Saturday, March 26, 2011

Emptiness is Form; Self is Other

As Dogen students quickly realize, Dogen’s writings are brim full of references to a “state” or “condition” that he calls “the body and mind of ‘self’ and ‘other’ falling away.” In fact, this phrase is so frequently repeated one can become desensitized to its profound significance. For this reason I would like to suggest a few points that may be helpful to be attentive to when meeting this expression in Dogen’s works.

First, in Dogen’s usage, “the body and mind of ‘self’” is always inclusive of “the body and mind of ‘other’ than self” (i.e. the myriad dharmas). To hold a view that it would be possible to let our own body-mind fall away but not the body-mind of the external world would be inherently dualistic (it would be similarly dualistic to suppose the body-mind of the external world could fall away apart from the body mind of self). Being dualistic, such view are regarded by Dogen as being non-Buddhist.

We stated that Dogen’s allusions to the “falling away of body-mind” always implies the context of the self and the external world; we now want to underscore that point by extending this to include all his references to the body-mind of individuals, or the “self” of human beings. The reason this is significant is that it clarifies the important distinction between the ego-centric “self” (unawakened human beings commonly called “ordinary beings”), and the universal or true “self” (commonly called “Buddhas”).

When Dogen speaks of the personal “self” (shinjin; the individual body-mind), It is important to understand that this is the “self” of “self and other” (self and world). The personal body-mind “self” is only and always an inherent aspect of the nonduality of “self and other than self.”

As the two nondual “aspects”, or (to adopt Hee-Jin Kim’s suggestion) “foci,” self and other are coessential; if one is raised, both are raised, of one is eliminated, both are eliminated. At the same time, each maintains its own distinct characteristics; that is, although each always the other, neither of them alters or interferes with the particularity of the other – “self” and “other” are mutually inclusive and nonobstructive. Thus, the Shobogenzo, Shoaku-makusa fascicle, for example, tells us:

The many kinds of right are “good doing” but they are neither of the doer nor known by the doer, and they are neither of the other nor known by the other. As regards the knowing and the seeing of the self and of the other, in knowing there is the self and there is the other, and in seeing there is the self and there is the other, and thus individual vigorous eyes exist in the sun and in the moon. This state is “good doing” itself. At just this moment of “good doing” the realized universe exists but it is not “the creation of the universe,” and it is not “the eternal existence of the universe.”
Shobogenzo, Shoaku-makusa, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

The point concern the present discussion is illustrated by the line, “As regards the knowing and the seeing of the self and of the other, in knowing there is the self and there is the other, and in seeing there is the self and there is the other…”

Thus, to experience (know or see) a “self” or an “other” – there must be both a “self” and an “other” experienced (seen or known). A “self” cannot be experienced alone, an “other” cannot exist independent of a self – therefore, when Dogen says “self” he means “self/other,” when he says “other” he also means “self/other.”


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dogen's Zen: the Evil, Fear, and Boredom of Ignorance & Mystery

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.
Shobogenzo, Genjokoan,
Translation from The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing, by Ted Biringer

At the end of this section of Genjokoan, Dogen points out that the falling away of enlightenment is “continuous.” This is presented throughout Shobogenzo’s vision of practice-realization as a process in which the very instant enlightenment is realized, it is cast off to be refreshed in the total exertion of the next instance of enlightenment, which immediately falls away as the next instance is totally exerted – this casting off, exertion, casting off, exertion, is the ceaseless advance of Buddha nature, ever-advancing as the totality of existence-time (uji).

This reveals one reason for Dogen’s energetic refutation of all forms of dualism, fatalism, naturalism, and any other distortion that could lead to practices of detachment or antinomian behavior. Deluded interpretations of “causality,” “original enlightenment,” or “spontaneous manifestation” undermine, minimize, or obscure the necessity of spiritual practice; thus they are not only dismissed as ineffectual; they are disparaged as barriers to Buddhist liberation.

That the actualization of the universe (genjokoan) is “continuous” means that Buddha activity is ceaselessly advancing in and as the fashioning of the world (and the true self) – the means (actualizing) and the ends (actualization) are not two different things. The world and true self are never fixed, but are the ever-new reality continuously fashioning/fashioned.

The ego-centric individual that abstracts qualities from dharmas and abstracts time from existence lives in a realm of disparate, independent objects. For them, dharmas (things, beings, instances, etc.) are not Buddha nature (the true self), but (external) objects that exist prior to subjective experience and continue to exist after subjective experience. Experiencing nothing “new” the egoist is confined to a state vacillating between boredom and fear; two prolific sources of human evil.

Boredom, which is incompatible with authentic practice-realization, is inevitable in the ego-centric’s “fixed” world of “objective” reality; the only relief available consists of dissecting, rehashing, and rearranging the “same old, same old.” As horror novelists know, those realms in which things are chopped into pieces and arranged in piles and heaps are realms in which monsters – and the victims of monsters – dwell.

Egoistic fear serves as a source of evil insofar as it is preoccupied with mysteriousness. The inertia, constriction, or suppression (of right, or good conduct and action) results from a narcissistic fear that is more of a perverted fascination with the unknown than an aversion to it.

The ego or false-self is, by definition, dependent on remaining ignorant of its beginning and end (birth and death) – thus, it instinctively senses its own annihilation in illumination. In sympathy with its species the ego-self becomes transfixed by a sublime fascination with ignorance, and desperately clings to the comfort of justifications and rationalizations appealing to “mystery” (e.g. claims about reality as being inconceivable, ineffable, etc.). All evil is spawned by the incestuous relationship of ignorance and mystery. Socrates and Jesus were condemned to death for daring to challenge them; Galileo, Huineng, Dogen, Eisai, and many others suffered sustained hostilities by officials of orthodoxy fiercely dedicated to maintaining the only safeguards of authoritative power, the paralysis caused by fixation with ignorance and mystery.

Dogen tells us that the “illusion” of a “fixed self” can be seen through by “looking closely” until we see things as the really are.

A person sailing along in a boat looking at the shore might have the illusion that the shore is moving. However, if they look closely at the boat they realize the boat is moving. Similarly, when they try to understand the many things based on deluded notions about body-and-mind they might have the illusion that their minds or nature are stationary. However, if they step back into fundamental awareness they realize nothing has a fixed self.
Shobogenzo, Genjokoan,
Translation from The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing, by Ted Biringer


Friday, March 11, 2011

Dualism vs Duality - Dogen on the One and the Many

I have noticed a tendency among some in the Buddhist community to misunderstand “duality” as meaning “dualism” or “dualistic.” Confusing duality for dualism can, and does lead some to wrongly view “diversity” and “discrimination” as being somehow discouraged or contrary to the teachings of Buddhism.

To clarify the difference between dualism and duality, then, “dualism” (and dualistic views) refer to presuppositions of real divisions, or actual separations in reality; the existence of independent dharmas (things, beings, entities, instances, events, etc.). In contrast to this, “duality” is the complimentary aspect or “foci” of the nondual unity of “nonduality/duality” – it is the real aspect or quality of differentiation and diversity inherent to reality. In short, “dualism” is a delusional or erroneous view of reality, and “duality” is an intrinsic aspect of reality.

Duality is to nonduality as form is to emptiness; an inherent aspect of a coessential nondual reality (nonduality/duality).

In light of this, we should be wary of accepting (or using) unqualified generalizations about Buddhist doctrines on “oneness,” “equality,” “purity,” etc. For example, to say that the myriad things (dharmas) are all just “one mind” is a generalization that would best be avoided, or at least qualified. Such a statement could only be accurate (in harmony with Buddhism) in a context that clearly acknowledges that the “one mind” is intrinsically “many” (myriad dharmas) as well as “one.”

Failing to acknowledge and account for the duality inherent in “one mind,” “Buddha nature,” “the absolute,” “emptiness,” “prajna,” etc. leads to partial (biased) views privileging “one” as somehow superior to, or more essential than “many.”

The (one) “Buddha mind” that is the experiencer of (many) dharmas, is coessential with the (many) dharmas that are experienced by the (one) “Buddha mind.” In short, the one Buddha mind is the myriad dharmas and the myriad dharmas are the one Buddha mind; both are essential constituents of a nondual unity (nondual/dual) – each is dependent on the other, yet each maintains its characteristic differences.

In, Dogen: On Meditation and Thinking, Hee-Jin Kim provides an example that bring the implications of this to light. In a discussion on the various meaning of three related terms for “satori” (“enlightenment”) – go, kaku, and sho – summarizing the connotations of go (as stressing intuitive insight into true nature) and kaku (as stressing awakening or becoming aware of a previously unknown truth), Kim writes:

By contrast, sho (which means “to prove,” “to bear witness to,” “to verify”) signifies the direct, personal verification of salvific reality/truth through the body-mind (shinjin), one’s whole being. A crucially important point here is, namely, “that which verifies” and “that which is verified” are inseparably intertwined via the body-mind. In this context, sho is typically coupled with shu (“practice”) as in shusho (“practice and enlightenment”). Although go, kaku, and sho are used interchangeably in Zen Buddhism, as well as in Dogen, his most favored term is undoubtedly sho. Thus in speaking of enlightenment (sho), Dogen always presupposes the process of verification in which enlightenment entails practice, and vice versa. To put it differently, enlightenment (nonduality) makes it incumbent upon practitioners to put the unitive vision of all things into practice, in terms of duality of the revisioned world.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen: On Meditation and Thinking, pp.21-22

According to Dogen’s worldview, to exist as a dharma is to be experienced (verified) as a (mind) form, image, or picture in the mind of an individual being, and to be experienced as a form, image, or picture in the mind of an individual being is to exist as a real aspect of that individual being.

When “duality” is mistaken for “dualism,” thus leading to biased views that fail to account for the inherent reality of diversity and distinction, one simply cannot accurately understand Buddhist teachings.

When we accurately grasp this essential point, we can reach an accurate understanding of Buddhist teachings; we can then put them into practice; verify their true significance; and actualize them in the world.

To exist, a dharma (“that which is verified”) must be experienced by an experiencer (“that which verifies”); thus, to experience (verify) the real existence of a dharma, is to experience (verify) the real existence of an experiencer. In its nondual aspect the experienced/experiencer form a unity of mutual existence as it is; in its dual aspect the experienced/experiencer of each particular dharma is as it is experienced, and the existence of each particular experiencer is as it experiences.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Dharma-Transmission Vs. Established Buddhism

There are two primary manifestations in this world that are identified as “Buddhism” – one that is “established” (instituted) and one that is “transmitted” (revealed). The established version portrays Buddha nature as it has been established and developed by the intellect of the common human being. The transmitted Buddha Dharma is the vision of Buddha nature that has been transmitted by enlightened Buddhas and ancestors. From Dogen’s perspective, the established version of Buddhism is, of course, not Buddhism at all. Because ordinary beings are unable or unwilling to trust, practice, and verify their own identity with Buddha nature as portrayed by the expressions of Buddhas and ancestors, the established form of Buddhism continues to endure.

Do you know where the disease lies which keeps you learners from reaching true understanding? It lies where you have no faith in your Self. When faith in your Self is lacking you find yourself hurried by others in every possible way. At every encounter you are no longer your master: you are driven about by others this way or that.

All that is required is all at once to cease leaving your Self in search of something external. When this is done you will find your Self no different from the Buddha or the patriarch. Do you want to know who the Buddha or patriarch is? He is no other than the one who is, at this moment, right in front of me, listening to my talk on the Dharma. You have no faith in him and therefore you are in quest of someone else somewhere outside. And what will you find? Nothing but words and names, however excellent. You will never reach the moving spirit in the Buddha or patriarch.
The Zen Teachings of Linchi, Burton Watson

Why do people find it so difficult to accept the revealed Dharma transmitted by Buddhas and ancestors? To ask it another way, why do people reject, out of hand, the very notion that they are, as they are, Buddha? In short, people deny their own Buddhahood because of their attachment to abstract conceptual views – (consciously or not) people are unwilling to trust immediate experience more than the conclusions of abstract speculation. When Dogen says, “Buddhas are enlightened about delusion; ordinary beings are deluded about enlightenment,” he means, in part, that ordinary beings are attached to false notions about enlightenment. Like everything else, apart from actual experience in a particular place at a specific time, “enlightenment” is merely a concept. The taste of a pineapple may be described, but until an individual actually experiences that taste at a specific place-time, the taste of a pineapple is a mere idea for that individual – not a real dharma. Likewise for the “taste” (experience) of enlightenment; and while the idea or concept about the taste of a pineapple may actually have some fairly accurate qualities about it (due to the individual’s experience with other fruits), concepts about enlightenment are never even in the same ballpark as the actual experience.

When we perfectly realize it, while still as we are, we would never have thought previously that realization would be like this. Even though we had imagined it, it is not a realization that is compatible with that imagining.
Shōbōgenzō, Yui-butsu-yo-butsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

This is hardly a new or radical teaching, Buddhist masters have been insistent on the need to grasp the true significance of this from the beginning of Zen history. For example, in an early Zen record attributed to Bodhidharma, the first ancestor of Zen in China, we read:

People who don’t see their nature and imagine they can practice thoughtlessness all the time are liars and fools. They fall into endless space. They’re like drunks. They can’t tell good from evil. If you intend to cultivate such a practice, you have to see your nature before you can put an end to rational thought. To attain enlightenment without seeing your nature is impossible.

Still others commit all sorts of evil deeds, claiming karma doesn’t exist. They erroneously maintain that since everything is empty, committing evil isn’t wrong. Such persons fall into a hell of endless darkness with no hope of release. Those who are wise hold no such conception.
The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, Red Pine

The Buddhas and ancestors advise beginning practitioners not to aim for “enlightenment” or aim “to become Buddha” in their pursuit of the Buddhist goal for good reason; those that have not yet experienced the reality of enlightenment cannot envision it – aiming for some conceptual notion of enlightenment can only lead in the wrong direction. Nevertheless, people have a tendency to ignore this constant refrain of Buddhist masters and aim for conceptions of enlightenment anyway. While not as ridiculous as “aiming” to have no goals at all – which is inane as well as futile – aiming for speculative concepts of “enlightenment” is ineffective and it can become a serious hindrance. Those that have yet to experience it typically concoct ideas about enlightenment as consisting of undifferentiated oneness, pure consciousness, undefiled goodness, and similar concepts equally impossible to envision or imagine.

Fellow believers, I tell you there is no Dharma to be found outside. But students don’t understand me and immediately start looking inward for some explanation, sitting by the wall in meditation, pressing their tongues against the roof of their mouths, absolutely still, never moving, supposing this to be the Dharma of the buddhas taught by the patriarchs. What a mistake! If you take this unmoving, clean, and pure environment to be the right way, then you will be making ignorance the lord and master. A man of old said, ‘Bottomless, inky black is the deep pit, truly a place to be feared!’ This is what he meant.
The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi, Burton Watson

Let go of emptiness and come back to the brambly forest.
Riding backward on the ox, drunken and singing,
Who could dislike the misty rain pattering on your bamboo raincoat and hat?
In the empty space you cannot stick a needle.
Cultivating the Empty Field, Dan Taigen Leighton

Intellectual conceptualization leads many to theorize that if there is any “bad,” “suffering,” “wrong,” etc. in human existence, it cannot have its source in Buddha nature, thus, it must arise from human weakness, imperfection, etc. Convinced of the “rationality” of such speculative theories, many practitioners unawares adopt dualistic presuppositions. If practitioners are ever to see beyond the ego-self, they must, at least tentatively, be willing to seriously consider the possible validity of the Buddhist teaching that all beings truly are, as they are, Buddha nature. As long as this is rejected, dismissed, minimized, or ignored there is no way to verify its truth in experiential realization. The need to see through deluded views that conceive of enlightenment in terms of abstract qualities like “goodness,” “purity,” etc., is one reason Zen masters sometimes utilize skillful means and turning words that appear to outsiders as shocking or irreverent.

A monk asked Joshu, “What is the pure land?”
Joshu said, “A puddle of piss.”
The monk asked, “Can you show it to me?”
Joshu said, “Don’t tempt me.”

Joshu and a city official were walking together. A rabbit they happened across instantly darted off when it saw them. The official said, “You are a greatly enlightened being, why did the rabbit run for its life?”
Joshu said, “I like to kill.”

A monk asked Yunmen, “What is Buddha?”
Yunmen said, “A dry turd.”
All this is simply a Buddha, when doing His practice, wriggling His toes in His straw sandals. There are times when His singular way of putting the Matter will be the sound from His breaking wind or the smell from His emptying His bowels. Those with Nostrils will get a whiff of It.
Shōbōgenzō, Gyōbutsu Iigi, Hubert Nearman

A monk said, “In the day there is sunlight, at night there is firelight. What is ‘divine light’?”
The master said, “Sunlight, firelight.”
The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, James Green
The moment we actually succeed in ceasing such conceptualization the truth of “transmitted” (revealed) Buddhism and falsity of “established” (instituted) Buddhism becomes self-evident. The term “nirvana” literally means “extinction” and we can see by its etymology that one of its traditional meanings is “the end of the world.” Like the term “apocalypse” (Greek; “revelation”), the “end of the world” symbolized by the term nirvana informs us that along with “arising” and “abiding,” time possess the quality of “perishing.” Also like “apocalypse,” this sense of “nirvana” possesses the connotation of a “new beginning” or the actualization of a “new realm of reality” – a realm of perfection or eternal peace. This is the same image portrayed in the Zen expression about the “great death,” and the more usual term in Mahayana literature, “annutara samyak sambodhi” (full and perfect enlightenment). What all of these terms commonly convey is that the end (destruction, death, end, perishing, etc.) of the present world or life is simultaneously the beginning of a new world or life.

To experience an establishment or institution is to experience indirectly, to receive an interpretation or explanation; to experience a transmission or revelation is to experience directly, to perceive or sense immediately – establishments convey units of information (abstract ideas, concepts); transmissions reveal unified formations (dharmas; actual, particular instances of existence-time). The products of establishments are conveyed circuitously and discursively through hearing and learning; the products of transmission are revealed directly and wholly through seeing and perceiving. Transmission or revelation does not occur through faith or understanding, it does not require the acceptance of anything concealed or beyond human experience – to receive transmissions or revelations is to see “face to face.” This is the true significance of the Zen tradition of “mind to mind” or “face to face” transmission. The transmission of the Buddha Dharma is the transmission of enlightened wisdom (bodhi prajna) from the Buddha mind to the Buddha mind. Clear seeing is prajna itself; to see “face to face” is to see Shakyamuni face to face – not to see Shakyamuni face to face is not to see Shakyamuni at all.

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.

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.
Shobogenzo, Menju, Hubert Nearman

Clear seeing (prajna) is both the method (means) and goal (end) of Buddhist practice-realization. “Realization” (nirvana, full enlightenment) is the “great death,” the end of the present world, it is the transference of our ordinary, mundane eye, for the Dharma-Eye which sees clearly. “Practice” denotes the ceaseless, ongoing actualization of clear seeing which ever-advances the total exertion, casting off, total exertion, casting off that is the actualization of the universe (genjokoan). Zazen-only is the standard systematic skillful process through which the Buddha Dharma is accurately transmitted and revealed; Zazen-only is the function of “practice” and it is the essence of “realization.” The Buddhist sutras and ancestral records are the vehicle of Dharma Transmission, the body or form of the Buddhist expression of the unified vision of the “great matter of life and death.”