Saturday, January 28, 2012

Deconstructive and Reconstructive aspects of Emptiness

Deconstructive and Reconstructive aspects of Emptiness

Characteristic of Dogen’s unrelenting commitment to “right-views” or the “true-eye” is his frequent, unequivocal insistence that “authenticity” of practice-enlightenment is the only criteria for gauging the Buddha-Dharma.

Dogen’s own adherence to this maxim is clearly demonstrated by his refusal to avoid complex challenges, sidestep unpleasant aspects, or water-down unpopular implications of Buddhist truths. If the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness is authentic, as Dogen contends, it must be applied universally (i.e. to all dharmas), which means, for one thing, that it must be applied to the doctrine of emptiness itself. And, while an intellectual understanding of emptiness is “not enough” – even this necessary first step cannot be considered complete prior to the “experiential verification of emptiness” which is itself only the beginning of the authentic wisdom of emptiness according to Dogen’s standards.

It would be no stretch to suggest that Dogen would view total ignorance of emptiness as preferable to wrong or partial (biased) notions of emptiness. As the works of Hee-Jin Kim demonstrate, for Dogen the liberating potential of emptiness is only actualized with the transcendence of the “deconstructive” experience of emptiness and advance into the “reconstructive” experience of emptiness – and even this actualizes only the potential of liberation. Thus it is that the reconstructive aspect of emptiness – which itself is continuously “cast-off” and “totally exerted” – as the only aspect of emptiness with  practical liberating potential, is what Dogen directed his energy to transmitting.

The terms “deconstructive” and “reconstructive” (aspects of emptiness) designate two foci (focal points) of a single experiential process. This process can be envisioned as beginning from the common (unawakened) perspective wherein the self and the other are misperceived as separate entities, from here it proceeds to the initial experience of emptiness (i.e. the deconstructive mode) -often referred to in Zen as the “great death” - wherein self and other “drop away,”  then, advancing through the “great death,” proceeding to the enlightened (awakened) perspective wherein self and other are experienced as they are (thusness): nondual (not two).

Here, then, one experientially realizes the truth that self and other are not different realities, but rather distinct foci of one (nondual) reality (i.e. nonduality/duality). From the enlightened (reconstructive) perspective one perceives the same reality that is perceived from the common perspective - but now in context of the insight actualized through the (deconstructive) experience of emptiness.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Koans, Zen Cosmology, and Practice-Enlightenment Here and Now

Koans, Zen Cosmology, and Practice-Enlightenment Here and Now

To be adequate for authentic practice-enlightenment in our everyday world here and now our vision of Dogen’s cosmology requires us to bring his vision forward (and westward) by seeing it through the accumulated insights of the “grand discussion” (and seeing them through it). So too our vision must extend backward (and eastward) through Dogen’s predecessors within the various Buddhist traditions, as well as those among the great eastern traditions of Hinduism, Shinto, Taoism, Confucianism and others.

Most importantly our vision through Dogen’s predecessors must be inclusive of the Zen Buddhist tradition as presented in the classic records of the Zen ancestors from the prehistoric “seven Buddhas” through the historical Shakyamuni Buddha and his Indian successors, beginning with Mahakashapa and continuing through Bodhidharma, then to Bodhidharma’s Chinese successors, beginning with Huike, then down through the sixth Chinese ancestor, Huineng and his successors, then on through the five major ancestral lines. From among the voluminous literary production of the Zen tradition, the “koan” related literature, the most distinctive element of Zen as an independent tradition, is far and away Dogen’s greatest influence, thus is of particular importance to our understanding of his Zen cosmology.

The special significance of the koan literature is its powerful capacity to cut through barriers of conceptualization and make bodhi-prajna (enlightened wisdom) an immediate, intimate experience, rather than conveying a teaching that must then be verified or worked out practically – resolving a koan, in contrast to learning through study and cultivation, begins with the true nature of things and works out the implications from there, whereas conventional learning begins with implications and works toward the true nature of things. This does not mean that koan training can replace ordinary conventional study, both are essential to authentic practice-enlightenment, and in fact since koan training is an exacting method requiring accurate understanding and skill, conventional study and cultivation must necessarily precede successful koan training – as well as supplement that training in the past, present, and future that is only and always here and now.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Dharma-Eye: Buddhas and Ordinary Beings

The Dharma-Eye: Buddhas and Ordinary Beings

According to Dogen, "Buddhas" and "ordinary beings" are distinct insofar as the former are "enlightened about delusion" while the later are "deluded about enlightenment." This distinction recognizes the real differences between awakened and unawakened beings; it does not, however, imply a real separation between Buddhas and ordinary beings.

To see reality with the Dharma-Eye is to see through it (by means of it). Dogen quoted the Buddha and commented as follows:

Shakyamuni Buddha once said in verse:

If any people give voice to this Discourse

Then they will surely be able to see Me.

But to express It for the sake of even one person

Is indeed something difficult for them to do.

So it follows from this that to be able to express the Dharma is to see Shakyamuni Buddha because, when 'such a one' comes to see 'Me', he is Shakyamuni Buddha.
~Shobogenzo, Gyobutsu Iigi, Hubert Nearman

From the unawakened perspective, Buddhas and ordinary beings are separate entities, from the awakened perspective, Buddhas and ordinary beings are nondual (not two). According to Dogen the apparent gap between the reality experienced by Buddhas and the reality experienced by humans is but a misperception of reality.

Even if we misunderstand that it might be beyond the triple world, that is completely impossible. Inside, outside, and middle, beginning, middle, and end; all are the triple world. 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. While in the triple world, we see views of the triple world as old nests and see views of the triple world as new twigs. The old nests were visions of the triple world, and a new twig is also a vision of the triple world.
~Shobogenzo Sangai-yuishin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

In contrast to some contemporary Zen teachers, Dogen says the (triple) world (the world we inhabit) is as it is seen. He does not say that the real universe is not as it is seen, or that it is "as it is" regardless of how it is seen - the real universe is as it is seen. If a being sees a body of water, the real universe is a body of water; if another being sees the same aspect of the material world as a palace, the real universe is a palace.

To speak in general, what people see as a mountain or as water differs in various ways. There are those who, upon catching sight of what I am calling 'the Water', see It as a string of pearls, but they fail to see such a necklace as the Water. They undoubtedly consider the form in which we humans perceive something as what the Water is. What they see as a pearl necklace, I see as the Water. And there are those who see the Water as a wondrous flower, but this does not mean that they are using an actual flower for the Water. Hungry ghosts, upon encountering the Water, may see It as a raging inferno, or as thick, congealing blood. Dragons and other denizens of the deep may see It as a palace or as a stately mansion. Some may see It as the Seven Treasures or as the Wish-fulfilling Jewel, and others as various sorts of trees, or as fences and walls, and others as the immaculate, liberated Dharma Nature, and others as someone's True Body, and others as someone's physical appearance along with that person's mental nature. When humans see the Water via any of these means, this can be the cause of their liberation from commonplace 'life'.
~Shobogenzo,Sansuikyo, Hubert Nearman

The reality of the universe is not something inherent in "what is seen," the reality of the universe is "as it is seen.” There is no reality of the universe existing behind what is experienced by us.

Therefore, to see something as "other than" the real universe (the triple world) is to see a real mistaken view of the world; that is, to see the real universe as a "mistaken view" of the real universe as it is. If a being mistakenly sees Buddha, for example, as "other than" their self, the real universe is truly seen as a mistaken view of Buddha (as well as self). A Buddha ancestor is "enlightened about delusion" because she "clearly sees" the real universe as the real universe, the unawakened being is "deluded about enlightenment" because she "mistakenly sees" the real universe as something other than the real universe.

The distinction between awakened beings and unawakened beings is the distinction between the "normal (healthy) mind" and the “abnormal (deluded) mind.” The mind of the Buddha is normal because it harmonizes with the true nature of reality. When Zen masters say the Buddha cannot be found outside our minds, they are transmitting the truth that Buddhas and demonstrate (or exemplify) the liberating potential inherent in all beings – as Buddha can only be realized within ourselves, so only through the demonstration of Buddhas can we see how Buddha is realized.

A person who has got the Dharma is one individual true eternal buddha here and now, and as such should not be met as someone from the past... As regards attainment of the truth, both [men and women] attain the truth, and we should just profoundly revere every single person who has attained the Dharma. Do not discuss man and woman. This is one of Buddhism's finest Dharma standards.
~Shobogenzo, Raihai-tokuzui, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

According to Dogen, Buddha-nature is the totality of existence-time, it is each dharma and all dharmas; no element, experience, or being lacks Buddha nature. Thus, attempting to stifle, dampen, cut out, or eradicate specific aspects, elements, or qualities of the world or the self is not only a denial of humanity, but a denial of Buddha-nature. Such denial can only be achieved by an avoidance of reality – much better, according to the Zen masters, to achieve “normality” by activating the Dharma-Eye that sees, experiences, expresses, and actualizes the wisdom and compassion of Buddhahood.

Peace, Ted

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Encouraging Words from Dogen

Encouraging Words from Dogen

Realization in practice like this is just “mind here and now is buddha” picking itself up and authentically transmitting itself to “mind here and now is buddha.” 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

Let us quietly consider whether our own present life, and the miscellaneous real dharmas that are coexisting with this life, are part of life or not part of life. . . . There is nothing, not a single moment nor a single dharma, that is not part of life. There is nothing, not a single matter nor a single state of mind, that is not part of life.

So life is what I am making it, and I am what life is making me. While I am sailing in the boat, my body and mind and circumstances and self are all essential parts of the boat; and the whole earth and the whole of space are all essential parts of the boat. What has been described like this is that life is the self, and the self is life.

Shobogenzo, Zenki, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross