Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Unified Vision of Shobogenzo

The Unified Vision of Shobogenzo

Today I return to a topic that I have not posted on for awhile; the "unity" of Dogen's masterpiece, Shobogenzo. Some of the unifying factors of Shobogenzo that deserve emphasis are the extraordinary consistency of the viewpoint, symbolism, and reason (dori) demonstrated by Shobogenzo as a whole. True, an accurate appreciation of Shobogenzo offers a number of challenges to modern readers, yet, as a comprehensive expression of the Buddha Dharma created by a profoundly enlightened Zen master that also happened to be an exceptionally gifted thinker and writer this remarkable work merits the effort required. Despite uncertainties about Dogen’s intention as to the order and inclusion of the fascicles constituting Shobogenzo, that it was intended to express a unified vision of the authentic Buddha Dharma is widely acknowledged .

As with any unified literary expression, only when the wholeness of the vision of Shobogenzo is comes into view can its various parts be truly appreciated. When it is experienced as a unity, rather than a miscellaneous collection, Shobogenzo is a hologram; each part demonstrating the whole, and the whole being demonstrated by each of its parts. Dogen’s Shobogenzo was clearly intended to convey, or transmit, a comprehensive expression of Buddhism with the potential to empower students/practitioners with the wisdom and skill for actualizing enlightenment. Thus, it seems that Dogen accomplished the mission he outlined in one of the earliest writings he completed upon returning from China:

“…I came home determined to spread the Dharma and to save living beings it was as if a heavy burden had been placed on my shoulders. Nevertheless, in order to wait for an upsurge during which I might discharge my sense of mission, I thought I would spend some time wandering like a cloud, calling here and there like a water weed, in the style of the ancient sages. Yet if there were any true practitioners who put the will to the truth first, being naturally unconcerned with fame and profit, they might be fruitlessly misled by false teachers and might needlessly throw a veil over right understanding. They might idly become drunk with self-deception, and sink forever into the state of delusion. How would they be able to promote the right seeds of prajna, or have the opportunity to attain the truth? If I were now absorbed in drifting like a cloud or a water weed, which mountains and rivers ought they to visit? Feeling that this would be a pitiful situation, I decided to compile a record of the customs and standards that I experienced first-hand in the Zen monasteries of the great Kingdom of Sung, together with a record of profound instruction from a [good] counselor which I have received and maintained. I will leave this record to people who learn in practice and are easy in the truth, so that they can know the right Dharma of the Buddha’s lineage. This may be a true mission.”
Bendowa, Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

In writing this, Dogen revealed his clear disagreement with a popular viewpoint often asserted in contemporary Zen literature - not infrequently by those claiming to be followers of his teachings. This statement surely seems to contradict certain dogmatic tenets suggested by contemporary Soto-Zen institutions:

“I will leave this record to people who learn in practice and are easy in the truth, so that they can know the right Dharma of the Buddha’s lineage.”

In contradiction to certain popular notions about Zen, Dogen is clearly suggesting that the "right Dharma" is communicable through words and letters. Some contemporary Zen teachers will, of course, deny that Dogen meant what he said, and insist that the “right Dharma” can only be accessed through the individual guidance of a "living" certified "enlightened master" (i.e. themselves, or other teachers “certified” within the lineage (or lineages) that they regard as legitimate).

Zen, of course, warns about the dangers of becoming attached to doctrines - realization cannot simply be learned it must be verified in practice. However, Dogen, like other classic Zen masters, clearly reveals how to avoid “becoming attached” to doctrines, and how to effectively put them into practice. When Dogen wrote he “will leave this record” so people “can know the right-Dharma of the Buddha’s lineage,” he meant exactly that - and more:

“Just as the words and letters I have seen thus far are one, two, three, four, and five, so the words and letters I see now are also six, seven, eight, nine, and ten. The monastics of future generations will be able to understand a nondiscriminative Zen (ichimizen) based on words and letters, if they devote efforts to spiritual practice by seeing the universe through words and letters, and words and letters through the universe.”
Tenzo Kyokun, as cited in Dogen Kigen: Mystical Realist, professor Hee-Jin Kim

Wow! Are there any "monastics of future generations" around today? I don't say there are none, but I say that there are few...


Monday, June 20, 2011

Grasping Emptiness by the nose...

Grasping Emptiness by the nose...

[Article Originally Posted by me at ZFI (Zen Forum International)]

The short, highly revered Heart Sutra, of which the Shobogenzo, Maka-hannya-haramitsu fascicle is a commentary on, is popular enough that Dogen only needed to quote a single line (the first) to indicate his topic.

The fact that Dogen altered that line by adding a single word is significant. Because the Heart Sutra is so well known, the alteration, although slight, jumps out as if misspoken, but as its implication dawns its purposeful intent becomes obvious.

The word Dogen added is, “konshin,” which roughly translates as “the whole-body,” or “his whole-body.” Although it is only one word, getting the significance of the addition across in English may require a bit of creative interpretation. Something like, “Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva practicing deep prajna paramita [with] his whole body (konshin) clearly saw that all five skandhas are empty transcending anguish and distress.”

The “form” of the whole body-mind realizes (makes real) the “emptiness” of the whole body-mind itself; alternatively, the “emptiness” of the whole body-mind realizes the “form” of the whole body-mind. This is the same point of the statement in the Heart Sutra, “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form.” That form is possible because of emptiness and emptiness is possible because of form, means “form” is truly form, and “emptiness” is truly emptiness.

The practical application of the principles of emptiness/form has tended to privilege emptiness (form is emptiness) over and above form (emptiness is form) by regarding emptiness/form in terms of superiority and inferiority. Such views are inherently dualistic and serve to foster quietist doctrines and practices that have plagued Zen from its early history to the present. Dogen’s addition of “konshin” (whole-body) is one of many examples in Shobogenzo that undermine this fallacy and reveal the true significance of emptiness/form.

The Maka-hannya-haramitsu fascicle begins by emphasizing the coessential status of emptiness and form. The enlightened wisdom of Buddhism (prajna paramita) reveals that the true nature of a form is emptiness, therefore to directly experience (clearly see = prajna) a form as it is (i.e. a form), is to directly experience the true nature (emptiness) of a form. Dogen next goes on to underscore that this implies that form is form, and emptiness is emptiness, and that this principle applies to all the myriad dharmas; all particular things are “instances” of “prajna itself.” Thus, all real dharmas are prajna, prajna is all real dharmas.

Dogen does, of course, recognize the reality and significance of Buddhist “oneness.” In fact, Shobogenzo illumines the nature of this oneness from a range of perspectives that present an unusually clear and extraordinarily detailed vision of the “one mind.” Yet, Dogen’s emphasis in Shobogenzo remains clearly focused on the concrete and particular. Shobogenzo focuses on the “real form” of dharmas because that is where the “real nature” (emptiness) of dharmas exists.

Form is emptiness itself, emptiness itself is form – not “form,” but this actual form, that particular form, this flower, that babbling brook. Each particular thing and event is an instance of form/emptiness, or as Dogen sometimes refers to them, “flowers of emptiness.” Three instances of emptiness/form are morning, noon, and night; two instances are one left ear and one right ear. A book, the sound of traffic, a kiss, yesterday’s lunch, your first dog all exist as instances of form/emptiness.

They are hundreds of things, and myriad phenomena. Twelve instances of prajna paramita are the twelve entrances [of sense perception]. There are also eighteen instances of prajna. They are eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind; sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations, and properties; plus the consciousnesses of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. There are a further four instances of prajna. They are suffering, accumulation, cessation, and the Way. There are a further six instances of prajna. They are giving, pure [observance of] precepts, patience, diligence, meditation, and prajna [itself]. One further instance of prajnaparamita is realized as the present moment. It is the state of anuttara samyaksaṃbodhi. There are three further instances of prajnaparamita. They are past, present, and future. There are six further instances of prajna. They are earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness. And there are a further four instances of prajna that are constantly practiced in everyday life: they are walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.
Shobogenzo, Maka-hannya-haramitsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

That form and emptiness are nondual does not mean that emptiness amounts to form or that form is reducible to emptiness. Nonduality signifies unity, not uniformity; emptiness and form are coessential, not identical, interdependent not interchangeable. Emptiness is the emptiness of (all) form, form is the form of (all) emptiness; to raise one is to raise both; to eliminate one is to eliminate both – reality of form is contingent on the reality of emptiness; the reality of emptiness is dependent on the reality of form. Therefore, if form is real, as Buddhism contends, emptiness is real; if emptiness is really emptiness, form is really form – thus Dogen asserts, “Form is form; emptiness is emptiness.”

“Konshin” (whole body) also appears in Koku, a fascicle of Shobogenzo that elucidates emptiness/form (of words) using “koku” (space) as a metaphor for emptiness. Dogen’s comments at the end of the opening paragraph of the koku fascicle, “How can space be limited to twenty types (a traditional classification of emptiness); there are eighty-four thousand types, and more.” Following this assertion, Dogen reveals the blood and guts of emptiness by utilizing a Zen koan to transmit the transcendental wisdom on grasping emptiness by the nose:

Zen Master Shakkyo asked Zen Master Seido, “Do you know how to grasp space?”

Seido said, “I know how to grasp it.”

Shakkyo said, “How do you grasp it?”

Seido made a grasping gesture at the air with his hand.

Shakkyo said, “You do not know how to grasp space.”

Seido said, “How do you grasp it, brother?”

Shakkyo firmly grabed Seido by the nose and gave it a tug.

Seido cried out in pain, saying, “Don’t be so rough! You’ll rip my nose off.”

Shakkyo said, “Now you know how to grasp space.”

Dogen does say Seido “knew how to ride on a tiger’s head, but not how to grasp a tiger’s tail,” which seems to let him off lightly; where is he riding a tiger’s head?

To demonstrate his knowledge of emptiness, Seido makes a useless gesture at the air with his hand. While the action was futile, even pathetic, it was a perfect demonstration of Seido’s knowledge of emptiness; false, vain, invalid, and absurd. Although it is not always so obvious, attempting to grasp reality, true nature, or emptiness through abstract concepts is always futile.

Dogen devoted lots of time and energy to refuting dualism, especially in relation to the aspect of the Dharma most vulnerable; the doctrine of emptiness. The reasoning of Shobogenzo is convincing; because dualistic views do not arise from experience, and cannot be verified by experience, they are inherently abstractions. Abstractions, by definition, are partial; being deductions, conjectures, and suppositions conceptually extracted or derived from the experience of reality, such ideas are always less than real experience.

Thus, if emptiness is viewed dualistically, the experiential reality of emptiness is thereby instantly reduced to concepts, extractions, and derivatives of speculation. Subjecting emptiness to abstract speculation necessitates dividing (abstracting) it from “form.” Now seen as separate realities, emptiness and form become eligible for classification and qualify as candidates for superiority and inferiority.

But if emptiness truly possesses the qualities of oneness, equality, etc., how is it demonstrated by Shakkyo’s rough handling of Seido? Isn’t Shakkyo only demonstrating form? It is exactly because of its oneness, equality, etc., that Shakkyo’s action can demonstrate it. If emptiness was various, it could not be all things and all times. Emptiness flows.

Because emptiness is totally empty of self it is totally empty of anything not-self; this flower is not “other than” emptiness because, without a self, nothing can be “other than” emptiness itself. As nothing is “other than” self, this flower, that bird, this thought, and finally all dharmas are not “other than” emptiness. Wherever there is a “self,” there must be a self/other; wherever there is an “other,” there must be a self/other. Therefore, the total reality that is called “a flower” is a dharma that is a “self” (the form perceived distinctly as “the flower”), plus an “other” (whatever “the flower” is perceived as being distinct from). Thus, the true nature of every particular dharma we experience is a reality that is “dharma” + “not-dharma.” In sum, a flower is a flower + no-flower, and when these are added together, “1” flower plus “0” flower, they make “a flower.”

When all things are seen as the buddha-dharma, then there is delusion and enlightenment, there is practice, there is life and there is death, there are buddhas and there are ordinary beings.

When all things are seen as empty of self, there is no delusion and no enlightenment, no buddhas and no ordinary beings, no life and no death.

Buddha’s truth includes and transcends the many and the one, and so there is life and death, delusion and enlightenment, ordinary beings and buddhas.

Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, Ted Biringer

When a flower is seen as the buddha-dharma, then there is (“1”) a flower.

When a flower is seen as empty of self, there is (“0”) no flower.

Buddha’s truth includes and transcends “1 flower” and “0 flower,” and so there is a flower.

Because emptiness is without self, it goes along with all things; when they are still and silent, emptiness is still and silent, when it moves and cries out, emptiness moves and cries out. When words are spoken, emptiness is words, when words are emptiness, there is “no-other” than words, thus Dogen says:

Space is one unadulterated mass, which, once touched is then tainted. Since being tainted, “space has fallen to the ground.” Shakkyo’s words “How do you grasp it?” mean “Even if you call it ‘as it is,’ you have changed it already.” And although it is like this, in changing with it the thus-gone exists.
Shobogenzo Koku Shobogenzo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Emptiness is one totality without self or other, once touched, the totality is touched/not-touched. To touch the ground is to touch the totality of ground/not-ground. Even if you call it “as it is,” you change it to “as it is/not-as it is.” And although it is like this, in changing with it the “as it is” exists. Having no-self, emptiness “changes with” it because “it” is not “other” than emptiness.

A flower, as it is, is not “other than” emptiness, emptiness is not “other than” a flower as it is. Getting thirsty is not other than emptiness, drinking water is not other than emptiness, the fact that drinking water quenches thirst is, as it is, nothing other than emptiness. To suffer because of seeing our self as independent entities is emptiness as it is. Opening the Dharma-Eye and experiencing liberation from suffering is emptiness as it is. Thus, thirst, quenching thirst, compassion, service, delusion, and enlightenment are all empty – and therefore there is nothing “other” than thirst, service, etc. All dharmas are real form.

Emptiness is no-self; no-self is the true nature of all dharmas. True nature is not abstract or conceptually difficult and it is never obscure, much less incommunicable – nothing in the whole universe has ever been concealed. Emptiness is vigorous and concerned, ever advancing as the myriad dharmas of existence-time, emptiness is alive, it bleeds and it breathes, and it cries out when its nose is tweaked.

Reading the story of Shakkyo and Seido, studying it, practicing it, and verifying the truth of emptiness is emptiness as it is. Thus, the Shobogenzo, Koku fascicle opens with an explanation that the manifestation of Buddha ancestors is caused by “emptiness” in the “form” of words. Dogen explains that the transmission of emptiness/form (of the words), from ancestor to ancestor, causes the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow (i.e. the myriad dharmas) to be actualized as “konshin” (the whole body) which is said to be “hanging in space” (ka-koku). Check out the sutra quote that occupies the pivot of Dogen’s commentary on the Heart Sutra:

In the order of Śakyamuni Tathagata there is a bhiksu who secretly thinks, “I shall bow in veneration of the profound prajnaparamita. Although in this state there is no appearance and disappearance of real dharmas, there are still understandable explanations of all precepts, all balanced states, all kinds of wisdom, all kinds of liberation, and all views. There are also understandable explanations of the fruit of one who has entered the stream, the fruit of [being subject to] one return, the fruit of [not being subject to] returning, and the fruit of the arhat. There are also understandable explanations of [people of] independent awakening, and [people of] bodhi. There are also understandable explanations of the supreme right and balanced state of bodhi. There are also understandable explanations of the treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. There are also understandable explanations of turning the wonderful Dharma wheel to save sentient beings.” The Buddha, knowing the bhiksu’s mind, tells him, “This is how it is. This is how it is. The profound prajnapara mita is too subtle and fine to fathom.”
Shobogenzo, Maka-hannya-haramitsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

The thoughts of this monk (bhiksu) go to the heart of the significance of emptiness demonstrated by Shobogenzo; although there is no self and no other in the true oneness of emptiness, true, effective teachings exist. This monk realizes the point, so the Buddha tells him – This is how it is. And how is it? There are understandable explanations.

There are understandable explanations of precepts, balanced states, wisdom, and liberation. The no-self of emptiness does not mean that things are not real, it does not mean that distinctions are illusory, it does not mean that the essential nature of things is different than the appearance of things – just the opposite. If this were not so, Dogen would not have wasted his time teaching and writing. Shobogenzo exists, and is effective because there are understandable explanations of the Dharma.

Dogen, commenting on the monk’s thought that, “Although in this state there is no appearance and disappearance of real dharmas, there are still understandable explanations,” says that “this state” (emptiness) is described “as being without.” In Japanese, “being without” is “mu,” which is a word that Zen practitioners are as familiar with as they are with the Heart Sutra. “Mu” is the central subject of the famous Zen koan, “Joshu’s Mu,” which appears in a variety of forms in numerous koan collections, the most common form being:

A monk asked Joshu, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?”

Joshu said, “Mu.”

What is “Mu”? That is what each practitioner must personally verify, once they have come to understand a reliable explanation. Here is part of Dogen’s understandable explanation on the monk’s mind, real dharmas, and the state of “mu” (being without).

The bhiksu’s “secretly working concrete mind” at this moment is, in the state of bowing in veneration of real dharmas, prajna itself—whether or not [real dharmas] are without appearance and disappearance—and this is a “venerative bow” itself. Just at this moment of bowing in veneration, prajna is realized as explanations that can be understood: [explanations] from “precepts, balance, and wisdom,” to “saving sentient beings,” and so on. This state is described as being without. Explanations of the state of “being without” can thus be understood. Such is the profound, subtle, unfathomable prajna paramita.
Shobogenzo, Maka-hannya-haramitsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


Monday, June 13, 2011

Dogen: Concepts and the Gate of Skillful Means

Dogen: Concepts and the Gate of Skillful Means

The underlying principle of momentarily opening the Gate of Skillful Means involves opening It by opening the whole universe. At the very moment when you catch sight of the opening of the whole universe, it will be something that you have never encountered before. By our grasping once or twice at an intellectual concept of what opening of whole universe is and then grasping at it for a third or fourth time as something real, we cause the Gate of Skillful Means to open.

Shobogenzo, Shoho-Jisso, Hubert Nearman

Friday, June 03, 2011

“Consciousness Only” and Zen Buddhism

“Consciousness Only” and Zen Buddhism

As outlined by the “Four Noble Truths” of Buddhism, suffering results from a false view (avidya; ignorance) of “self.” This suffering is overcome when the false view is eliminated by realizing the truth of “no-self.” Thus, realization of no-self (anatman; muga) was the “goal” of Buddhism in the Buddha’s life (about 500 BCE) and First Councils (Theravada), as well as the Mahayana (and Vajrayana) traditions that culminated around 1100 to 1300 CE, more or less.

In fact, the distinction between schools can generally be described as the “way” (teachings and methods) each advocated for the realization of “no-self.” The interpretive literature of early Buddhism (Abhidharma) asserted a view of the “self” as a continuous series of constantly changing aggregates consisting of impersonal, groundless, causeless elements (dharmas). In order to reconcile this doctrine with the Buddhist doctrines of rebirth, moral obligation, karma, etc., the advocates of this view were forced to posit some unifying “force,” “agent,” or “essence,” that facilitated the coordination of the causes and effects that were presupposed by Buddhist teachings – and this force, agent, or essence must somehow avoid being portrayed as a reified entity (i.e. independent self).

Early attempts to find such a “force” resulted in the notions of the “life-stream” (ayus; myokon, etc.) notions of the Vijnanavada school, and other early traditions. A wide variety of theories were advanced concerning the nature and dynamics of this “life-stream.” One general notion was that this “life-stream” was the ground from which the “six consciousnesses” (seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, thinking) arose, bestowing and maintaining the “fire” or “heat” (nan) and the “consciousness” (shiki) of the individual. The quality and quantity of this “life-stream” was regarded as dependent on the particular karmic conditions of each individual. We find many remnants of this and similar notions used in the records of Zen, for instance the “fire” and “consciousness” (translated as “wind” by Nearman) in the koan about the two halves of an earthworm:

In the assembly of the virtuous monk Chosa Keishin, his lay disciple Chiku, who was a high government official, raised a question, saying, “When a live earthworm is cut in two, both parts continue to move. I wonder, in which part does the Buddha Nature reside?”

The Master responded, “Do not engage in deluded, dualistic thinking.”
The official asked, “But how do you account for the twitching?”

The Master replied, “It is simply that the elements of wind and fire have not yet dissipated.”
(As translated by Hubert Nearman in Shobogenzo, Bussho)

The continuous and ongoing attempts by Buddhist masters to meet the challenges posed by the teachings on “no-self” eventually came to be centered in two great Buddhist doctrines: the “storehouse-consciousness” (tathatagata-garbha) and “consciousness-only” (vijnana-matra). Briefly, the “storehouse-consciousness” is presented in terms concerning the “primordial” or “original” nature of mind, while “consciousness-only” is portrayed as the “foundation” or “ground” underlying (and finally transcending) the six consciousnesses.

Which each of these doctrines presented views complete in themselves (and were advocated by independent schools), the best of both teachings eventually came to be merged in a number of greatly influential sutras and shastras – most significantly, the Lankavatara Sutra and the Awakening of Faith shastra. These two texts, in turn, became greatly influential to the development of all the major Mahayana traditions. While the legend of Bodhidharma’s giving Eka a copy of the Lankavatara Sutra has served to indicate its influence on Zen, the Awakening Faith shastra is alluded to and quoted even more extensively in the records of Zen (including Dogen who cites it as authoritative in Shobogenzo). The remarkable visionary insight of this slim volume was regarded authoritative enough to be included as a basic text of that erudite Buddhist school known as Huayen (Kegon) Buddhism.

Nevertheless, even in their culminating expression (i.e. the Lankavatara and Awakening of Faith) the doctrines of “storehouse-consciousness” and “consciousness only” failed to avoid certain vulnerabilities (mostly of the “essentialist” and “speculative” type) as far as the great Zen masters were concerned. As evident in the classic records of Zen, these doctrines (at least as articulated) fell short of expressing the whole truth of the matter, though they did provide an excellent springboard from which to articulate some of the most powerful expressions of Zen in the whole corpus of writing, including the Five Ranks of Tozan.

All in all, the great Buddhist doctrines of “storehouse-consciousness” and “consciousness only” are certainly worthy of our close and attentive study, but that study should not be regarded as complete with their “final” articulation in works like the Lankavatara and Awakening of Faith. Having arrived at a solid grasp of these Buddhist doctrines in their “formal” culminating expression, let us turn to the records of Zen where they continued to be refined at the forge of the ancestors – here is where the purity of their gold truly shines. Stripped of their nonessential speculative elements, these teachings have become direct pointers in the hands of the masters – these direct pointers rank with the best of the myriad “ways” employed by the masters to help students overcome the false view of “self” with the Zen skill of directly pointing to the identity of the human body-mind and Buddha. From the first Zen ancestor in China, Bodhidharma, to the contemporary Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, the “way” of liberation advocated is direct and personal:

Seeing your nature is zen, if you don’t see your nature it’s not zen.
~Bodhidharma, The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, Red Pine

Seeing into one’s own nature is the goal of Zen.
~Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Keys