Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Dogen and the Nonduality of Nonduality

One of the first things to get clear about Dogen’s cosmology is that all things exist only within our mind, or more specifically, our “body-mind” (shinjin; for Dogen “body” and “mind” are a unity). Some astonishing implications of this can be highlighted by using a different expression to say the same thing; all things are our mind.

Understanding this aspect of the nature of (Dogen’s) reality helps clarify the reasoning (dori) that informs a number of Dogen’s characteristic doctrines, including, “untainted practice-enlightenment,” “nothing concealed in the universe,” “existence-time,” “self-fulfilling samadhi,” “body-mind cast off,” “nonthinking,” and others. For now let’s examine just what it is that Dogen means by “things” and “mind.”

First, “things” (dharmas), for Dogen, mean real things—things that actually exist. Second, for Dogen “things” mean each and every particular thing that has ever been perceived, conceived, experienced, known, or imagined, and everything that could be perceived, conceived, experienced, known, or imagined.

Dogen stresses the authenticity of this view with frequent references and allusions to the Lotus sutra’s teaching on the “ultimate reality of all thoughts and things.” His insistence that “all things” means all things is made clear with frequent elucidations on the ultimate reality of dreams, optical illusions, words and letters, and other things traditionally regarded as illusory, provisional, non-existent, or unreal. For example Dogen expounds on the virtues of “putting a ‘second head’ on top of our head,” and Shobogenzo, Kuge is an extensive treatise on the ultimate reality and efficacy of “sky flowers” (a term for “imaginary spots in the air” caused by diseased eyes). In traditional Buddhism both “sky-flowers” and a “second head” were used as references for deluded, unreal, or illusory views.

So then, all things exist within our mind, and all things are real things. What then, is mind? Mind is all things—all real things. But if all things are mind, and mind is all things, what is the point of using different terms? From one perspective, it is perfectly accurate to say that there is no difference between mind and things; from other perspectives, however, it misses the mark by millions of miles. This is the hard part. Hard but, fortunately, not complicated, and nowhere near impossible. Investigating Dogen’s teachings on nonduality can clarify how things and mind can be “not two” and “not one.” For now, a traditional Buddhist analogy should be enough to follow the issue at hand. The analogy asks us to investigate the sameness and the difference of waves and water; it is accurate to say, “Waves are water,” but it is not a very thorough description. Sometimes it is accurate to say, “Water is waves,” and sometimes it is not.

There are three points about Dogen’s view of reality to keep in mind here; first: “The whole of existence-and-time is our real body-mind, our ‘true self;’” second: “Every particular thing, in all space and time, that could—in any way, shape, or form—be known (experienced in any way) is, and by Dogen’s definition, must be, a real thing,” and third: “The only real things are mind (or, mental) things.”

Thus, according to Dogen’s logic, “Since all real things are mind, all mind things are real.” One major implication of this view is that the universe and the self are coexistent, coextensive, and coeternal. To utilize one of Dogen’s favorite modes of expression, “Sentient beings fashion the universe, the universe fashions sentient beings, the universe fashion the universe, the universe universes the universe.”

Now, Dogen refers to these “mind” things with a variety of semi-synonymous terms, depending on the context and the implications he wants to stress. Some of the more common terms he uses are, “thoughts,” “things,”“forms,” “images,” and “bits and pieces.” Probably, Dogen’s most creative and illuminating terms are those he uses to illuminate the “mind nature” of things; namely, “pictures” (or paintings). Sprinkled throughout Shobogenzo are passages in which Dogen refers to various things of the world as pictures, and describes our “being aware” of these things as picturing. According to this view, seeing a flower (an image, or picture, in our mind/world), for example, is fashioning (painting, or picturing) a flower. The same basic truth holds for the other sense-gates (hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling, and thinking), for example, tasting tea is picturing tea-taste, and imagining (or remembering) a poem is picturing a poem. Dogen devotes the entire fascicle, Shobogenzo, Gabyo, to this evocative mode of expression. As a perfect example of Dogen’s affinity for illustrating ultimate reality using traditionally “provisional” terms, he cites a Zen saying traditionally understood to assert the futility of language, “A painting of a rice-cake cannot satisfy hunger.” We hope to have the opportunity to return to this fascicle sometime soon, suffice it to say that by the end of the Gabyo fascicle Dogen manages to convincingly demonstrate that a “painting of a rice-cake” is the only thing in the universe that can satisfy hunger.

We are now in a position to understand why Dogen was extremely critical of vague, hazy, or obscure expressions, as well as systematic formulations, classification, and all forms of generalization. Dogen’s era (early 13th century) was a heyday for Buddhist classification. In both China and Japan, individuals and institutions were engaged in massive efforts to classify and categorize Buddhist doctrines, practices, and literature into various schemes. There were many reasons for this, some good, some not; the point here concerns one of the results of this, not the causes.

One thing that is consistent throughout Shobogenzo is that all “things” (dharmas) always have the attributes we mentioned above; they are real, they are mind (or mental), they are us (our true self). Most Buddhist schools make distinctions between perceptions and thoughts. Usually, perceptions are regarded in relation to knowledge (awareness) of “outside” objects; thoughts, in relation to knowledge of “inside” objects. From there, thoughts and perceptions are subjected to further distinctions and classifications. For example, perceptions might be distinguished as “direct,” “biased,” “distorted,” “pure,” etc. Thoughts might be classified as “illusory,” “right,” “evil,” “kind,” etc. This process often leads to confusion and unnecessary complications that Dogen sometimes calls, “old nests.” The fact that real thoughts and perceptions are always specific gets lost in the process. A real perception, for example, is always a perception of some specific thing; a “general perception” does not exist.

Thus for Dogen, systematic classifications are generalizations, and generalizations mean ambiguity. The deceptive potential of such schemes is even further increased if they are designed from dualistic viewpoints. Dogen’s radical adherence to the Buddhist principles of emptiness, nonduality, and interdependence is obvious in his outspoken contempt for anything with the slightest scent of dualism; not just systems either, any expression that hints at a division between the self and the ordinary world is fair game to Dogen, not even Buddhas and ancestors are exempt.

Due to distorted notions of the Buddhist doctrine of nonduality, Dogen’s teachings are sometimes misrepresented as denying the value of duality. Distorted notions about nonduality are commonly due to confusing “duality” with “dualism.” Buddhist literature is permeated with warnings about the hindrances and misleading effects of dualism, and rightly so. In fact, dualism is at the heart of the views disputed by Dogen that we have been discussing. Dualism (or dualistic views) presupposes real divisions between subject and object, self and other, inside and outside, etc. “Duality,” on the other hand, is one of the two aspects, or foci of the nonduality of “nonduality” (i.e. nonduality and duality). Duality and nonduality are interdependent; each defines and depends on the other.

1 comment:

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