Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Five Common Fallacies Concerning Dogen (and Zen):

Five common fallacies concerning Dogen (and Zen):


1.       The notion that duality, form, or delusion are of lesser status, significance, or actuality than nonduality, emptiness, or enlightenment.

2.       The notion that the emphasis, style, or methodology of seated meditation (zazen, shikantaza) in Dogen’s Zen is its most distinctive characteristic, or is profoundly original or exceptionally unique.

3.       The notion that Dogen (or Zen generally) regarded language or textual study as detrimental, superfluous, negligible, secondary, or inessential to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment.

4.       The notion that Zen regards intellectual pursuits or capacities as detrimental, superfluous, negligible, secondary, or inessential to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment.

5.       The notion that in Dogen’s Zen koan training and study is considered detrimental, superfluous, negligible, secondary, or inessential to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment.


In contrast to these fallacies, the views presented by Dogen’s vision of Zen are actually that:


1.       Nonduality and duality are coessential (i.e. each presupposes and is dependent on the other), emptiness and form are coessential, delusion and enlightenment are coessential.

2.       Dogen’s vision of “nonthinking” demonstrates the most essential, most original, and most characteristic aspect of Dogen’s methodology concerning the nature of Zen practice-enlightenment. Sitting meditation is given relatively little detailed attention in Dogen’s writings; what guidance it does offer is generally consistent in style and methodology with other sources of his era and earlier.

3.       Language and textual study are regarded as essential to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment.

4.       Endeavors in intellectual pursuit and the cultivation of discriminative and critical capacities are regarded as essential to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment.

5.       Extensive and intensive koan training and study are regarded as essential to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment.
All Buddhas and Buddhas teachings arise from this sutra. What is this sutra?

Monday, November 05, 2012

Things and Their True Nature - Two? Not Two?

Appearance & Reality - Form & True Nature

Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded about realization are ordinary beings.
~Shōbōgenzō, Genjō-kōan, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
This passage from Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, perfectly presents Zen’s response to the basic question, “What is the true essence of the things, beings and events we experience as objects appearing in and as the world.” That true essence is, “The very forms of the things, beings, and events precisely as they appear (i.e. exactly as we experience them).” A “Buddha” is a Buddha by the very fact of being aware that (awake to) the “true nature” of things, beings, and events is not other than, and nowhere else but in and as those things, beings, and events as they are (as they exist, hence, as they are experienced).
True, this conclusion directly contradicts the assertions of many contemporary Zen teachers that contend the “true nature” or “reality” of the world is beyond our capacity to experience, or other than the world we actually perceive. That it contradicts popular Zen notions, however, does not mean it is inaccurate, or that Dogen misspoke or was erroneously edited, etc. This message, which is only one of many wherein Dogen and contemporary Zen often diverge widely, is not only repeated throughout Dogen’s works, it is a central characteristic of it. The repeated emphasis, almost a refrain, in the works of Hee-Jin Kim on the priority of the “reconstructive” rather the “deconstructive” element of emptiness in Dogen is reason enough to insist that the fact that this aspect of Zen continues to be largely ignored in the contemporary discussion is unjustified to the point of gross negligence. Setting aside any question about right or wrong, when contemporary Zen teachers proclaim that the reality or true nature of the world is not the world we perceive, they are asserting a view that is diametrically opposed to Dogen’s Zen. In fact, according to Dogen, even the view that the real world is something other than the world as it is, is itself is a mistaken view of the real world as it is.
The triple world is as the triple world is seen, and a view of something other than the triple world is a mistaken view of the triple world…
Great Master Śākyamuni says, “It is best to see the triple world as the triple world."
This view is the triple world itself. This triple world is just as it is seen.
~Shōbōgenzō, Sangai-yuishin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
In Dogen’s Zen, the true nature of any and every form is “just as it is seen” – mountains, stars, and fences, dreams, illusions, and spots in the air – are, as they are, the true nature of reality as it is. As a Buddhist master, Dogen was particularly concerned with the significance of this truth in connection to Buddhist forms, especially Buddhist expressions. Some of the most colorful language of Shobogenzo appear as repudiations of views suggesting that the reality of Buddhist expressions might exist independently of their forms. According to Dogen, the expression of a Buddha is nondual with the form of that Buddha, the very body-mind of that Buddha; thus, such suggestions are not only delusional, they are slanderous. It is no wonder, then, why Shobogenzo heaps such intense scorn on notions suggesting that Buddhist expressions are “merely provisional,” and often goes so far as to identify the advocates of such views as demons and beasts.
Dogen’s colorful, often humorous repudiations of “little shavers,” “bands of demons,” “wild beasts,” and the like provide not only good entertainment, they provide us with the assurance that the lifeless “Zen” of charlatanism and institutional formality so prevalent today is not a new phenomenon. Moreover, Dogen’s frequent technique of clearly articulating deluded or wrong views and approaches common to quacksalvers and deluded teachers offer a wealth of guidance on spotting them in our own day, thus avoiding being mislead by distorted views and teachings. In this connection, there are a variety of popular notions about Zen enlightenment suggesting that “true nature,” “reality,” or “Buddhahood” has to do with something immanent in the things, beings, and events of the world, something concealed within, behind, or underlying the forms ever-appearing before our eyes here-and-now – as if these very “forms” and “appearances” were mere forms and appearances, rather than the actual manifest forms and appearances of reality itself, the Tao as it is, the very face of God, the actual voice of Buddha. In Dogen’s Zen, such views are the very epitome of the unenlightened condition, the common denominator of those bound by the shackles of ego-centricity.
Their state is such that they deludedly imagine that after the triple world and the ten directions which we are experiencing in the present have suddenly dropped away, then the Dharma-nature will appear, and this Dharma-nature will be other than the myriad things and phenomena of the present. The true meaning of the Dharma-nature can never be like that. This universe of things and phenomena, and the Dharma-nature, have far transcended discussion of sameness and difference and have transcended talk of disjunction or union. Because they are beyond past, present, and future; beyond separation and constancy; and beyond matter, perception, thought, action, and consciousness, they are the Dharma-nature.
~Shōbōgenzō, Hōsshō, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
The only “dilemma” as to the difference or sameness between the true nature or Dharma nature of things, beings, and events and the forms in which things, beings, and events appear is, it turns out, only a “dilemma” for those that make it a dilemma by “adding legs to a snake,” to use the Zen phrase. In other words, a thing, being, or event is – as it is – a thing, being or event. It is only by attempting to divide a thing, being, or event into a “true nature” and an “appearance” that we come up against a dilemma.
To clarify, consider an actual dog, manifest before us here-and-now; this dog is the true nature of this dog, this dog is the very form appearing as this dog. Take away the true nature, and you take away this dog; take away the form, and you take away this dog – this dog’s form is nondual with this dog’s Dharma-nature, not even a laser-scalpel can cut them in two. The division of a dog’s (or anything else’s) appearance from its true nature can only be accomplished by the conceptual capacity of abstract speculation; the result of such a division gives rise to (actualizes; begets) a new, real, existent thing or dharma, this new element of reality is called a mistaken view, a deluded notion, a hindrance, or, as in the present case, a dilemma.
From the Zen perspective, the very appearance “of things and phenomena” and the true nature of things and phenomena are far beyond speculative “discussion of sameness and difference” and transcend conceptual hypothetical “talk of disjunction or union.” The actual things, beings, and events manifest right here, right now – as right here, right now – are “beyond past, present, and future,” thus “they are the Dharma-nature.” Because this dog is this appearance (and no other), the form of this dog and the true nature of this dog are “beyond separation and constancy” and beyond divisions of “matter” (from mind), and of “perception, thought, action, and consciousness” (from appearance, substance, agent, and phenomenon), “they are the Dharma-nature” as it is.
Please treasure yourself,

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Provisional Teachings are Skillful Means, but Skillful Means are not Provisional

Provisional Teachings are Skillful Means, but Skillful Means are not Provisional...

A Buddha’s discourse is beyond the sentient and the non-sentient; it is beyond the relative and the absolute. Even so, when He became aware of bodhisattvas, of ordinary humans, of the Real Form of things, and of this discourse, He opened the Gate of Skillful Means. The Gate of Skillful Means is the unsurpassed meritorious functioning of the fruits of Buddhahood. It is the Dharma that resides in the place of Dharma and It is the form of the world as it constantly manifests. The Gate of Skillful Means does not refer to some momentary skill.
~Shobogenzo, Shohō Jissō, Hubert Nearman
“Skillful means” or “expedient means” (upaya) refer to the actual phenomenal form or forms of Buddhism, that is, to all of Buddhism that is actually accessible to human experience. Thus, when used in a general sense, rather than in the context of a particular teaching or technique, “expedient means” is inclusive of the whole range of Buddhist doctrine and methodology. While technically equivalent with “doctrine and methodology,” “skillful means” nevertheless puts greater emphasis on the significance of actual techniques and practical teachings than does more general terms. Also, as when we refer to the expedient means of law, or the skillful means of medicine, for example, referring to the skillful means of Buddhism focuses attention on the actual form or forms of the specific course, path, or way Buddhism is realized in the world.
To clarify and emphasize the significance of the specificity or uniqueness of “expedient means” or “skillful means,” consider, for example; the process of law is only realized (made real) through and as the actual engagement of the skillful means specific to law, medicine through and as the engagement of the skillful means particular to medicine. The manifestation (phenomenal appearance) of law in the world is seen and known as “practicing law,” the manifestation of medicine as “practicing medicine.”
Similarly, the actual manifestation of Buddhism is realized as and through “practicing Buddhism.” In other words, medicine is not realized apart from practicing medicine (exercising its means), law does not exist independent of practicing law, and Buddhism does not appear apart from practicing (engaging the means of) Buddhism. It should go without saying, but for completeness notice; drugs, scalpels, medical procedures, or therapies are not “medicine” apart from the presence of skillful application – independent of actual “practice” such are mere abstractions or, at best artifacts with as much potential to harm as to heal. Recorded codes of lawful conduct, precedents, or policies existing in the absence of means to manifest cannot be considered “law,” and Buddhist scriptures, temples, icons, rituals, practices – even teachers or students – could not be qualified as “Buddhism” in an absence of adequate means for manifestation.
In sum, provisional teachings may be skillful means, but skillful means should not be misunderstood as provisional teachings. Thus Dogen reminds us:
"The Gate of Skillful Means does not refer to some momentary skill."
Please treasure yourself,

Monday, October 15, 2012

This Mind Is Buddha

This Mind Is Buddha
From the very beginning Buddhism has emphasized the mental nature of reality. The first verse of the first chapter of the Dhammapada, one of the earliest and most revered expressions of Buddhism, we read:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.

~Dhammapada, translated by Thomas Byrom

The title and subject of an early Shobogenzo fascicle exemplifies this Buddhist axiom in Zen terms, Soku Shin Ze Butsu (“This Mind is Buddha”; translated by Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross as, “mind here and now is buddha”).

What every buddha and every patriarch has maintained and relied upon, without exception, is just “mind here and now is buddha.”
~Shobogenzo, Soku-shin-ze-butsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

This fundamental principle of Buddhism is emphasized by Dogen and presupposed in all his writings. The comprehensive, multifaceted Buddhist expressions and teachings on the nature and dynamics of “mind” are some of Buddhism’s most significant contributions to human wisdom; and some of the most commonly misunderstood and misrepresented. Dogen therefore, like other Buddhist masters before and after, dedicated a great deal of time and energy clarifying exactly what Buddhism means when it asserts, “We are what we think, all we are arises with our thoughts, and with our thoughts we make the world.”
By “this mind” in the statement, “This Mind Is Buddha,” Zen means the “one” totality of the “myriad” dharmas – in short, “this mind” is inclusive of everything constituting the “self” (what we are) and “other than self” (the world).

Authentically transmitted like this, it has arrived at the present day. “The mind that has been authentically transmitted” means one mind as all dharmas, and all dharmas as one mind.
~Shobogenzo, Soku-shin-ze-butsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

As one family is all the individual members, and all the individual members are one family, one mind (Buddha) is all dharmas, and all dharmas are one mind. From Dogen’s perspective, these examples are not to be regarded as analogies or similes; each (family) member is integral to the one family, each (particular) dharma is inherent to the one mind. What is Buddha? This mind is Buddha. What is this mind?

Clearly, “mind” is mountains, rivers, and the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars.
~Shobogenzo, Soku-shin-ze-butsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Buddha – this mind – is (not is like) mountains, rivers, and the great earth, the sun, moon, and stars. Mind – Buddha – is houses and streets, animals, plants, thoughts and laughter, guns, bombs, corpses, books, cancers, and good deeds.
Mind does not make-up a dharma or dharmas, nor is a dharma or dharmas reducible to mind. Mind as a particular dharma is that dharma as it is, a particular dharma as mind is mind as it is. This tree is mind as it is; that pencil is mind as it is. That this tree or that pencil is mind “as it is,” means there are no hidden qualifiers or meanings – this tree is mind – so much so that even this goes too far; better to simply say “this tree.” That pencil is mind with nothing added, not even “is mind,” thus simply, “that pencil.” As Dogen says:

Mind as mountains, rivers, and the earth is nothing other than mountains, rivers, and the earth. There are no additional waves or surf, no wind or smoke. Mind as the sun, the moon, and the stars is nothing other than the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Shobogenzo, Soku-shin-ze-butsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Seeing Not-Seeing

Seeing Not-Seeing
Consider the image utilized to reveal the Dharma-eye’s capacity to see nondually in Dogen’s expression, “When one side is illumined, the other side is darkened.” Seeing total existence-time as a particular form is seeing what “is illumined”; seeing a particular form as a specific instance of total existence-time is seeing (accounting for) what “is darkened.” To see (illumine) “this side” of an apple is to see “that side” of the apple darkened; seeing “this side” depends on, and therefore confirms, the presence of “that side” – thus, seeing “this side” of the apple is seeing the whole apple as it is; half-illumined half-darkened. Likewise, in seeing any/every particular form, the Dharma-eye confirms the presence of the totality of the self. One of the clearest mythopoeic expressions of this is presented in the Surangama Sutra, from which it was adapted by Zen and elaborated in a number of koan collections. The particular image in question appears, for example, as the main koan of case 94 of the Hekiganroku:


The Surangama Sutra says: When I don't see, why don’t you see my not-seeing? If you see my not-seeing, it could not be the nature of not-seeing. Since you don’t see my not-seeing, it is naturally not a thing (i.e. dharma). How could it not be you?

Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record), Case 94 (main case)


If we discern the wisdom transmitted here, we see that the extent of our enlightenment is precisely matched by the extent of our delusion. No matter how many times or how fast we spin the apple, seeing it will always depend on illumining one side and darkening the other. Similarly, no matter how expansive enlightenment is, it will always correspond exactly with delusion. Seeing one’s true nature confirms this truth; great enlightenment is our inherent ability to intelligibly discern whatever we illumine, great delusion is the inherent dependence of illumination on darkening – to illumine anything is to darken everything else.
Thus, language becomes ascesis, instead of gnosis or logos—‘seeing things as they are’ now means ‘making things as they are.’ In this light the indexical analogy of ‘the finger pointing to the moon’ is highly misleading, if not altogether wrong, because it draws on a salvifically inefficacious conception of language.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.64

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Normal Mind is the Tao (ken-sho, ken-butsu)

The Normal Mind is the Tao (ken-sho, ken-butsu)
Enlightenment – discerning the true nature of the self – is an experiential activity, not a static condition or state of attainment. Enlightenment does not bestow Zen mastery (or teaching credentials), supernatural power, superior intelligence, or sainthood, much less freedom from moral obligation, causation, or delusion. The initial experience of enlightenment (ken-sho; seeing true nature) reveals, for the first time, the normal perspective. Ongoing practice-enlightenment (shusho) means to be continuously attentive to that perspective (ken-butsu; seeing Buddha) and thereby foster the actualization of normality in the here and now of existence-time.


An accurate view is not in itself an accurate understanding, but rather a view from which an accurate understanding becomes possible. Upon a mountaintop surrounded by clouds, one’s perspective is naturally limited by the clouds. When the clouds clear, one’s perspective naturally expands, increasing the possibility for understanding one’s true location in the world. Similarly, practice-enlightenment, being unhindered by the clouds of literalism and conceptualization (presuppositions, fixations, and biases), simply means being provided with a normal perspective, a perspective from which one can think, speak, and act in a manner appropriate to one’s actual situation.


One of the many things accounted for by the Zen doctrine of “Dharma transmission” is the Buddha-Dharma’s intrinsic capacity of eternal endurance and infinite elaboration. In harmony with the continuous self-generation inherent to the metaphorical nature of the self, the “Dharma” (i.e. the enlightened wisdom initially realized by Shakyamuni Buddha) is metaphorically portrayed as a “transmission” from the self to the self with traditional images of master and apprentice. As a master craftsman passes on his knowledge and skills to an apprentice, so the (universal) Buddha mind transmits the wisdom of enlightenment to the (individual) Buddha mind. Presenting this activity of “Buddhas alone together with Buddhas” in metaphorical images of “master and apprentice” reveals the nature of transmission with a clarity that is much easier to envision than that of more abstract expressions like “mind to mind,” “self and self,” etc.


[Note: Metaphorical expressions of “Dharma transmission” have long been distorted into objects of literalism and idolatry based on vulgar misunderstanding. While superficial (literal) interpretations of transmission have a long history, the true metaphorical significance of the Zen doctrine has never been as absent as now – contemporary discussion is almost exclusively limited to formal ceremonies, certificates, and rituals related to institutional succession, i.e. the official sanction or establishment of sectarian teachers.]


The Zen doctrine of transmission portrays the “self-generating” aspect of the metaphorical nature of the self as a process in which new metaphors (expressions of truth) are actualized by the ceaseless interaction of expression (self-expression) and response (self-response) among “Buddhas alone together with Buddhas.” The “response” (self-response) of the Buddha-mind to the expression of the Buddha-mind is the natural functioning of normal hearing (i.e. enlightened hearing, seeing, feeling, etc.; the experience of dharmas as they are). In this sense, then, “seeing” with the Dharma-eye (or Dharma-ear, nose, body, etc.) is “fashioning” or “making.” In other words, when dharmas (expressions of Buddha) are experienced as they are, the self that sees resonates with the self that is seen in a manner that rings out through space and time as the ceaseless actualization of the universe (genjokoan).


Thus, language becomes ascesis, instead of gnosis or logos—‘seeing things as they are’ now means ‘making things as they are.’ In this light the indexical analogy of ‘the finger pointing to the moon’ is highly misleading, if not altogether wrong, because it draws on a salvifically inefficacious conception of language.

~Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.64


Zen practice-enlightenment is the self seeing its true nature – its all-inclusiveness and its fathomless infinity. The totality of existence-time, then, is seen as only and always a particular form here and now (this dharma here and no other). Moreover, in seeing particular forms (this cup, that flower here and now) as a specific instance of total existence-time the self recognizes its fathomless infinity as infinite delusion.
Guts and blood...

Monday, August 27, 2012

(Pre-"Soto") Soto Style Koan Introspection in Dogen's Zen

(Pre-"Soto") Soto Style Koan Introspection in Dogen's Zen

The final exceptional passage in the Goyuigon concerns the content of Zen enlightenment and its relationship to koan training. Gikai prefaces this conversation with Ejo by stating: “During the prior meditation period, I was aided by our former teacher’s great enlightenment situation, the shinjin datsuraku words.” …in this passage… the words “shinjin datsuraku” represent a stock phrase or device (i.e., an “old example,” kosoku or koan) for contemplation during meditation. This use of shinjin datsuraku as a formal meditation device is confirmed by the fact that Ejo then tested Gikai’s understanding by asking him to present an “appended phrase” (jakugo, i.e. a passage… summing up the meaning of a koan.) Their dialogue is as follows:
Gikai: I have attained an insight based on our former teacher’s saying, “shinjin datsuraku.”
Ejo: Good. Good. What do you understand?
Gikai: I understand “datsuraku shinjin.”
Ejo: What is the meaning?
Gikai: I had thought only (my) barbarian beard was red, but here is another red-bearded barbarian.”
Ejo: Among the many permitted [answers to] shinjin [datsuraku], there is this kind of shinjin.
This conversation has been quoted in full because it reveals three practices usually thought to be incongruous with the method of Zen practiced in early Soto. It implies that Gikai had been occupied with Dogen’s words during his meditation; that Ejo used koan instruction as part of the dharma succession process; and that formal quotations of stereo-typed expressions were used to test the understanding of the koan. Modern Soto scholars cannot accept the Goyuigon account at face value, because to do so would force them either to revise their usual interpretation of Dogen’s Zen as a religion of unmediated meditation or to attempt to argue that both Ejo and Gikai had failed to understand Dogen’s teachings.
William M. Bodiford, Soto Zen in Medieval Japan, pp.55-56

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The True Nature of Existence, Experience, and Nonduality in Dogen's Zen

The True Nature of Existence, Experience, and Nonduality in Dogen's Zen


(Excerpt from the Flatbed Sutra Zen Newsletter Jan. 2012)

As the fundamental elements of reality in Dogen's cosmology, "dharmas" are primary and primordial, the manifestation and the source of the universe (self/world). In Dogen's writings, which maintain a particularly strict (radical?) adherence to the principles of nonduality, dharmas (objective or subjective) are always viewed and treated as qualitatively equal in regard to the significance of their reality, importance, value, and meaning - a dream, a concept, and a fleeting thought are as real, important, valuable, and meaningful as a pebble, a cup, a scripture, and a solar system.

[Note: Staying mindful that Buddhism regards "mind" as one of the sense organs (with eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body) and "thoughts" as its "objects" of perception keeps us from becoming too abstract about the notion of "objects" (dharmas); all "the myriad dharmas" amount to (and only to) "six objects of consciousness" (sights, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile sensations, and thoughts).]


In Buddhism, all divisions between objective and subjective dharmas are recognized as conceptual conveniences, not metaphysical or literal facts. Thus, to say that dharmas constitute the fundamental elements of reality, is simply to acknowledge that they cannot be analyzed into "more fundamental" elements - in this context dharmas can be discussed "as if" separate entities, only by accounting for their interdependence and stressing the import of maintaining a conscious understanding that dharmas are impervious to generalization, classification, and categorization, as well as literal description or definition. For, according to the principles of nonduality (i.e. nonduality/duality) each dharma is recognized as a coextensive realization or exemplification that is both nondual and dual - each dharma is one with all things (nondual; indistinct and undifferentiated) and unique, one-and-only instance of existence-time (uji) (dual; a distinct element, one of the many). The nonduality/duality of "nonduality" is the true nature of dharmas that is often designated in Buddhism as "thusness" (immo). "Thusness" is the "as it is" reality of dharmas.


The two aspects of the nonduality of dharmas (i.e. nonduality/duality) can be generally understood thus: "the "nonduality" aspect of dharmas is their unequivocal real existence (ontology) in/as the universe (i.e. the totality of existence-time); and: the "duality" aspect of dharmas is their irreplaceable uniqueness, their one-and-only place-moment (dharma-position) in/as the universe (which is what makes them impervious to classification, literal definition, etc). The Buddhist recognition of the "thusness" of dharmas, then, is recognition of the inherent denial of any likeness among dharmas adequate for precisely accurate comparability; a dharma is exactly as it is - it is not exactly like any other dharma.


In his criticisms of "Indian Naturalism" (particularly the "Senika School"), for instance, Dogen outlines the obstructive potential of views or theories that posit (or imply) a noumenal nature or aspect of dharmas. Thus, the affirmation that "dharmas are always phenomenal" is followed-up with the assertion that "dharmas are never noumenal." In expressing the obvious - an obvious negative at that - this assertion may seem superfluous, but its significance is important in light of certain notions prevalent in Dogen's day, as well as within the contemporary Zen community.


The particular notions that make it important to understand dharmas "are not noumenon" primarily involve views on the nature and role of language, thinking, and reason in Zen practice-enlightenment. More specifically, within the contemporary Zen community the prevailing views - which are variable and indistinct, thus more accurately "general notions" - that regard language, thinking, and reason as less important or inferior to other aspects of practice-enlightenment (particularly seated meditation; i.e. zazen, shikantaza, etc.). Not infrequently, such notions go beyond views of inferiority and demonstrate a tendency to see language, thinking, and reason as nonessential, dispensable, or even as hindrances to Zen practice-enlightenment.


Such notions, especially the more extreme forms, are rarely explicitly stated. First, most of those holding such views are doing so unconsciously (or largely so); second, when such notions are explicitly articulated they tend to collapse rapidly due to their inherent lack of logic as well as their failure to harmonize with Buddhist principles. They fail to harmonize with Buddhist principles because they are inherently dualistic. The inherent dualism of such notions is sometimes extremely subtle, not only because it is expressed in vague or ambiguous language (implicit rather than explicit), but also because it is typically couched in terms of "nonduality." Thus, it is crucial to understand that dharmas are "not noumenal" in order to see through, avoid, or overcome wrong views (dualistic notions) that are largely unconscious, often subtle, widespread, and possessed of the power to obstruct accurate understanding (not to mention authentic practice-enlightenment).


To help clarify this, we will begin by observing the following quote of the contemporary Soto Zen master, Shohaku Okumura:


...Dogen Zenji is discussing this relationship between the self and all beings. He is pointing out that we like things we think are useful, meaningful, or valuable, but we dislike or ignore things that do not suit us. This evaluation occurs within the relationship between self and the myriad dharmas, but there is no such dichotomy within the reality of the myriad dharmas. Within the relationship between self and all beings, there is good and bad, positive and negative, right and wrong. We don't really see the myriad dharmas as they are. We think about things we encounter and name them, assign value to them, and put them into categories such as good and bad, valuable or worthless, likable or unlikable. Our life is actually formed by what we encounter because we create our own world of likes and dislikes based on how we categorize the things we meet. Within this world of likes and dislikes, we do not perceive the myriad dharmas as they really are. Things we like and things we hate look bigger than they are, and things we are not interested in become small or invisible to us. The world we live in is the world we create based on how our mind encounters the myriad dharmas, We cannot prevent our mind from creating our world as it does, but it is possible to realize that the world of our creation does not reflect true reality.

Shohaku Okumura, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo, p.49


[Note: Okumura's comments attempt to elucidate a passage of the Genjokoan fascicle of Shobogenzo. The passage in question (as translated by Okumura) is, "Therefore flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them. Conveying oneself towards all things to carry out practice-enlightenment is delusion. All things coming and carrying out practice-enlightenment through the self is realization. Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded in realization are living beings. Furthermore, there are those who attain realization beyond realization and those who are deluded within delusion."]


First, this is one teacher's interpretation of one passage of one fascicle of one writing by Dogen - thus it should not be considered as a full or accurate indication of Shohaku Okumura's views, much less Dogen's; that is not our purpose in citing it. What this passage does present is an unusually explicit account of a subtle form of dualism common to the general view we been discussing. As mentioned, there are many variations of this view, thus this passage should not be taken as representing a "universal view" of the contemporary Zen community or even the Soto Zen community. Nevertheless, it is my experience that the basic notion expressed here generally accords with the views held by a majority of contemporary Zen practitioners, especially those identified with Soto Zen.


Now, Okumura's comments diverge from the classic Zen teachings on a number of points - all of which are grounded on the dualistic presupposition succinctly revealed in his statement, "We don't really see the myriad dharmas as they are." This statement presupposes the same subtle form of dualism found in a variety of common "Zen" expressions like, "The true nature of reality cannot be perceived," "The forms we see are illusory," "The 'appearance' of things is relative (or provisional) while their 'essential nature' (emptiness) is absolute" (i.e. ultimate, real), "The world we perceive is not thusness as is," etc.


There is one flaw inherent to all such statements (i.e. dualism), and there are two traits that reveal this flaw; first, its violation of a basic Buddhist principle, second, the speciousness of its basis. In the first case, for Okumura's assertion to be true there would have to be more than one reality (a "false" one we see, and a "real" one we don't see) - this would violate the Buddhist teaching of emptiness which unequivocally refutes the existence of independent entities. The second case presents a two-fold problem; a) the failure to account for or explain what or where "the real reality" (that we don't see) is, and, b) the failure to account for or explain how it is, or what means were used to attain or acquire the "knowledge of a reality" that "we don't or can't really see" - in short, how is/was it perceived that things "are not" as "they are" perceived? If they were truly "not as perceived" then "perceiving that truth" would instantly disprove that very proposition.


With this in mind, let's look a little closer at Okumura's expression. He speaks about a "relationship" between "the self and all beings" (synonymously with the "self and the myriad dharmas"). Next, he goes on to explain that we "don't really see the myriad dharmas as they are" because an "evaluation occurs" within this relationship that ultimately results in "the world we create" which "does not reflect true reality." This "evaluation" is described as a process in which we "think about things we encounter and name them, assign value" etc.


Here consider, what could this "relationship" consist of? According to Buddhism the "self" (experiencer) and "all beings" or "myriad dharmas" (experienced) are not two different things - each depends on and is dependent on by the other. Also recall that "thoughts" (including "evaluations") are regarded as one of the six kinds of "myriad dharmas." If this "evaluation occurs" as Okumura contends, then this evaluation itself must be qualified as a dharma - as it is - an expression of Buddha-nature. All dharmas are dharmas - as they are; thus Dogen often points out the Buddha-nature expressed as "doubt," "fear," and "surprise," even "wrong views" are real manifestations of Buddha-nature; a wrong view is, as it is, a wrong view.


This being so, the present is the "form as it is" of the state of experience, and even "alarm, doubt, and fear" are nothing other than reality as it is.

Shobogenzo,Hokke-ten-hokke, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


Now notice that Okumura includes the phrase asserting "there is no such dichotomy within the reality of the myriad dharmas." Why say this? This is a good example of what we mentioned earlier about dualistic views being couched in terms of nonduality; here it sounds as if "self and other" are being recognized as "nondual," while in fact they are actually being merged into one thing (or nothing). In failing to account for the distinction (not separation) between self and other, this "explanation" amounts to a casual dismissal of the infinite variety of the universe, the multitudinous array that make the dharmas "myriad" rather than "uniform." Dogen explains the basic fallacy of this view is based on a misunderstanding of the Buddhist teaching that "all things are empty." Rather than recognizing that this means "all things - as they are - are empty," they mistakenly think that "all things - despite or behind appearances - are empty." In short, they think that the "emptiness (non-form)" of things is separate from the "form (non-emptiness) of things." Dogen explains this, for instance, in Shobogenzo, Kenbutsu:


When people without eyes of learning in practice take up the Tathāgata's words "If we see the many forms [and] non-form. . ." they think, "To see the many forms as non-form is just to see the Tathāgata." In other words, they think the words describe seeing the many forms not as forms but as the Tathāgata. Truly, a faction of small thinkers will [inevitably] study the words like that, but the reality of the words which the Buddha intended is not like that...


Zen Master Dai Hōgen of Seiryō-in Temple says, "If we see the many forms [as] non-form, we are not then meeting the Tathāgata."


This expression of Dai Hōgen now is an expression in the state of meeting buddha... "Because this concrete form is just the form of the Tathāgata, we say that the many forms should be the many forms." This is truly a supreme discourse of the Great Vehicle, and the experience of the masters of many districts. Decisively determining it to be so, we should believe it and experience it. Do not be fluff following the wind to the east and to the west. "The many forms are the form of the Tathāgata, not non-form": investigating this and meeting buddha, deciding this and experiencing conviction, we should receive it and retain it, and we should recite it and become thoroughly versed in it.


Therefore, there is only one way to comprehend the state in experience, namely: "the many forms are already beyond non-form, and non-form is just the many forms." Because non-form is the many forms, non-form is truly non-form. We should learn in practice that the form called "non-form" and the form called "the many forms," are both the form of the Tathāgata.

Shobogenzo, Kenbutsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


In sum, the deluded notion that we "don't see the myriad dharmas as they are" can only be entertained by presupposing that dharmas are independent entities - that "objects of consciousness" exist independently of "conscious subjects"). This necessarily implies that our (subjective) self is also an independent entity. This is a clear violation of the basic Buddhist principle that regards dharmas as nondual essence/form unties. In Zen, all forms (all six types of objects) are real, as they are - and their reality is not different from their appearance. In Dogen's terms, "Nothing in the whole universe is concealed."


The realization of the Buddhist patriarchs is perfectly realized real form. Real form is all dharmas. All dharmas are forms as they are, natures as they are, body as it is, the mind as it is, the world as it is, clouds and rain as they are, walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, as they are; sorrow and joy, movement and stillness, as they are; a staff and a whisk, as they are; a twirling flower and a smiling face, as they are; succession of the Dharma and affirmation, as they are; learning in practice and pursuing the truth, as they are; the constancy of pines and the integrity of bamboos, as they are.

Shobogenzo, Shoho-Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross


With a solid, practical grasp of these teachings comes a clear, even obvious, that each and every dharma is a phenomenon, and each and every phenomenon is a dharma. This also means that dharmas are never regarded as noumenon. Thus, we come to see that those demonstrating views that dharmas "are llusory," "are not as we perceive," "are temporary or provisional expedients," etc. are harboring, and hindered by, dualistic (non-Buddhist) viewpoints. In Dogen's cosmology, on the other hand, dharmas are never concealed, invisible, unverifiable, mysterious, or supernatural; rather, dharmas are always accessible as they are. Most significantly, dharmas exist, and the existence of each is of equal status in regard to its reality, importance, value, and meaning.


[Note: Our meaning of "phenomenon" and "noumenon" coincide with the first definitions offered by Encarta: phenomenon, 1. something experienced, a fact or occurrence that can be observed; and, noumenon, 1. something beyond the tangible world that can only be known or identified by the intellect, not by the senses.]


Dogen's emphasis on the phenomenal nature of dharmas serves to underscore their real, spatial-temporal, manifest existence. According to Dogen the true nature (essential reality, emptiness) of each and all particular dharmas is "as it is" (thusness). The significance of this becomes clearer as our study and practice increasingly expands our realization of the Buddhist principles of nonduality.


Let us try to bring all this together by considering Dogen's treatment of a saying by Daie Soko (Dogen's archetypal symbol for unreliable Zen masters):


A certain monk called Meditation Master Daie Sōkō, once said:


Folks today are fond of talking about mind and talking about nature, and because they are fond of talking about profundities and talking about wonders, they are slow to realize the Way. Since mind and nature form a duality, once these folks have discarded this duality, and have forgotten all about the profound and the wondrous as well, then dualities will no longer arise, and they will experience the Truth that the Buddha promised them.

Shobogenzo, Sesshin Sesshō, Hubert Nearman


Here we find a demonstration of the same subtle dualism inherent in the view expressed by Shohaku Okumura. It is doubtful that such a superficial view was really expressed by Daie Soko. Nevertheless, it is the view, not Daie, that Dogen is concerned with; and the way the view is voiced here captures the essential nature of the fallacy at the heart of even the most sophisticated forms of dualism. First, this view presents an almost perfect subversion of Dogen's own, as his comments make perfectly clear:


These remarks of his show that he was still unaware of the silken thread that binds the Buddhas and Ancestors together, nor had he comprehended what the lifeline of the Buddhas and Ancestors is. Accordingly, he only understood 'mind' to refer to discriminative thinking and consciousness, so he spoke this way because he had not learned that the various functions, such as discriminative thinking and consciousness, are what the intellective mind is. He wrongly viewed 'nature' to mean something that is abundantly clear and peacefully inactive, and did not understand whether Buddha Nature and the nature of all thoughts and things existed or did not exist. And because he had not seen his True Nature as It is, not even in his dreams, he had a false view of what Buddha Dharma is. The 'mind' that the Buddhas and Ancestors spoke of is the very Skin and Flesh, Bones and Marrow. And the 'nature' that the Buddhas and Ancestors have preserved is a monk's traveling staff and the shaft of a bamboo arrow. The Buddhas and Ancestors have profoundly realized the Buddhahood promised Them by the Buddha, and this is what is meant by being a pillar of the temple or a stone lantern. How wondrous it is that the Buddhas and Ancestors hold up and offer to us Their wise discernment and understanding!

Shobogenzo, Sesshin Sesshō, Hubert Nearman


[Note: Dogen's scorn for a teacher that "wrongly viewed 'nature' to mean something that is abundantly clear and peacefully inactive" makes us wonder what he might say of contemporary teachers that advocate "letting go of thoughts" or "just sitting without goals" (often appealing to the authority of "Dogen" as they do so!).]


Dogen's comments are clear enough, but it is worth stressing his emphasis that "the various functions" of mind are just what the "mind is" - as it is (thusness). Dogen's point, then, is that the very substance of the myriad dharmas is our experience - as it is- of them. The directly perceived image or form of a thing (dharma) is the thing itself. "An idea" is really "an idea" as it is, "an abstract concept" is true nature totally exerting itself as "an abstract concept."


The "general dualistic notion" we have been discussing is grounded in the same misunderstanding that caused Dogen to say Daie "did not understand whether Buddha Nature and the nature of all thoughts and things existed or did not exist." Notwithstanding the fact that many contemporary Zen teachers do not know the meaning of "Buddha nature" or "the nature of all thoughts and things" or even whether they exist or not, there is no reason for any genuine Zen practitioner to fail to verify it. Apart from "the nature of all thoughts and things" what is "Buddha nature"? Apart from "discriminative thinking and consciousness" what is "mind"?


Thus, for Dogen, the particularity, specificity, and uniqueness of things (dharmas) is far more important than their uniformity, equality, or mutual identity. So here are some juicy bits to get that Dharma-Eye lighted up:


And, just because sentient beings are always having their doubts about anything and everything that they have not directly experienced, this does not mean that what they may have previously doubted is the same as what they may now have doubts about, for doubts themselves are merely "just for the moment" kinds of time, and nothing more.


When you reach such a fertile field of seeing the way things really are, then the earth in its entirety will be "one whole sprouting, one whole form"; it will be comprised of forms that you recognize and forms that you do not, sproutings that you recognize and sproutings that you do not. It is the same as the times we refer to in "from time to time", which contain all forms of existenceand all worlds. So take a moment to look around and consider whether there is any form of being, that is, any "world", that does or does not find expression at this very moment of time.

Shobogenzo, Uji, Hubert Nearman


Buddha Nature is not the existence of something that arises arbitrarily or conditionally, for the whole realm of our being-which is Buddha Nature-is never hidden from us. But saying that the whole realm of our being is never hidden from us is not necessarily the same as saying that our physical world is what existence really is. The statement "The whole realm of my being is something that I possess" constitutes a false view of non-Buddhists. Buddha Nature is not the existence of something that one possesses at the start, for It pervades both our past and our present. It is not the existence of something that has arisen for the first time, for It does not partake of a single bit of illusory dust. It is not the existence of some particular being, for It encompasses all beings. It is not the existence of something that is beyond having a beginning, for It is something that makes Its appearance just in the way that It does. It is not the existence of something that has just come into being for the first time, for our ordinary, ever-present mind is synonymous with the Way.


Above all, you need to know that within this "having It through and through", sentient beings do not readily find an easy or pleasant way to encounter It. When you understand "having It through and through" in this manner, to have It through and through then means to penetrate Its very substance and to let all our notions and opinions about It drop off.

Shobogenzo, Bussho, Hubert Nearman


Keep in mind that, since the darkness of spiritual ignorance is inseparable from the One Whole Mind, deliberate acts, becoming aware of things, and so forth, are also inseparable from the One Whole Mind. Since the darkness of ignorance is inseparable from cessation, then deliberate acts, becoming aware of things, and so forth, are also inseparable from cessation. Since the darkness of ignorance is inseparable from nirvana, deliberate acts, becoming aware of things, and so forth, are also inseparable from nirvana. We can speak in this way because what arises is also what ceases. "The darkness of ignorance" is a phrase we use in talking. "Becoming aware of things", "giving them name and form", and so forth, are no different. Keep in mind that the darkness of ignorance, deliberate actions, and so forth, are not different from Seigen Gyoshi's saying to his disciple Sekito Kisen, "I have a certain Hatchet and would give It to you, should you choose to reside on this mountain with me." The darkness of ignorance, deliberate actions, becoming aware of things, and so forth, are not different from Sekito's responding, "At the time when I was sent to you, I received your promise of being allowed to have your Hatchet, Reverend Monk, and so I would like to receive It."

Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Hubert Nearman


When we speak of "what is set in motion by the flowering of the Dharma", we are referring to the mind's wandering off onto deluded paths. And the mind's delusive wandering, accordingly, refers to what is set in motion by the flowering of the Dharma. That is to say, our mind's wandering off is precisely what is set in motion by the Dharma's flowering. What this means is that, even though the mind's delusions are synonymous with the myriad thoughts and things that arise, the form their True Nature takes is what is aroused by the flowering of the Dharma. This "being set in motion" is not something to rejoice in, or watch for, or obtain, or arrive at; even so, what the Dharma's flowering sets in motion is precisely "neither two things nor three". Since the flowering of the Dharma is our having only One Vehicle to Buddhahood, because it is the flowering of the form of things as they really are, we speak of "being able to set in motion what moves". Even so, it is just the One Vehicle to Buddhahood, just the One Great Matter for which we train, just the ever-moving about of the mind as it is, and nothing more. So, do not reproach yourself for your mind's delusions. As the Scripture says, "Whatever is done by you is the way of bodhisattvas," and "The fundamental practice of the Bodhisattva Way is our serving and paying homage to all the Buddhas." Our opening up to this Way, manifesting It, awakening to It, and entering It are, all together, what is set in motion by the Dharma's flowering each and every time. There are our delusions about what is within the burning house, and our delusions about being at the threshold of the gate, and our delusions about what lies outside the gate, and our delusions about what being on the other side of the gate is like, and our delusions about being within the gate. Because, in our delusion, we give rise to such notions as "being within the gate" and "being beyond the gate", to say nothing of "being at the threshold of the gate" and "being within a burning house", we will, of necessity, open up to It, manifest It, awaken to It, and enter It whilst upon the cart drawn by the White Ox.

Shobogenzo, Hokke Ten Hokke, Hubert Nearman


The realization of the Buddhist patriarchs is perfectly realized real form. Real form is all dharmas. All dharmas are forms as they are, natures as they are, body as it is, the mind as it is, the world as it is, clouds and rain as they are, walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, as they are; sorrow and joy, movement and stillness, as they are; a staff and a whisk, as they are; a twirling flower and a smiling face, as they are; succession of the Dharma and affirmation, as they are; learning in practice and pursuing the truth, as they are; the constancy of pines and the integrity of bamboos, as they are.

Shobogenzo, Shoho-Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross