Monday, September 26, 2011

Zen: The Role of Intellectual Concepts According to Dogen

Dogen on the role of “intellectual concepts” in the authentic Dharma:

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


Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Enlightened Wisdom (Bodhi Prajna) of Zen: Maha Prajna Paramita

A New Series of Posts on The Four Prajnas of Buddhahood on our sister blog FLATBED ZEN BLOG

A Zen Commentary on Prajna (Great Perfect Wisdom) from The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing by Ted Biringer


Friday, September 09, 2011

Genjokoan: Skeleton Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo Part 4

Genjokoan: A Skeleton Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo
A Study of Genjokoan and the Commentary in The Flatbed Sutra of LouieWing by Ted Biringer

Throughout his works, Dogen consistently affirms the vital position of verbal expression in the buddha-dharma (the authentic teaching of Buddhism), and at the same time, clearly defines its limitations. The next line of Genjokoan is one of the finest examples of this.

And though it is like this, it is simply that flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds, while hated, flourish.

This line may be the most direct expression in the whole Shobogenzo. It may also be the most misunderstood. It is often interpreted as a simile, which completely misses, and even subverts the point Dogen is making. In fact, Dogen points out that the previous three points are similes with the words, “And though it is like this.” In this line, he points out that reality is not like anything: it is simply reality; that is, “flowers fall…weeds flourish.”

This teaching corresponds with the true meaning of the often-quoted Zen dictum “a separate transmission outside the scriptures, not dependent on words and letters.” This does not mean that Zen disregards scriptures and texts, but that the reality the scriptures indicate is separate from the scriptures themselves, and not dependent on the words and letters that are used to indicate it.

Zen teachings require you to see into and through the words, while avoiding becoming attached to the words. You cannot “learn” Zen through reading and study, but you cannot disregard reading and study either. To use an analogy: reading a recipe for chocolate cake will not result in producing a chocolate cake–you must possess the ingredients and follow the instructions. At the same time, simply possessing the ingredients without the knowledge provided by the recipe will not do either.

In the first three statements, Dogen illustrates what reality is like; in this line, he presents it more directly, “and though it is like this, it is only that flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds while hated, flourish.” This kind of expression, common in Zen literature, is meant to convey the truth that reality or enlightenment is not produced by words, knowledge or even spiritual practice; reality is reality, as it is here and now.
To be continued...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Zen Treasury: Subtle Clues To Dogen's Shobogenzo

To Dogen, mind was at once knowledge and reality, at once the knowing subject and the known object, yet it transcended them both at the same time. In this nondual conception of mind, what one knew was what one was—and ontology, epistemology, and soteriology were inseparably united. This was also his interpretation of the Hua-yen tenet “The triple world is mind-only.” From this vantage point, Dogen guarded himself against the inherent weaknesses of the two strands of Buddhist idealism: the advocacy of the functions of mind (shinso) by the school of consciousness-only and the advocacy of the essence of mind (shinsho) by the school of tathagata-garbha—both of which were vulnerable to a dualism between phenomena and essence. Thus, philosophically speaking, Dogen maneuvered between monistic pantheism and reductionistic phenomenalism.
Hee-Jin Kim, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, p.117

The obvious (surface) meaning of this is clear enough; for Dogen, to exist is to know (to sense, feel, perceive, experience, etc.), to know is to exist, and to know Buddha (enlightenment, liberation, nirvana, etc.) is to exist as Buddha. While this is profound in its own right, I would like to suggest there may be some subtler clues we might come away with.

Consider closely the implications of Kim’s assertion about Dogen making no division between existence, knowledge, or the Buddha Way (ontology, epistemology, and soteriology). If Dogen does not regard ontology, epistemology, and soteriology, as being three different things, as Kim contends, then clearly, Dogen’s expressions on any one of these must also apply to the other two.

It is this, that I would like to suggest can serve as a kind of key in approaching Shobogenzo. That is, it serves as a key insofar as it neutralizes Dogen’s obligation to confine his expressions to the specific terms and doctrines appropriate to any one of these three, as would be necessary if the three were treated as different things. This means, for example, that if Dogen could not accurately transmit some Buddhist truth on knowledge within the terms and teachings of Buddhist epistemology he could appeal to the terms and teachings available within Buddhist ontology or soteriology – he could even combine terms and teachings from these “three” realms of Buddhist thought, thus vastly increase the degree of subtlety with which his expressions could be refined.

In other words, Dogen’s view of the inseparability of ontology, epistemology, and soteriology vastly increases Dogen’s capacity to transmit wisdom by increasing the terms and teaching available for so doing. The possibilities available to a painter limited to a single color are not simply doubled with the addition of one more color, but pushed to the brink of infinity – a third color and the brink is transcended; this same reasoning applies to musicians, poets, and Zen masters.

If you have followed the significance of this, you will also be able to appreciate that, just as Hee-Jin Kim provides these clues to Dogen’s teachings on “ontology, epistemology, and soteriology,” Kim points similarly to “language, thinking, and reason,” as well as “activity, expression, and understanding.”

By assimilating the significance of these clues, we rid ourselves of obstacles by dispensing with limitations imposed by arbitrary divisions, thus expanding our capacity for receiving Dogen’s transmission.

Please, dig into Dogen’s treasury and enjoy its profound richness…