One of Dogen’s best known texts is the Fukanzazengi , his universal recommendation of zazen; his instructions about how to do Zazen.
What many people don’t know is that his text is an almost exact copy of a text which was written about a hundred years before, Chang-Lu Tsung-Tse’s Manual of Zen Meditation. What Dogen does is add a chunky section at the beginning and end. What is interesting and innovative is what he’s added and what he’s omitted. Specifically he doesn’t incorporate a passage in the early work which reads “when the water of meditation is clear, the pearl of the mind will appear of itself”.
The idea of the mind in meditation being comparable to water has got quite a vintage. So in the Surangama Sutra for example we are told that in still water the moon will reflect itself clearly – the moon being a symbol for enlightenment – and we can also see how this still water clearly and accurately reflecting everything without becoming caught up is of a piece with another metaphor which is very popular in Zen, the Mirror.
This image of the pearl that Tsung-Tse is using in his text is similar in function, but instead of the clear water enabling a perfect reflection of above to be made, the clear water enables us to look down clearly and see the pearl of our practice.
It’s noteworthy in Dogen’s writings – particularly his poetry – that he really radicalises and changes fundamentally this image that our mind should be like still water.
So for example in his poem Shobogenzo, he writes, “The Dharma, like an oyster, washed atop a high cliff, even waves crashing against it, like words, may reach but cannot wash it away”.
In that poem, he takes the hackneyed image of water and radicalises it’s turbulence to the extent that it actually throws the pearl clear out of the water and onto a high cliff.
Zazen is often referred to as the mountain still state. And what is a cliff, other than a sundered mountain. And for the cliff, the surging universal life touches its heart rather than swirls around its form.
Our white cliff of bone, practicing Zazen, is sometimes touched by emptiness and sometimes touched by the whole surging weight of this ocean of everything.
We can see that the metaphor of the water and the waves has taken on a fundamentally different meaning, so specifically it’s gone from the personal to the universal. The original meaning of the metaphor is – my mind quietens down, the waves abate, so I am able to see the pearl. I can clearly and dispassionately reflect the moon up in the sky.
Because Dogen radicalises the image, the water is no longer seen in those personal terms but rather is seen in as the whole activity of everything.
And practice is seen to be not my practice but our practice; the activity and expression of all beings.
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