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Kusen

9. Sitting is Buddha

In Zazen, do we rely on ourself? Or do we rely on Buddha?

In some schools of Zen, there is a plain reliance on the self. Sitting is the means by which we accumulate the capacity to experience enlightenment. Equally, in other Japanese traditions, particularly Pure Land, reliance is on the other, on Buddha; faith, devotion, surrender feature prominently.

Dogen’s view is that we rely neither on Self or other. We do not sit to become a Buddha and we do not sit in devotion to something other than ourself which we call Buddha. Sitting is Buddha.

We are lifted up by the same ground.

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Kusen

8. Shoji: Life-Death

If all things have real form, then everything–particularly what we commonly regard as negations –has real form. Thus, ‘No Self’ exists just as much as ‘Self’ in the total Full Dynamic Functioning.

So, ‘Negation’ is not a kind of absence, but a full presence. And if this is so, ‘Not Self’ can be obstructed by ‘Self’, just as easily as the other way around.

Things do not fall in and out of existence in a logically coherent world. Existence and Non Existence are two aspects of Full Dynamic Functioning, and are always present. Whether they are present to us doesn’t matter.

So Death isn’t the absence of Life. Winter isn’t the absence of Spring.

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Kusen

Prostrations

Prostrations

The whole grass world cannot be seen
In the snowy field
A white heron is hiding himself
Using his own form

Dogen reverses the usual metaphor for non differentiation, darkness, by using whiteness, snow, instead [very richly, I think], and shows how zazen is an activity [hiding] from moment to moment, not a state. And also, what is hidden and what is apparent is reversed. Activity and Differentiation are hidden, but not erased, and Wholeness [which is usually hidden, but always there] is visible, and by illuminating what is usually hidden, we can see that these are both part of the same ‘thing’, even though we can only ever express half [as the Genjokoan says ‘one half is illuminated, the other is dark’].

The poem is my free translation which differs from the poem in Steven Heine’s book of Dogen’s poetry, ‘The Zen Poetry of Dogen’, in which he titles it ‘worship’, but the word literally means ‘prostrations’ which I think is more acute. Master Shohaku Okumura (Sanshin Zen Community, Indiana) gave a translation of this poem at Sanshinji Temple, and for him, the most important part of the poem is ‘using his own form’, and so he reversed the order of the poem, putting the winter grasses at the start of the poem, rather than the end. I have re -rendered “winter grasses” as “the whole grass world”, because I wanted to emphasise the wholeness within which differentiation [grasses] occurs, and thus, the non duality of differentiation and One-ness. I also wanted to re-work the first line to infer that the Wholeness of which we are part cannot be ‘seen’, because we are part of it [although it can be experienced], and also [making the same point] to allow the first line to be read by itself, as well as in conjunction with the second line..

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Kusen

7. The Buddhist State

Whosoever says that the Tathāgata goes or comes, stands, sits or lies down, he does not understand the meaning of my teaching. And why? ‘Tathāgata’ is called one who has not gone anywhere, nor came from anywhere.

Diamond Sutra, verse 29

The Buddhist state is instantaneous, immediate and cuts off past and future.

Tathāgata means ‘thus come’ or ‘thus gone.’

The name itself is a description of reality: not ‘existence’ (because that would entail dualism), not ‘no existence’ (because that would entail nihilism), but something luminous hovering in the background, behind our conceptualisations.

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Kusen

6. Flowers of Emptiness

In Kuge, Dogen comments on a passage from the Surangama Sutra, where the Buddha says:

It is like a person who has clouded eyes

Seeing flowers in space

If the sickness of clouded eyes is cured,

Flowers vanish in space

In the chapter Dogen sometimes renders “Flowers in space” as “Flowers of Emptiness” and comments:

“When we have seen flowers in space (then) we can also see flowers vanish in space.”

He takes a straightforward passage as delusion and turns it into a profound reflection on Emptiness.

It seems to me…

When we see the Flowers of Emptiness appear

Then we can see them disappear

When we see the Flowers of Emptiness disappear

Then we can see them appear.

‘Then’ is not one thing following another. ‘Then’ is this time. In this time we can see the Emptiness of all things; neither existent, nor non-existent. And this is instantaneous appearing/disappearing.

Disappearing/appearing is one expression of the full dynamic functioning of Emptiness.

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Kusen

5. Breaking the Mirror of the Self

My earlier teacher, Jean Baby, who died during our Winter Retreat, said to me once:

You can’t break the mirror of the self with the head.

What I took this to mean is that sitting isn’t a heroic activity. It is simply understanding where delusion and liberation are located.

We can see our delusive and endless tendency to conceptualise, to continually make a map of the world, thinking we need this to navigate our lives. But if we take Emptiness seriously, the world is whole, immediate, inconceivable, alive. And it is always prepared to burst through the map we make of it, if we don’t lead with the head; if we just let ourselves fall backwards into reality.

So Liberation, Enlightenment, isn’t hidden within ourselves. It is abundantly available if we care to see.

We are saved by all beings.

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Kusen

4. Wisdom isn’t Knowing

We often talk about Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, and Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, but we misunderstand Wisdom and Compassion.

We think that Wisdom is some state where we know and Compassion is another state where we feel. But what is rendered as Wisdom, Prajñā, isn’t knowing. It is a state before knowing where everything is intuitively whole.

If someone throws a ball at us unexpectedly and we catch it, we don’t catch it with our mind and we don’t catch it with our body. And Kanzeon is portrayed as having manifold hands and eyes. She sees and then she acts. She is never portrayed as having manifold hearts, bleeding or otherwise.

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Kusen

3. Birth is No-Birth, Death is No-Death

In Shoji, Dogen says:

It is a mistake to understand that we move from birth to death. Birth is a position at one time and it has its own before and after. Therefore within Buddha-dharma it is said that birth is no-birth. Death is a position at one moment and it has its own before and after. Therefore, it is said that death is no-death’

(from Okumura, adapted)[1]

If enlightenment is a universal quality not a personal one, the question we have to answer is how the sediment of the Self darkens the world.

In this passage Dogen answers the questions. If we assume the continuity of the Self then we assume linear time. If we assume that, then time is a kind of steamroller, crushing and extinguishing what we call ‘the past’.

If, however, we see from the perspective of Indra’s Net, then every event maintains its dharma position as part of the infinite fabric of Being Time. Or, as Dogen says in Uji, we are standing at the top of the mountain at this moment and look out in every direction to endless mountains.

[1] Also from Okumura (on the Genjokoan):

“It is a mistake to think that life turns into death. Life is a position at one time with its own before and after. Consequently, in the buddha dharma, it is said that life is itself no-arising. Death is a position at one time with its own before and after. Consequently, it is said that death is itself no-perishing. In life there is nothing other than life. In death, there is nothing other than death. Therefore, when life comes, just live. And when death comes, just die. Neither avoid them nor desire them.”

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Kusen

2. The Practice of Falling Backwards

The Buddhist state is the feeling state: alive, momentary, soft, dynamic; prior to the interpretation which creates emotions and thoughts; prior to the stories constructed on top of these emotions and thoughts; prior to the creation of the self as the chief character of the stories.

This interpretative tendency is the origin of our delusion. And so, our practice is falling backwards into this simple feeling state, over and over. We do not need to wish our delusions into nothingness.

The ladder that takes us out of our feeling state can also lead us back in.

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Kusen

1. The Feeling-State is the Path

Master Dogen said:

The path of all Buddhas and ancestors arises before the first forms emerge.

So, the Buddhist state arises prior to the creation of the world. It is an active, dynamic state which is there before we create a world of light and dark, good and bad, me and you. It is a state prior to language and prior to concepts.

Much of our life is us putting layers onto our natural, momentary feeling state; layers of thought, layers of emotions. And these layers attempt to answer the question we always put to this feeling state: what is this and why now?

Because when we meditate, we try and put this tendency to one side. Meditation is an affirmation of the feeling state, and this simple feeling-state is the path.