharma-eye, or Buddha-eye) that marks the true beginning of authentic Zen practice-enlightenment. In a certain sense, this is where “practicing Zen practice” (attempting, trying, experimenting, etc.) becomes “Zen practicing Zen.” Its primary importance is due to the fact that until we have truly experienced at least a glimpse of true nature (or Buddha nature), we lack the experiential “body-knowing” that is necessary to truly “see” (in the metaphoric sense) what Buddhist teachings actually mean by “Buddha nature.”


Monday, August 23, 2010

Existence-Time & the Emptiness of What?

Existence, Time, and the Reality of Things
Throughout, his career Dogen maintained and reinforced the significance of the unity of existence and time, most extensively elucidated in the acclaimed Shobogenzo fascicle, “Uji” (existence/time). “Uji” offers an extremely lucid explanation on the nature of existence and time revealing that all dharmas, being real, particular forms – are and must be real specific moments of time.

As moments of time, rather than moments in time, each and every particular dharma is shown to be an “instance” of eternity/infinity. To clarify this, consider some of Dogen’s comments from Shobogenzo, Kai in zanmai. In this fascicle, Dogen cites the Buddha as follows:

Only of real dharmas is this body composed.
The moment of appearance is just the appearance of dharmas;
The moment of disappearance is just the disappearance of dharmas.
At the moment when these dharmas appear we do not speak of the appearance of self.
At the moment when these dharmas disappear we do not speak of the disappearance of self.
An instant before, an instant after: instant does not depend on instant;
A dharma before, a dharma after: dharma does not oppose dharma.
Just this is called samadhi, state like the sea.
~Shobogenzo, Kai in zanmai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Immediately following these words of the Buddha quoted from the Avatamsaka sutra Dogen writes:

The concrete moment of this “sea-like samadhi” is just a concrete moment “only of real dharmas,” and it is expression of the truth of “sole reliance on real dharmas.” This moment is said to be “this composed body.” The integrated form that is “composed” of “real dharmas,” is “this body.” We do not see “this body” as “an integrated form”: real dharmas compose it. This composed body has been expressed as the truth as “this body.”
~Shobogenzo, Kai in zanmai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Here Dogen first underscores that actual, specific instances of time (concrete moments) are nothing more or less than actual, specific things (only of real dharmas). Dogen then walks us through the reasoning (dori) of this expression and highlights its implication; actual, specific instances of time are, in themselves, real things (forms, bodies). Once again we meet with Dogen’s insistence on the unity of form and nature. An actual, specific thing (like “this body”) is not made out of stuff, matter, elements, or anything else apart from its form. All real things are real forms; a form is not the “appearance” of something, or things, other than itself (a body is not an “integrated form”).

In previous posts we saw how Dogen utilized the Buddhist tenet of “emptiness is exactly form” to reveal that "the true nature of things is exactly the appearance of things.” We also noted Dogen’s assertion that the universe, and the self, are “fashioned” from “instances” (moments of time) of our experience. Here we meet with one of the important implications of this viewpoint: the nature/appearance of things is exactly time. As things (dharmas) are only real insofar as they are experienced, all real things are forms of time, and all real times are times of form. In Shobogenzo, Uji, Dogen unequivocally sets out his view of existence-time (uji); time is existence, existence is time. And, as usual, Dogen is not "generalizing," he means specific things and definite times, for example:

… Seigen is time, Ōbaku is time, and Kōzei and Sekitō are time…
…subject-and-object already is time...
...practice-and-experience is moments of time…
Shobogenzo, Uji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

It is important to understand that in Dogen’s view existence and time are not simply relative, they are unified: "existence-time." While the hyphenated “existence-time” is probably the best choice for English translation, it may imply a gap not present in the Japanese “uji.” Hee-Jin Kim observes that Dogen “transforms” the phrase “arutoki" (‘at a certain time,’ ‘sometimes,’ ‘once’) into "one of the most important notions in his Zen – uji (‘existence-time).”

This metamorphosis is executed by way of changing its two components the aru and the toki into u (“existence,” “being”) and ji (“time,” “occasion”), respectively, and recombining them as uji so that it unmistakably signals the nondual intimacy of existence and time.
~Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, pp. 69-70

This remarkably creative metamorphosis decisively establishes Dogen’s viewpoint on the nature and dynamics of existence-time from the enlightened perspective (i.e. The Buddha Way includes and transcends the many and the one).
In Mahayana Buddhism, emptiness (the one) reveals that "things" (dharmas) do not exist independently. Since the existence of a thing depends on things other than its “self” it is not an independent entity (self); it is empty of “self.” This universally applies to all things; all things (forms, beings, thoughts, etc.) are interdependent, therefore empty of an independent self. Thus each of the myriad things is empty (of a self), and all the myriad things together are emptiness.
What is “emptiness”? All the myriad things! Clearly, emptiness could not be a “thing” (dharma) that "informed" other things, nor could emptiness be a “thing” permeating all things; emptiness is no-thing. Obviously, without the myriad things emptiness would not only be non-existent, it would be utterly meaningless. As things are empty because they are dependent on things, emptiness is things because it is dependent on things.
If existence is time and time is existence, as Dogen proclaims, existence and time must be eternal and infinite. As discussed previously, in Dogen’s Zen “Buddha” (our true nature) is total existence; thus, in light of uji, Buddha is total existence-time. For total existence-time to really be “total,” it has to be inclusive of every bit of existence, absolutely all instances (moments) of existence (dharmas). If so, all instances of existence (dharmas) would have to be eternal. This is exactly Dogen’s view:

[Total existence] is beyond originally existing existence; for “it pervades the eternal past and pervades the eternal present.”
~Shobogenzo, Bussho, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Moreover, total existence-time would mean all time, absolutely every single moment of time. Thus, existent instances (dharmas) would have to be infinite. This too is exactly Dogen’s view:

Truly, great realization is limitless, and returning to delusion is limitless.
~Shobogenzo, Daigo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Thus for Dogen, this life and death is an essential aspect of the eternally dynamic universe; every dharma, no matter how trivial, and every moment, no matter how fleeting, is charged with infinite potential. Far from being ineffable, mysterious, unknowable, or incommunicable, eternity and infinity are palpably present and immediately available. The infinity and eternity of existence-time has nothing to do with an unending expanse of space or a never-ending duration of time. Time and existence, in Dogen’s Zen, has definite shapes and precise weights.

“Appearance” is inevitably a concrete “moment” having arrived; for “the moment” is “appearance.” Just what is this “appearance”? It may be “appearance” itself. It is “appearance” that is itself already a “moment,” and it never fails to disclose the naked skin, flesh, bones, and marrow. Because appearance is “appearance” that is “composed,” appearance as “this body” and appearance as “appearance of the self” is “only of real dharmas.”

“The moment of appearance” is “these real dharmas” here and now: it is not of the twelve hours.
~Shobogenzo, Kai in zanmai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

For Dogen, a world or self conceived of as a pure, tranquil sea of uniform emptiness, or unvarying essential nature is neither a real world nor a true self, but mere existence in the absence of time. Similarly, a world or self of a ceaseless, invariable flow of time in which all dharmas are illusory appearances on the surface of reality would amount to an abstract conception of an ever advancing absence of existence.
Shackled under presuppositions of dualism, the essentialist and naturalist can only envision either existence or time, not existence-time. To see existence and time dualistically is to see neither infinity nor eternity but only the mystery and obscurity of abstraction. Abstraction is always subtraction, that is, negation. When teachers or teachings suggest a reality that is always and only indefinable, indescribable, incommunicable, inconceivable, unimaginable, etc. – all negative terms, be aware this is not Zen.
Zen Buddhism realizes and transcends "neti, neti" (not this, not this) to realize "immo, immo" (this, this). Thus one of Dogen’s favorite phrases from the Zen literature is, “You are like this, I am also like this.” Interdependence does not eradicate independence, it verifies it.

We recognize as sea not only that which is not the sea; we recognize as the sea that which is the sea.
~Shobogenzo, Kai in zanmai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Yes, yes! It is important - even crucial - to recognize as dharmas (things, beings, teachings, events, thoughts, etc.) that which is not dharmas - but only if it is followed through by recognizing as dharmas that which is dharmas.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Demon-hood & Buddha-hood

How demons become Buddha
According to Dogen’s portrayal of the Tendai doctrine of “dharma positions,” every “thing” (dharma) abides or dwells in its own dharma position. The measure of liberation experienced by each particular thing is the measure by which that thing is true to its particularity. A dog is liberated by realizing its dog-hood, a human is liberated by realizing its humanity, a demon is liberated by fully realizing its demon-hood.

In learning in practice like this, when demons become buddha, they utilize the demon to defeat the demon and to become buddha. When buddhas become buddha, they utilize buddha to aim at buddha and to become buddha. When human beings become buddha, they utilize the human being to regulate the human being and to become buddha. We should investigate the truth that a way through exists in the utilization itself. It is like the method of washing a robe, for example: water is dirtied by the robe and the robe is permeated by the water.
Shobogenzo, Sanjushichi-bon-bodai-bunpo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Face-To-Face Transmission - Zen & Buddha Dharma

Zen, Face-To-Face Transmission & Buddha Dharma
Just investigate in practice and realize in physical experience the eyes which are the eye of meeting buddha.
Shobogenzo, Kenbutsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

“Nirvana” literally means extinguishment, but it in Zen it is used in a way similar to the word “apocalypse,” which means “revelation.” Dogen frequently refers to “good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end,” in his recognition of a beginning, middle, and end (or arising, abiding, vanishing). Variations of these same symbols are found in the all the great spiritual traditions, for they are the central archetypal symbols of the end (or goal) of religion; the symbols of salvation, liberation, renewal and rebirth. In Zen, this is most extensively treated in the doctrine of sudden realization. In Zen, the first, or initial great experience of realization is sometimes called “the great death.”

One thing this means is that the reality of Buddhahood, nirvana, or original enlightenment is only revealed with the experience of “the great death,” in which the whole (known, or preconceived) universe is utterly destroyed (the body-mind of self-and-other are completely cast-off), and the whole universe is exerted anew. This is sometimes symbolized in Zen literature with images of the double-edged sword – the two edges are described as “the sword that kills” and “the sword that gives life.” Just as it is one and the same sword that kills and gives life, our great death and great life is experienced by the same being within the same world; only the quality of experience is transformed – the ceaseless experience of the world and the self is seen as it is; the ceaseless creation of the world and the self.

In the classic Zen literature, as in the literature of all the great traditions, this experience (awakening, realization, nirvana, Buddhahood, satori, etc.) is described in terms of “seeing” and “vision” (rather than “hearing” and “listening”). To hear the Buddha Dharma is to learn about it and to study it, to see the Buddha Dharma is to experience it directly; to see it face to face — to see Shakyamuni Buddha’s face with our eyes, to see our face with Shakyamuni Buddha’s eyes. In Dogen’s words:

By bowing down in respect to the Face of Shakyamuni Buddha and by transferring the Eye of Shakyamuni Buddha to our own eyes, we will have transferred our eyes to the Eye of Buddha. Ours will be the very Eye and Face of Buddha. Without even one generation’s break, that which has been conferred face-to-face right up to the present by the mutual Transmission of this Buddha Eye and Buddha Face is this very Face-to-Face Transmission. These successive heirs over some dozens of generations are instances of face after face being the Face of Buddha, for they have received the Face-to-Face Transmission from the original Buddha Face. Their bowing down in respect to this conferring of the Face as the genuine Transmission is their respectful bowing down to the Seven Buddhas, including Shakyamuni Buddha, and it is their bowing in respect and making venerative offerings to the twenty-eight Indian Ancestors of the Buddha from Makakasho on down. This is what the Face and Eye of an Ancestor of the Buddha is like. To encounter this Ancestor of the Buddha is to meet Shakyamuni Buddha along with the other Seven Buddhas. It is the very instant when an Ancestor of the Buddha personally confers the Face-to-Face Transmission upon himself: it is a Buddha of the Face-to-Face Transmission conferring the Face-to-Face Transmission upon a Buddha of the Face-to-Face Transmission.
Shobogenzo, Menju, Hubert Nearman

Here we meet a boldness of expression that is liable to be dismissed as hyperbole by abstract thinkers, or glossed by pseudo-Zen teachers as too subtle, profound, or esoteric for ordinary (deluded) beings to appreciate. Despite the striking intensity of this expression, Dogen is not using hyperbole, nor is he expounding upon some mysterious enigma; he is merely stating the central tenet of Zen in a forthright manner; this very mind is Buddha.

The very possibility for liberation according to Zen, and most other schools of Mahayana Buddhism, is based on the notion that we are Buddha. Accordingly, liberation is said to be achieved by awakening to our identity, to see our true nature. Zen masters say the activation of this “seeing” is opening the Dharma eye or the Buddha eye (also called the eye to read scriptures). This is what Dogen means when he talks about “gouging out the Buddha’s eye,” or “gouging out the ancestor’s eye,” or, as in the present instance, “transferring the eye of Shakyamuni to our own eyes.”

So, while Dogen’s manner of expression may be arresting, its meaning is certainly not obscure, it is basic Zen. Seeing true nature (kensho), or Dogen’s preferred term, seeing Buddha (kenbutsu) is the goal of Zen. According to Bodhidharma, the traditional first ancestor of Zen in China:

“Seeing your nature is Zen. If you don’t see your nature it’s not Zen.”
The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, Red Pine

Thus, Dogen agrees with all the classic masters: seeing true nature (or seeing Buddha; kenbutsu) is the transmission of truth, which we realize “face-to-face” with the Buddhas and ancestors.

As we have observed in recent posts, expression is the medium through which the transmission of truth is realized, and the Buddha Dharma is the vehicle of that transmission. The Buddha Dharma, which to Dogen means the concrete form of the corpus of Buddhist sutras (scriptures), is the vehicle we should make as “our standard for pursuing the truth (as in his assertion of the unity of a thing and its nature).

In conclusion, we should know that in the Buddha’s truth there are inevitably Buddhist sutras; we should learn in practice, as the mountains and the oceans, their universal text and their profound meaning; and we should make them our standard for pursuing the truth.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

The Buddhist sutras, being real existent things (dharmas), are constituents of Buddha nature which is “total existence” (one mind). As real elements of total existence (all time and space) Buddhist sutras contain and are contained by the whole universe all the myriad things (dharmas). In light of the Buddhist doctrine on the unity of appearance (form, image) and nature (essence, significance), each Buddhist sutra, as a real, particular element of the universe, is what it appears to be – the truth (Dharma) expressed by Shakyamuni Buddha.

In general, when we follow and practice “the sutras,” “the sutras” truly come forth. The meaning of “the sutras” is the whole universe in ten directions, mountains, rivers, and the earth, grass and trees, self and others; it is eating meals and putting on clothes, instantaneous movements and demeanors. When we pursue the truth following these texts, each of which is a sutra, countless thousand-myriad volumes of totally unprecedented sutras manifest themselves in reality and exist before us. They have lines of characters of affirmation that are conspicuous as they are; and their verses of characters of negation are unmistakably clear.
Shobogenzo, Jisho-zanmai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

For Dogen, there can be no general “things” (dharmas) but only specific, actual “things.” And all actual things are the constituents of the one actual Buddha. Each real, particulat thing then, really contains and is contained by every other particular thing, and all particular things; and the “form” of each thing is one (nondual) with its “nature” – the nature, meaning, or significance of a thing (like a sutra) is nowhere else but in its actual, particular form, shape, or appearance. Therefore, each thing (dharma) that we encounter, is a real, particular thing that is a real constituent of the one Buddha, and it is what it appears to be. Thus, if we encounter sutras, we must contain and be contained by all Buddhas and Buddha ancestors. In Dogen’s words:

In sum, reading sutras means reading sutras with eyes into which we have drawn together all the Buddhist patriarchs. At just this moment, the Buddhist patriarchs instantly become buddha, preach Dharma, preach buddha, and do buddha-action. Without this moment in reading sutras, the brains and faces of Buddhist patriarchs could never exist.
Shobogenzo, Kankin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Buddha is total existence (it is not an entity behind all things, or an essence permeating all things) and each particular dharma is a real form (nondual with its nature) of Buddha. Our true nature is the true nature of total existence (Buddha) which is nondual with our true form. Each human being is a particular dharma which is, inevitably, a constituent of total existence (Buddha), and each constituent of total existence is, inevitably, a particular constituent of each human being’s total existence.

Socrates is a real element of Buddha (totality) and Benjamin Franklin is a real element of Socrates (true self). Thus Dogen contends that each human being (each individual self) is Bodhidharma or Linji, etc. (a real particular Buddha ancestor), and each human being is the Heart sutra or the Lotus sutra (an actual concrete sutra), and therefore when a human being learns from an ancestor that human being is learning from herself, and when a human being learns from a sutra, that human being is learning from himself – thus, we each learn only and always from our self.

The practice-and-experience of anuttara samyaksambodhi sometimes relies on [good] counselors and sometimes relies on the sutras. “[Good] counselors” means Buddhist patriarchs who are totally themselves. “Sutras” means sutras that are totally themselves. Because the self is totally a Buddhist patriarch and because the self is totally a sutra, it is like this. Even though we call it self, it is not restricted by “me and you.” It is vivid eyes, and a vivid fist.

At the same time, there is the consideration of sutras, the reading of sutras, the reciting of sutras, the copying of sutras, the receiving of sutras, and the retaining of sutras: they are all the practice-and-experience of Buddhist patriarchs. Yet it is not easy to meet the Buddha’s sutras: “Throughout innumerable realms, even the name cannot be heard.” Among Buddhist patriarchs, “even the name cannot be heard.” Amid the lifeblood, “even the name cannot be heard.” Unless we are Buddhist patriarchs we do not see, hear, read, recite, or understand the meaning of sutras. After learning in practice as Buddhist patriarchs, we are barely able to learn sutras in practice. At this time the reality of hearing [sutras], retaining [sutras], receiving [sutras], preaching sutras, and so on, exists in the ears, eyes, tongue, nose, and organs of body and mind, and in the places where we go, hear, and speak. The sort who “because they seek fame, preach non-Buddhist doctrines” cannot practice the Buddha’s sutras. The reason is that the sutras are transmitted and retained on trees and on rocks, are spread through fields and through villages, are expounded by lands of dust, and are lectured by space.
Shobogenzo, Kankin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Once we know the ancient sutras and read the ancient texts, then we have the will to venerate the ancients. When we have the will to venerate the ancients, the ancient sutras come to the present and manifest themselves before us.
Shobogenzo, Gyoji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross
All the myriad beings constitute the one Buddha (total existence), the one Buddha (total existence) is the aggregate of all the myriad beings. All beings are, inevitably, a real constituent of total existence. Beings that know this (that see Buddha face-to-face) are called Buddhas (or ancestors); beings that do not know this (that do not receive face-to-face transmission) are ordinary (unawakened) beings.

The reason they say that [buddhas] authentically transmit only the one mind, without authentically transmitting the Buddha’s teaching, is that they do not know the Buddha- Dharma. Not knowing the one mind as the Buddha’s teaching and not hearing the Buddha’s teaching as the one mind, they say that there is the Buddha’s teaching outside of the one mind. Their “one mind” never having become the one mind, they say that there is a “one mind” outside of the Buddha’s teachings. It may be that their “Buddha’s teachings” have never become the Buddha’s teaching. Although they have transmitted and received the fallacy of “a separate transmission outside the teachings,” because they have never known “inside” and “outside,” the logic of their words is not consistent. How could the Buddhist patriarchs who receive the one-to-one transmission of the Buddha’s right-Dharma-eye treasury fail to receive the one-to-one transmission of the Buddha’s teaching? Still more, why would Old Man Sakyamuni have instituted teachings and methods that could have no place in the everyday conduct of Buddhists?
Bukkyo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Progressing further, through dying a complete death we realize the vivid state of coming alive. Remember, from the Tang dynasty until today, there have been many pitiable people who have not clarified the fact that “expounding the mind and expounding the nature” is the Buddha’s truth… If I put it in words, “expounding the mind and expounding the nature” is the pivotal essence of the Seven Buddhas and the ancestral masters.
Shobogenzo, Sesshin-sessho, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Because this principle [of reading sutras] exists, a man of old has said, “To read sutras we must be equipped with the eyes of reading sutras.” Remember, if there had been no sutras from ancient times till today, there could be no expression like this.

Nevertheless, for the last two hundred years or so in the great kingdom of Song, certain unreliable stinking skinbags have said, “We must not keep in mind even the sayings of ancestral masters. Still less should we ever read or rely upon the teaching of the sutras. We should only make our bodies and minds like withered trees and dead ash, or like broken wooden dippers and bottomless tubs.” People like this have vainly become a species of non-Buddhist or celestial demon. They seek to rely on what cannot be relied on, and as a result they have idly turned the Dharma of the Buddhist patriarchs into a mad and perverse teaching. It is pitiful and regrettable.

There is no mystery in the authentic transmission from the ancestral Master that differs from the Buddhist sutras, or even from a single word or half a word therein. Both the Buddhist sutras and the Patriarch’s truth have been authentically transmitted and have spread from Sakyamuni Buddha. The Patriarch’s transmission has been received only by rightful successors from rightful successors, but how could [rightful successors] not know, how could they not clarify, and how could they not read and recite the Buddhist sutras? A past master says, “You delude yourself with the sutras. The sutras do not delude you.” There are many stories about past masters reading sutras. I would like to say to the unreliable as follows: If, as you say, the Buddhist sutras should be discarded, then the Buddha’s mind should be discarded and the Buddha’s body should be discarded. If the Buddha’s body-mind should be discarded, the Buddha’s disciples should be discarded. If the Buddha’s disciples should be discarded, the Buddha’s truth should be discarded. If the Buddha’s truth should be discarded, how could the Patriarch’s truth not be discarded? If you discard both the Buddha’s truth and the Patriarch’s truth, you might become one person with a shaved head among a hundred secular people. Who could deny that you deserved to taste the stick? Not only would you be at the beck and call of kings and their retainers; you might also be answerable to Yamaraja.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Because they are too stupid to understand the meaning of the Buddhist sutras for themselves, they randomly insult the Buddhist sutras and neglect to practice and learn them. We should call them flotsam in the stream of non-Buddhism.
Shobogenzo, Kenbutsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Be very clear about it: when someone Transmits face-to-face the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching by saying, “You have realized what my Marrow is,” this is plainly an instance of conferring the Face-to-Face Transmission. At that very moment when you let go of your everyday notions of what ‘bones and marrow’ means, there will be the Face-to-Face Transmission of the Buddhas and Ancestors. The Face-to-Face Transmission of the great Full Enlightenment and the Mind seal will involve a particular moment in a definite place. Even though it may not be the Transmission of everything, do not probe into your training with the assumption that something is still lacking.
Shobogenzo, Menju, Hubert Nearman

Shakyamuni Buddha, in addressing His great assembly, once said in verse:

When those who wholeheartedly yearn to see the Buddha,
Do not begrudge even their own lives,
Then I, with all the Sangha,
Will appear together on the Divine Vulture Peak.

The wholeheartedness spoken of here is not the wholeheartedness, say, of ordinary folk or of those who follow lesser courses: it is the wholeheartedness derived from yearning to encounter Buddha. ‘The wholeheartedness derived from yearning to encounter Buddha’ refers to the Divine Vulture Peak, along with all the Sangha. When each individual, in private, arouses the desire to see Buddha, that person desires to see Buddha through devotion to the Heart of the Divine Vulture Peak. Thus, wholeheartedness is already the Divine Vulture Peak, so how could one’s whole being not appear together with that Heart? How could it not be body and mind together as one? Our body and mind are already like this, just as are the years of our life and our life itself. Thus, we entrust our own regrets, which are merely our regrets, to the unsurpassed Way of the Divine Vulture Peak. Therefore, Shakyamuni Buddha said that His appearing on the Divine Vulture Peak, along with all His Sangha, is brought about by our wholehearted desire to see Buddha.
Shobogenzo, Kembutsu, Hubert Nearman

The Old Buddha, Meditation Master Chosa, once said in verse:

The whole of the great earth is the Body of a True Human Being,
The whole of the great earth is the gateway to liberation,
The whole of the great earth is the Solitary Eye of Vairochana,
The whole of the great earth is our own Dharma Body.

In other words, what we are calling real is, in essence, our True Being. You need to realize that ‘the whole of the great earth’ is not some provisional term, for our being is its true form.

Also, you need to hear that the whole of the great earth is your own Dharma Body. That which seeks to know what we truly are is the resolute heart of someone who is truly alive. Even so, those who see what their True Self is are few. Only a Buddha alone knows this Self. Others who are off the Path, such as non-Buddhists, vainly take their unreal, false self to be their True Self. The Self that Buddhas speak of is synonymous with the whole of the great earth. Thus, whether we know or do not know our True Self, in either case, there is no ‘whole of the great earth’ that is other than our True Self.

How, then, are we to understand this notion of the Buddhas being the same as us? Well, first off, we need to understand what the practice of a Buddha is. The practice of a Buddha is done in the same manner as the practice of the whole earth, and it is done together with all sentient beings. If it were not so, all the practices of the Buddhas would not yet exist. Therefore, from the first arising of one’s intention up to the attainment of its realization, beyond any question, both the realizing and the practice are done together with the whole of the great earth and with every single sentient being.
Shobogenzo, Yui Butsu Yo Butsu, Hubert Nearman