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


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