Thursday, October 16, 2014

Zen Transmission: If Words and Letters are Shallow, Twirling a Flower is Shallow

If the words the World-honored One used were really something superficial, then His holding the flower aloft, with His eyes atwinkle, would also be something superficial. Were anyone to consider what He said to be merely name and form, that person is not ‘such a one’ who has learned what the Buddha Dharma really is. Those who consider what is spoken to be no more than names and forms have not yet comprehended that the World-honored One was beyond the use of language as merely ‘names and forms’. They have not yet let go of the confused, emotional attitudes of ordinary, worldly people. What permeates the Body and Mind of Buddhas and Ancestors is the dropping off of self, Their giving expression to the Dharma, and Their using language to voice It, that is, Their turning the Wheel of the Dharma. There have been many indeed who, having witnessed and listened to It, have greatly profited from It. Those whose practice is based on faith, as well as those whose practice is based on understanding the Teaching, are cloaked in Its influence in places where there is an Ancestor of the Buddha, or partake of Its influence even in places where there is no Ancestor of the Buddha...
How does that other bunch understand ‘Makakasho’s face breaking into a smile’? Let them try to put that into words. If it were as those folks say, they would have called that smile ‘a secret communication’. But to call it ‘his not concealing anything’ would be piling foolishness atop foolishness. Later, the World-honored One said, “I have the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching, which is the Wondrous Heart of Nirvana, and I have transmitted It to Makakasho.” Is His speaking in this way using speech or not using speech? If the World-honored One had a dislike for spoken language and preferred holding a flower aloft, He surely would have also held up a flower on this occasion. And then, how could Makakasho fail to understand and how could the assembly fail to hear? Do not rely on the tales of those folks who talk this way.
Shobogenzo, Mitsugo, Trans. Hubert Nearman)

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Bendowa: Negotiating the Way – Authentic Zen Practice-Enlightenment

Bendowa: Negotiating the Way – Authentic Zen Practice-Enlightenment

From the perspective of Shobogenzo’s, reality itself consists of the expression of Dharma, an unceasing advance into novelty; Zen practice-enlightenment (shusho) is genjokoan, ‘actualizing the fundamental point’ – the ceaseless actualization of existence-time, fully inclusive of past, present, and future. In Dogen’s vision, Zen practice-enlightenment is only and always an ongoing creative discernment-and-realization of Buddha nature here-now – the presentation (making present) of one’s true self ‘as it is.’ Thus, practice-enlightenment consists of clearly seeing (accurately discerning, understanding, etc.) the true nature of reality, things, beings, and events (i.e. dharmas) as they are here-now, thereby harmonizing one’s thoughts, words, and deeds to the truth in and as the self/world. To clarify, consider Hee-Jin Kim’s analysis of the following passage from Bendowa; one of Dogen’s clearest articulations of his view of practice-enlightenment (Kim, following Abe & Waddell, translates Bendowa as ‘negotiating the Way’). Dogen writes:

The endeavor to negotiate the Way (bendo), as I teach now, consists in discerning all things in view of enlightenment, and putting such a unitive awareness (ichinyo) into practice in the midst of the revaluated world (shutsuro).

Bendowa (Translated by Hee-Jin Kim)

Dr. Kim clarifies the salient points to bring the significant implications into relief thus:

This statement clearly sets forth practitioners’ soteriological project as negotiating the Way in terms of (1) discerning the nondual unity of all things that are envisioned from the perspective of enlightenment and (2) enacting that unitive vision amid the everyday world of duality now revalorized by enlightenment. Needless to say, these two aspects refer to practice and enlightenment that are nondually one (shusho itto; shusho ichinyo).

Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking: A Reflection on His View of Zen, p.21

Authentic Zen practice-enlightenment consists of ‘these two aspects’ – discerning dharmas as they are, and actualizing that discernment here-now.

In other words, the practice-enlightenment advocated by Dogen consists of discerning the true (nondual) nature of all things, beings, and events (i.e. dharmas) with the Dharma-Eye (from the enlightened perspective) and conducting oneself here-now accordingly (enacting that vision amid the world of duality).

[Note: It is worth noting that the ‘practice-enlightenment’ (shusho) advocated by Dogen (hence Zen) diverges from the ‘practice-enlightenment’ advocated by the majority of contemporary Zen teachers. Few contemporary Zen teachers advocate ‘discerning the true nature of all dharmas’ much less ‘enacting’ that discernment ‘amid the world of duality.’ Therefore, whatever most contemporary teachers do proclaim as ‘practice-enlightenment,’ it must be different from that expounded by the classic Zen records.
Judging from the classic Zen records, however, this situation is not unique to contemporary Zen; authentic practice-enlightenment has evidently always been something engaged by the few rather than the many. In harmony with those records, then, I don’t say there are no contemporary teachers that proclaim authentic practice-enlightenment, I only say there are few.

It is not necessary to detail exactly what the majority of contemporary Zen teachers do advocate as practice-enlightenment except to explain my reason for making the point in negative terms, which may be telling enough. I stated this in terms of what ‘is not’ advocated as practice-enlightenment rather than ‘what is’ advocated because there is very little consensus among contemporary Zen teachers in regard to what authentic practice-enlightenment actually consists in/of.]

To understand the discourse of Shobogenzo we need to understand Shobogenzo’s view of what a ‘Buddha’s discourse’ or ‘expression of Buddha’ is. In Shobogenzo, a Buddha’s discourse is essentially a form of Buddha; an instance of the Buddha-Dharma. Specifically, an expression of Buddha is a phenomenal manifestation of true nature – that which is expounded, conveyed, transmitted, or otherwise actualized by Buddha (which in Shobogenzo is “Total Existence”, as in “Total is existence is Buddha-nature” [Bussho fascicle], “This Mind is Buddha” [Soku Shin Ze Butsu fascicle], etc). In sum, then, as an expression of Buddha, Shobogenzo (like every dharma) is what it is, as it is.

Now, in light of Dogen’s view of Zen practice-enlightenment (as underscored by Hee-Jin Kim), how can we discern whether Shobogenzo presents genuine Buddhism and not pseudo-Buddhism or something else? By discerning its form; Shobogenzo claims to communicate wisdom for actualizing personal certainty concerning one's own true nature. Therefore, to assess Shobogenzo, one need only discern and apply what it communicates. If one thereby realizes certainty concerning true nature, Shobogenzo is thereby confirmed as being what it proclaims.

The Shoho Jisso fascicle of Shobogenzo elucidates the nature of the enlightened wisdom of Buddhism by focusing attention on a passage from a scripture in which Shakyamuni Buddha identifies the ‘supreme enlightenment (anuttara samyaksambodhi) of all bodhisattvas’ as ‘belonging’ to (i.e. having its origin or abode in) ‘this sutra’ and explains that:

This sutra opens the gate of expedient methods and reveals true real form.

Shobogenzo, Shoho Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

After clarifying that a ‘bodhisattva’ is synonymous to or equal with a ‘Buddha or Buddha ancestor’ – Shobogenzo underscores the fact that this very expression (wherein Shakyamuni identifies enlightenment with this sutra) is ‘in every case’ no other than ‘this sutra.’ To further emphasize the radically nondual nature of a Buddha’s discourse (‘this sutra’) and ‘complete enlightenment,’ Shobogenzo goes on to assert that the experience of (i.e. subjective encounter with) ‘this sutra’ and what is experienced (i.e. objectively encountered) as ‘this sutra’ are coessential elements of ‘this sutra’ itself – the subject and object of ‘this sutra’ are, as they are, ‘this sutra’ as it is:

The subject of ‘belonging’ and the object of ‘belonging’ are both ‘this sutra.’

Shobogenzo, Shoho Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Notice that if both the subject and the object of a Buddha’s expression (‘this sutra’) are equally an expression of Buddha (‘this sutra’), then the being that ‘experiences’ a Buddha’s discourse and the Buddha’s discourse that is ‘experienced’ are coextensive and coessential. In short, Dogen's words explicitly contend that ‘Buddhist expressions’ experience ‘Buddhas.’ In such a case not only are the expresser and the expressed interdependent, all objects and subjects are interdependent. At this very moment, are we discoursing on expressions of Buddha – or are Buddha discourses expressing us?

At this very moment, ‘this sutra’ really experiences ‘all bodhisattvas.’

Shobogenzo, Shoho Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

With this we can see why an accurate understanding of the nature of the self and the world (i.e. subject and object, perceiver and perceived) is inherently inaccessible through the non-mythopoeic, literally descriptive language of the contemporary world view (or any world view grounded in dualism for that matter). The reason that the true nature (actual reality) of subjects and objects cannot be expressed or understood in the language of dualism is because the reality of subjects and objects is nondual. Attempting to arrive at a true understanding by beginning from a false view is, in Zen terms, like attempting to go South by travelling toward the North Star.





What Is This Sutra?

This Sutra

All real forms arise from this sutra.
~A "miscellaneous" koan, adapted from the Diamond Sutra

This sutra opens the gate of expedient methods and reveals true real form.
~Shobogenzo, Shoho Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

What is this sutra?