254. Practice buddha

We talk about zazen in lots of strange ways. We say, for example, that it isn’t the person practicing, but zazen practicing zazen, or Practice Buddha practicing zazen: the language is just an expedient means to drop off the primary dualism between self and world.

If the self can be dropped off, we can understand that there are two aspects to Impermanence, which correspond to Dogen’s formulation, in the Fukanzazengi, of zazen as the dharma gate of peace and joy.

The first is ceaseless arising and perishing, which is within our normal experience. We can understand and accept that this arising and perishing is the dynamic functioning of something whole, which we cannot see, as we are part of it, but if we only understand Impermanence from this perspective, then our practice is unbalanced: it is only the cultivation of equanimity, peace.

The second is the ceasing of this arising and perishing, which we can experience directly in zazen. It is as if each being-moment becomes like vast space, becomes like a mountain: it does not move, it does not flow. And this is joy.


Book Of Serenity, Case 36: Master Ma Is Unwell

Book Of Serenity, Case 36: Master Ma Is Unwell

The Case: Master Ma was unwell. The monastery superintendent asked, “Master, how is your venerable state these days?”
The Great Teacher said, “Sun face buddha, Moon face buddha”

Commentary: “unwell” is a euphemism. Master Ma (Baso) was mortally ill, and died the following day.

Sun Face Buddha was said to have a lifespan of 1800 years. Moon Face Buddha lived only one day and one night. Baso is talking about two aspects of experience, once our egoic self concern has dropped away.

The Universe can only express itself through each thing. If there were no things, there would be no light.

Sometimes, we are very aware that we are expressing something universal through this fragile, transient body. The Moon illuminates itself, and everything it casts its light on becomes part of it.

Other times, we forget this body, and are simply part of this illuminated world.

The light can only shine through each thing, and each thing will break.

The light will not break.

Artwork by Blair Thomson
Artwork by Blair Thomson

79. All Things Unblurred

I believe in life after death.
Your life. All life

Although each death I am alone
At each birth you’re always there;
All things unblurred

We imagine that we are born, we endure, we die. But it isn’t true. From moment to moment we are born and we die, within this body.

We invent other bodies, other worlds because we don’t understand our experience in this body, in this world.

Everything that becomes religion is rooted in our actual experience as human beings. We gather together and experience and later, to explain, we might say: “It was as if a God had entered me.”

And someone later goes looking for the God. Duh.



Mujo (Impermanence)

To what shall
I liken the world?
Moonlight, reflected
In dewdrops
Shaken from a crane’s bill

Although at first glance Dogen is expressing familiar themes within Japanese poetry of the poignancy of transient beauty, the sadness inherent in the awareness that all things are impermanent, his real intention in the poem is to show the wholeness of everything. There is no Nirvana, no Being (Moonlight) except within Samsara, within beings. The Moon is reflected in the clouds, in the rain, in the dewdrops, in the river, in the ocean, in the eye, in the mind, in the heart. And apart from this reflection, there is no moon.

Cranes were said to live for a thousand years, and the poem can also be seen as a poetic response to Case 3 of The Blue Cliff a Record. In that case, Baso is unwell ( in fact, he is dying). The Temple Superintendent asked him how he was and he replied ” Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha”

The reference is to the Sutra of the Buddhas Names. According to the sutra, the lifespan of the Sun Face Buddha is 1,800 years, while the lifespan of the Moon Face Buddha is just a day.

Baso was alluding to the double aspect of beings. We occupy a particular momentary dharma position, and at the same time each being is all being, eternal. Momentary and eternal. Dogen radicalises the momentariness, and so emphasises the unity of all being. Although the dewdrops are transient, the water of life does not go.


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.”