Genjokoan: A Skeleton Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo
A Study of Genjokoan and the Commentary in The Flatbed Sutra of LouieWing by Ted Biringer
The opening lines of Genjokoan outline the fundamental aspects of reality: the interdependence and interpenetrating aspects of the one and the many, the individual and the universal.
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.
This line affirms the relative aspect of reality. Here, “the buddha-dharma” denotes all-inclusive reality. “When all things are seen as the buddha-dharma” indicates one way of perceiving the buddha-dharma (reality). In this way of perceiving the buddha-dharma, “all things” (the myriad dharmas) are seen. That is, reality appears as a multitude of separate individual things. From this perspective of reality, there is “delusion and enlightenment, there is practice, there is life and there is death, there are buddhas and there are ordinary beings.” There are people, animals, houses, stars, and all the other kinds of things.
Dogen, more than most Zen masters, delves deeply into the implications of this aspect of reality. While many Zen masters and Buddhist texts give short shrift to the relative aspect of experience, often simply dismissing it as the experience of delusion, Dogen methodically articulates how this aspect of reality affirms the ultimate significance of every particular thing. The Shobogenzo repeatedly directs us to this truth; because everything is the buddha-dharma, the buddha-dharma is every thing. For Dogen, every thing has ultimate significance as the buddha-dharma; including even such things as broken tiles, pebbles, dreams, illusions, and doubts.