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


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