Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Sentient Nature of Zen Expressions

In Shobogenzo, Shoho Jisso, Dogen emphasizes a significant implication concerning Buddhist sutras (scriptures) in light of Zen's vision of the nondual nature of reality; 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 ‘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
This truth is so alien to central tenets of the common worldview it can fail to register without close attention. Because the independence of subjective and objective reality is taken as self-evident in the common view , it is easy not to notice that if both the subject and object of ‘this sutra’ are ‘this sutra,’ then the one experiencing ‘this sutra’ and what is experienced as ‘this sutra’ are nondual. This truth is an inevitable conclusion of the reason (dori) intrinsic to a nondual cosmology. From the perspective of a nondual cosmology not only are expresser and expressed interdependent, all subjects and objects are interdependent.
At this very moment, ‘this sutra’ really experiences ‘all bodhisattvas.’
Shobogenzo, Shoho Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
With this it is obvious why Zen teachings about the true nature of reality cannot be understood from the perspective of dualism. Any understanding of Zen that is arrived at from an approach grounded in dualism will inevitably be a wrong understanding. Dogen's discussion on this includes the observation:
The sutra is not sentient, the sutra is not insentient, the sutra is not the product of doing and the sutra is not the product of nondoing.
Shobogenzo, Shoho Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
The gist of this should be clear in light of our discussion of emptiness and interdependence. Briefly, ‘this sutra’ being nondual, cannot be understood to be sentient or insentient. Sentient and insentient are two foci of a unified (nondual) reality; they are interdependent, coessential and coextensive – the way up is the way down, ‘sentient’ is meaningless in the absence of ‘insentient’ and vice versa. Likewise, ‘this sutra’ cannot be produced by doing or nondoing – if it were a product of ‘doing’ it would equally be a product of ‘nondoing.’
Notice that ‘this sutra,’ insofar as it is real, must be a dharma. In light of this we can see numerous other things ‘this sutra’ is not. This sutra is not ‘confined to a special realm, state, or condition,’ is not ‘indescribable,’ is not ‘incommunicable,’ is not ‘transcendent to language,’ and is not ‘inaccessible to normal human experience and understanding.’
In harmony with the principles of nonduality, when Zen expressions explicitly assert something ‘is not’ they implicitly assert that same something ‘is.’ Thus, to explicitly assert that this sutra ‘is not sentient,’ ‘is not insentient’ is to implicitly assert that this sutra ‘is sentient,’ ‘is insentient.’ Therefore, Zen teachings are definitely not confined to only pointing out what ‘Zen’ or ‘true nature’ is not. Thus Dogen does not only assert that ‘this sutra’ is ‘not this’ and does ‘not this,’ but also points out ‘this sutra’ is ‘this’ and does ‘this’:
Even so, when it experiences bodhi, experiences people, experiences real form, and experiences “this sutra,” it “opens the gate of expedient methods.” “The gate of expedient methods” is the supreme virtue of the Buddha’s ultimate state, it is “the Dharma abiding in the Dharma’s place,” and it is “the form of the world abiding in constancy.” The gate of expedient methods is not a temporary artifice; it is the learning in practice of the whole universe in ten directions, and it is learning in practice that exploits the real form of all dharmas.
Shobogenzo, Shoho Jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

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