Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Ultimate Reality of Expedient Means - Dogen

The Ultimate Reality of Expedients Means
Sakyamuni Buddha says, “Buddhas alone, together with buddhas, are directly able to perfectly realize that all dharmas are real form…

all dharmas are the real nature...
all dharmas are real body...
all dharmas are real energy...
all dharmas are real action...
all dharmas are real causes...
all dharmas are real conditions...
all dharmas are real effects...
all dharmas are real results...
all dharmas are the real ultimate state of equality of substance and detail...

Sakyamuni Buddha says, “The anuttarasamyaksambodhi of all bodhisattvas totally belongs to this sutra. This sutra opens the gate of expedient methods and reveals true real form…”

The gate of expedient methods is not a temporary artifice; it is the learning in practice of the whole universe in ten directions, and it is learning in practice that exploits the real form of all dharmas.
Shobogenzo, Shoho-jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

(Alternative translation of the last line: "The Gate of Skillful Means does not refer to some momentary skill. Trainees take up the Real Form of all thoughts and things, and explore It thoroughly through their training with a Master." ~Hubert Nearman)

Here we see the reason for Dogen’s repeated assertions on the “real existence of all dharmas,” and “nothing is concealed in the whole universe.” According to Dogen: “…expedient methods is not a temporary artifice…” !!!

This is quite an astonishing statement. If it was anyone other than Dogen, the assertion that “expedient means” are ultimately real might be immediately denied by a number of Zen students and teachers I know. But since Dogen had to go and write it down, some concession will have to be made—usually a “creative interpretation” explaining what Dogen really “meant,” perhaps, “just sitting is itself full enlightenment,“ or something similar. I will stick with his words for now.

In the context of Dogen's writings, one implication of this is that the form (or, appearance) of a thing (dharma) and the content (or, meaning) of the thing are nondual. In short, a thing is and means precisely as it appears. Thus, every particular thing is an expression of Buddha nature, and each expression means what it says. This is why Dogen stresses, “nothing is concealed in the whole universe.”

This also explains Dogen’s scorn for “scholars that count words and letters,” and abstract notions inferred, or deduced from generalized systems of classification. If the significance (meaning, reason, content) of real things is not apart from the form of their appearance, then accurate understanding depends on clear perception. In order to “classify” things according to their “inherent qualities” (e.g. “right” speech, “expedient” means, “pure” sitting, etc.), those things must first be attributed with qualities—in other words, “qualities” would have to be considered independently of the things they were supposed to qualify (Buddhism 101 informs us that “independent” entities are untenable).
It is impossible even to imagine qualities, like “right,” “provisional,” “false,” etc., as existing apart from real things. Qualities apart from things are as illusory as “general perceptions.” To accept Dogen’s position of the nonduality of “things” and “our experience of them” is to accept the unity the self and the world; to classify things according to separate qualities divides the self and the world. This is “counting words and letters,” this is being attached to theoretical conceptualization—inferences and deductions about things, are substituted for things as they are.

Now, as all things are real to Dogen, this includes concepts, theories, abstraction, etc. And it is for this very reason that Dogen warns of real danger in misusing them. There is no problem with concepts, abstract ideas, etc. in themselves; according to Dogen, they are both real and necessary (expedient means) to authentic practice-enlightenment. It is careless or unskillful use that Dogen disparages.

For Dogen, there are mountains, mountains, and mountains—"experienced mountains” directly perceived, "word mountains” used to intelligently communicate, and "concept “mountains” used to think intelligently. These three types of real mountains, experiential, verbal, and conceptual respectively are certainly interconnected, but they are not equivalent or interchangeable. Nor are they qualitatively superior or inferior—each is a real dharma and a real expression of Buddha nature. Zen practitioners are not to dispense with words and concepts, but to use them skillfully (expediently). Expedient usage begins with study to achieve an accurate understanding of the distinctions between experience, word, and concept. Once understood, practitioners use them expediently by keeping in mind, or “remembering” these distinctions. As Dogen says:

Remember, mountains are not “mountains,” mountains are mountains.

In sum, Dogen’s view about the unity of a thing and its content, or reason, implies that the more precisely we discern a thing, the more accurately we understand it.
Dogen never tires of disparaging views that divide reality into “mind” (envisioned as a kind of eternal “divine essence”) and “matter” (envisioned as the dead, passive material “stuff” of the world). Such views commonly posits a division between “things” and our “experience” of them.
The division of subject and object also occurs in doctrines that take an opposite approach. Rather than dividing reality up, some doctrines simply merge the myriad things into a kind of pernicious oneness.

Unlike the Buddhist doctrine of nonduality, wherein the creative dynamic tension of differences are maintained, the effect of either dividing or merging is equalization and neutralization, logically concluding by reducing all dharmas to identical and interchangeable nothings.
Can you hear Dogen spitting venom? Me too!

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