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284. Dogen’s Dharma Hall Discourse number 24: An expression never before expounded

‘In the entire universe, in the ten directions there is no dharma at all that has not yet been expounded by all Buddhas in the three times. Therefore all Buddha’s say, “In the same manner that all Buddhas in the three times expound the dharma, so now I also will expect the dharma without differentiations”. This great assembly present before me also is practicing the way in the manner of all Buddhas. Each movement, each stillness is not other than the dharma of all Buddhas, so do not act carelessly or casually, Although this is the case I have an expression that has not yet been expounded by any Buddha. Everyone, do you want to discern it?’

After a pause Dogen said, ‘ in the same manner that all Buddhas in the three times expound the dharma, so now I also will expound the dharma without differentiations.’

The passage that Dogen cites and then repeats is a direct quote from the Lotus Sutra.

 To understand this dharma discourse it’s helpful that we understand the several uses of the word ‘dharma’. It originally meant teaching, as in the Buddha’s teaching. ‘Dharmas’ are all the individual things within experience: fences, walls, mountains, thoughts, dreams and so on. And because the Buddha’s teaching is about reality, a very creative combining took place of these two senses of the word, on the already fertile soil of chinese culture. It came to be thought that all beings (dharmas)  proclaim the dharma. Or, more precisely that everything (all dharmas) is the dharma. 

Thus, the movements of Dogen’s monks while they were listening to him, or their stillness were all expressions of the dharma. 

Which leaves the question: in what sense was Dogen’s simple repetition of a phrase from the Lotus Sutra a new expression?

It was new because everything’s new.

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283. A Person in the Mountains Should Love the Mountains

In volume 9 of Dogen’s Eihei Kōroku, at paragraph 25, there’s a poem (derived from the poem “Mount Lu” by Su Shi),

A person in the mountains should love the mountains.

 With going and coming, the mountains are his body.

 The mountains are the body but the body is not the self.

 So where can one find any senses or their objects?

Dogen, Eihei Kōroku

Dogen isn’t talking literally about mountains, or not just. In this poem the mountain signifies everything – the whole of dependent origination. And quintessentially for Dogen he’s always in some sense alluding to our experience in Zazen.

When we talk about dependent origination, the exemplar is our thoughts and emotions, which we usually regard as encumbrances, something to get rid of. But we’re mistaken. The instruction is often given that when thoughts arise in Zazen we should neither love them or hate them but just allow them to come and go freely.

I don’t think that’s an entirely helpful instruction. Certainly we shouldn’t try and push thoughts and emotions away and we shouldn’t attach to them. But I think primarily we should not attempt to fix these butterflies on the needle of our certainty. If we do, they are like ghosts caught in the suddenly appearing echo chamber of the self. They cannot manifest, or change, or live. Nor us.

For further information and references on this kusen, please click this link.

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273. Dogen’s Fukanzazengi

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.

For further information and references on this kusen, please click this link.

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255. Dragons see palaces

Kusen 255 collaboration ‘Inter’ by Blair Thomson

(heavy rain is falling)

In the Mountains and Waters Sutra, Dogen says that when human beings see water, fish and dragons see palaces. He doesn’t say that the fish and dragons are mistaken. He also says that although human beings see mountains as still, they are always walking.

Within this ocean, are there palaces, or not? Within this mountain, is there movement, or not?

This being moment is completely manifested, like a mountain. It isn’t dependent on past and future. This being moment is completely liberated within interconnectedness. It flows in all directions, like the ocean: from past to future, from future to past, from present to present. This manifestation and liberation is our life.

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Master Dogen’s Dharma Hall Discourse number 453. (Adapted)

Polishing a tile to make a mirror is our reward for accumulating merit and virtue. Polishing a mirror to make a tile certainly depends on the nourishment from wisdom. Polishing a mirror to make a mirror brings a laugh – how are my hands and the Buddha’s hands similar? Practising Zazen to make a Buddha is putting our jagged karmic stones at the site of awakening – why is it like this?

(After a pause) When one cart is hit, many carts go quickly. One night a flower blooms and the world is fragrant.

Master Dogen’s Dharma Hall Discourse number 453. (Adapted)

Commentary:

He is plainly talking about our practice. The tile is our karma – a chaotic concatenation of selves which we become all too aware of when we start sitting. And understandably wish to be free of. Even though it’s just noise.

The mirror is Buddha, and we imagine that through practice we can make the tile a mirror. Yet he didn’t say that. He never said that. Paint a Buddha face on the tile if you wish, but it will never go.

In our sincere and wholehearted practice a true person appears. Sometimes, this person is like vast space. And the noise doesn’t matter, at all.

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Master Dogen’s dharma discourse number 441.

“Having questions and answers, we smear everything with shit and piss. Not having questions and answers, thunder and lightning crash. The great Earth in ten directions is leveled and all of space is torn open, not allowed to enter from outside, not allowed to leave from inside.

A gavel strikes the sounding block and the ten thousand affairs are completed.

At such a time how is it?

(After a pause, Dogen said) time and again everything exists within a painting. Even allowing for what falls apart snow falls at midnight.”

Master Dogen’s dharma discourse number 441.

This discourse, delivered in the last part of his life, in all its vigour and iconoclasm seems quintessentially Dogen, but in fact, prior to the pause, Dogen is directly quoting the words of his Master, Tendo Nyojo.

By this time his master had been dead for more than a decade and he had not seen him for more than 15 years.

Are the words Nyojo’s or Dogen’s, both, or neither?

It is the responsibility of the teacher to teach with great vigour, and to do so for the rest of their days.

Yet the personal vigour of a teacher – even a great teacher like Dogen – is puny. Yet it is as if sometimes the entire lineage – not just the visible lineage, but the lineage of all times – and the entire universe seen and unseen is all congregated around this person, and given voice.

Whether you believe it or not, you are like this, I am like this and, to live without doubt, it is necessary only once.

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244. A fire engulfing your head

Dogen said that we should practice zazen like a person trying to extinguish a fire engulfing their head.

A lazy or stupid teacher might parrot this at his unfortunate students. I certainly have. The intention is to impart a sense of urgency. But it’s false. We need to pay attention to the actual words, the actual image.

First, why is it engulfing only the head? Because it is the fire of the self. It can’t be extinguished by the puny efforts of the self.

Second, the person is trying. He doesn’t succeed. There isn’t an end point. It is a continual effort. It is dropping off body and mind.

Third, the effort is made by the vigorous activity of the body. But whose body?

Which person? The person of all being. The body of all things.

It is not your effort, because that would be feeble. It is the effort of the whole Universe, like the pouring of a vast and endless river through an infinity of dharma gates.

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243. Not the wind of ignorance

The Moon In Water

Originated as a description of the mind we should aim for while meditating.

Still water perfectly reflects the moon. A still mind perfectly reflects reality.

But, when the wind of ignorance starts to blow, creating thought waves, the reflection is lost.

But for Dogen, the wind wasn’t the wind of ignorance, it was the wind of interdependence. And that interdependence was fully expressing itself in the dynamic interplay of wind, water, space and moonlight. The moon wasn’t up in the far sky, it was in the water.

It’s hard to overstate how so entirely different this is.

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224. Firewood becomes ash

“Firewood becomes Ash. It doesn’t become firewood again. But don’t imagine that firewood is past and ash is future. Firewood exists in the living expression of the firewood. Ash exists in the living expression of ash. Each has its own past and future. Each cuts past and future.”

Dogen, Genjokoan

I first read these words in Dogen’s Genjokoan twenty seven years ago and they have stuck with me. But not in my throat.

On a superficial level, Dogen appears to be refuting the common idea in folk Buddhism of reincarnation. But what he really means to say is that firewood does not become ash. There is not an underlying ‘something’ which is first firewood then ash then something else. And there is not an underlying something in us which starts as a baby and becomes an adult which becomes an old person and then becomes a corpse.

So we are being invited to think differently. And so, to live and feel differently. Rather than thinking of being as taking place within time, we are invited to think of time and being as two polarities of existence. Sometimes it’s as if everything is momentary – all existence is an aspect of this moment. In other moments, time disappears into vast space, which feels eternal.

Duality is like a crack in the vessel of the heart; although we can’t see it, something precious is always seeping away.

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221.Eihei Koroku

A lot of Dogen’s dharma discourses in the Eihei Koroku consist of him quoting someone and then “after a pause” expressing something.

We imagine that he knows what he’s going to say. We imagine this because we always do. But we’re wrong. True expression has nothing to do with the karmic mind. It comes from a completely different position.