Sunday, May 22, 2011

Letting Things Be vs Wholehearted Effort

Practical experience tells us that some aspects of our experience (hence, our existence) are subject to our control while others are not. We feel that we can choose to sit, stand, walk, or lie down, but not that we can choose to breathe, digest our food, circulate our blood, or grow new skin cells. In fact, the real “us,” that is, our “true self” does actually manage all of this and more; but the point we want to get at here concerns a frequent target of Dogen’s criticism: the presupposition that the “natural” or “unintentional” processes of experience are inclusive of our thoughts, speech, and actions. The worshiper of emptiness presupposes that hearing, for instance, occurs unconsciously as random sounds impress themselves upon the mind through the ear, rather than, as Dogen contends, that hearing is actualized by the mind conducting itself through the ear to the “objects” of sound. The former (false) view is based on the same principle that divides “appearance” from “reality” or “form” from “emptiness” – such a view “presupposes” that the mind is uniform, passive, pure, unmoving “consciousness” or “essential nature,” and that hearing (and seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and thinking) are automatic, involuntary processes. Such distorted views lead to dead end doctrines and practices advocating “having no goals,” “letting things be as they are,” “just sitting in pure awareness,” etc. – of such notions Dogen says:

As to the phrase ‘when the right moment arrives’, folks in both the past and the present have frequently held the view that this means one simply waits for some future time when Buddha Nature will manifest before one’s eyes. They believe that while doing their training and practice in this way, the time will arrive when Buddha Nature will spontaneously manifest before their eyes. They say that until that time comes, It will not manifest even by visiting one’s Master and inquiring into the Dharma or even by doing one’s best to practice the Way. Looking at the Matter in this manner, they uselessly return to worldly ways, vainly waiting for It to fall down upon them from the heavens. Folks like this, I fear, are that type of non-Buddhist who believes that things just happen to happen, independent of any cause.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Hubert Nearman

Here Dogen clearly illustrates the ordinary (unawakened) inactive mind of “letting things be.” Realizing the reality of Buddha nature is not something that just happens. Authentic liberation requires wholehearted, accurately directed, intentional effort. Those that “just sit” and passively experience whatever happens to “spontaneously manifests” before their eyes cannot even see the true nature of grass and trees, much less Buddhas. Truly, it is immediately accessible to all, but none access it without informing themselves of the details concerning how to access it – and wholeheartedly applying themselves to it. On the significance of this Dogen quotes the Buddha’s words, then comments that we “need to be clear” that to give rise to this intention is to “wholeheartedly seek enlightened wisdom.”

The Tathagata said in the Avatamsaka Scripture:

When Bodhisattvas give rise to the intention to realize Buddhahood and make birth-and-death the foremost issue, they wholeheartedly seek enlightened Wisdom and, being steadfast, they will not waver. The meritorious functioning of that single-mindedness is deep and vast, knowing no bounds. If I were to analyze and explain it, I would be unable to exhaust the topic, even if I had eons to do it.

You need to be clear about this: using the issue of birth-and-death to give rise to your intention to realize Buddhahood is to wholeheartedly seek enlightened Wisdom.
Shobogenzo, Hotsu Muj┼Ź Shin, Hubert Nearman



A said...

Yes this very important, but there is also a difference between 'letting go' and passivity in Buddha-dharma. There is 'whole-hearted letting go' which goes beyond self-conscious practice or non-practice.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Andy,

Thank you for your comment.

Yes, you raise an important point.

The "letting go" you speak of is what Dogen calls "casting-off," "dropping," or "shedding" the body-mind of "self-and-other-than-self."

I would note that this kind of "letting go" is not about letting go of "thoughts," "concepts," "perceptions," etc. - but of the (false, or personal) "self" (ego).

This certainly demands sustained effort and wholehearted dedication (as well as right-understanding). This kind of "letting go" (casting off) is true zazen (shikantaza). The actualization of such "letting go" simply cannot be accomplished without genuine aspiration - as is apparent in one of the common Zen terms for the "initial experience" of it - "The Great Death" (commonly called "kensho" or, Dogen's preferred term "kenbutsu").

Thanks again for raising this important point.

Three Full Bows


MyoChi said...

You indeed picked a delicate topic, Ted..:). I agree with what you are saying that results are not going to arise without effort. My teacher, Susan Jion, from empty hand zen center always talks about earnesty. When you read koan stories, people talk about so and so approached his master in all earnesty. Whole hearted effort of immersing oneself in the quest is essential. However, there is letting go in the practice as well. I believe the difference is in effort and result. You have to make whole hearted effort with letting go of the desire for result. As soon as you think that you are making the effort and hence you will attain the result, water gets muddied. Yes, the effort is "happening" and so will be the result, but there is no one making the effort and hence no one attaining. It is the ego that we have to let go of.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello MyoChi,

Thank you for your comments.

Yes, this is very important. I like Dogen's quote of Nagarjuna on this:

The Venerable One (Nagarjuna) says, “If you want to realize the buddha-nature, you must first get rid of selfish pride.” ~Shobogenzo, Bussho, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

At the same time, if, as you wrote, "...there is no one making the effort and hence no one attaining..." I wonder who the "you" is that is supposed to "let go of the desire for getting results," and what "desire" would be attained if one was successful...

When Nagarjuna says, “If YOU WANT TO realize the buddha-nature..." I think he is acknowledging the fact that there is an "inauthentic" or "wrong" kind of desire (i.e. selfish desire for personal gain) and an "authentic" or "right" kind of desire (i.e. bodhicitta; genuine aspiration for enlightenment).

It seems to me that it is for the very reason that the TRUE you CAN actually ATTAIN the Buddhist GOAL (authentic enlightenment) that Nagarjuna says, "...YOU must first get rid of selfish pride.”

I think that getting rid of "selfish pride" is not quite the same as getting rid of the "self" - but awakening to and actualizing the true self, which is the "someone" (rather than the "no one") that MAKES EFFORT - and continuous, ongoing effort at that - to realize very specific "desires" - that is to "actualize the universe" (Genjokoan).

For those of us that have not yet reached an initial experience of "getting rid of selfish pride," the "Four Great Vows", I think, are excellent guidelines to keep us facing away from the false goal (of ego desire) and toward the "authentic goal" - they give us four very specific descriptions of the goals that are worthy of a Buddha's desire:

To save all beings...
Abandon all greed, hatred, and delusion...
Awaken to all Dharma-gates...
Fully embody the Buddha Way...

Thanks again MyoChi, it is, as it has been for some years now, a pleasure to hear from you - You have certainly come a long way since our paths first crossed on the internet-sangha some years back.

Peace sister,