63. Something Luminous

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 emotion. 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 way.


58. Hishiryo

In the Fukanzazengi, Dogen says that the secret of zazen is non-thinking [hishiryo]. This is neither thinking [shiryo] nor not thinking [fushiryo].

By way of comparison, we can examine non doing. In the Chinese tradition there is wu wei, the watercourse way. Just as the water will respond appropriately to its environment, in non-doing we act appropriate to our actual situation, and that acting comes from a position of non-dualism, not ego. It is spontaneous fitting action.

Applying that to non thinking, we can envisage a state whereby thought is liberated from thought, language is liberated from language and the world, liberated from both, becomes vivid and alive. And this liberated thought and liberated world are no longer separate.


43. Rice Cakes

What is the relationship between language and practice?

A picture of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger” was a common expression in the China of Dogen’s time, and was taken to mean that language was an impediment to realisation. Hence the tendency of the koan stories to frustrate the student, to push him towards silence.

Certainly, we can see how language can easily become a shell, covering the great ocean of being, hiding the depth, beauty and precariousness of our lives.

But language can break its shell, and liberate: itself, ourselves.

So for Dogen, the expression [which, mindlessly repeated, is part of the shell] is a statement of the absolute value of everything: the rice cake exists absolutely. It is not there simply to assuage hunger. Further, because of this, ‘picture,’ ‘satisfy,’ and ‘hunger’ are like pillars, holding up the unfathomable present.


31. The Moon In Water

The Buddha said:

The Buddha’s true Dharma body

Is just like space

Manifesting its form according to things

It is like the moon in water

In talking about Emptiness, visual metaphors are often used. The familiar world is like a mirage, or an image in the mirror, or like the moon in water. And similarly, visual metaphors dominate practice; we need to see through the veil of illusion, as if the world or our consciousness is like an obscuring fog which will clear. ‘Kensho’ means to see into one’s true nature.

This was not Master Dogen’s view. In his rendition, ‘like’ is re rendered as ‘thusness’, ‘in’ is re-rendered as ‘middle’, and the character he uses for moon also means ‘full dynamic functioning’.

So, his re-rendering of the line is something like

It is/ thusness/middle/moon-in-water/total dynamic functioning.

It is important because it relocates Emptiness in this world, and re-conceptualises it as the vibrancy of the whole universe manifesting itself moment to moment. And our practice, rather than being a sustained exercise in disappointment, is giving all things life.

Giving all things life.