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.