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Kusen

288. This Dharma Position

Towards the end of his life Uchiyama Roshi, the teacher of Shohaku Okumura wrote this poem, ‘Samadhi, Treasury of the Radiant Light’:

Though poor, never poor

Though sick,never sick

Though ageing, never ageing

Though dying, never dying

Reality prior to division

Here lies unlimited depth

Using more traditional language, Uchiyama Roshi is talking about our dharma position. That is, seen one way, we are particular limited beings, in our karmic position, with our gender, age, health and so on. In another way, because we are part of this dynamic wholeness, each being is also that whole. It’s like touching a person. You can touch that person on the hand, and simultaneously you are touching their hand, but you are also touching the whole person.

That experience of wholeness cannot be achieved by taking the familiar dualities of mind and body, self and world and by effort fusing them into one. We can only find ourselves there, as it were, by accident. The paradigm way of finding ourselves there by accident is through Zazen, and the gradual erosion of these apparent dualities in our actual experience when we sit. When we sit in a balanced posture, our idea of ourself, of this lump of mind flesh , is intermittently eclipsed by the felt experience of spaciousness. 

The spaciousness inside us, around us and outside us. That space is continuous. In this way we can gradually get to a position which is underneath these dualities, but we can’t -sadly – get there with the head.

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Kusen

258. The four merits of meditation

The four merits of meditation are said to be intuitive wisdom, compassion, equanimity and empathetic joy – but these are not personal qualities.

Yet when the restless dust and debris of the self is stilled, it is as if it forms an archway, through and around which the vast living space containing these qualities can be actualized.

Through which all the mute things can be given voice.

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Kusen

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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Kusen

239. Two swimmers

Buddhism is full of apparent opposites: Form and Emptiness, Language and Silence, Samsara and Nirvana, and the temptation is always to posit one of the pair as fundamental, and the other as inhibiting our access to it. But really, we need to understand these pairings as like the wings of the bird of our radical wholeness and aliveness.

Take the second one, for example. When we sit, it’s very common to think of whatever arises as obscuring silence, and we need to get rid of it. But if our language is superficial, why would our silence be profound?

What we need to understand is that language and silence are completely interwoven. Where one goes, the other follows. The real question is: What language? What silence?

They are like two people swimming across a stormy sea. Neither can reach the shore by their own efforts alone. But when one is exhausted, the other carries them. So neither drowns.

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Kusen

230. Half a person

We expect to see the Buddha, within us or behind us.

But no matter how hard we look, he is nowhere to be found.

Instead we see a fox of wisdom, a fox of piety, a fox of compassion, a fox of enlightenment and so on, for what seems 500 lifetimes.

We need to understand that this person is not a complete person, and never will be. This person is half a person. The momentary beingtime crashing against this half a person likewise is half a person.

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Kusen

223. The whole body

Our practice is full of apparent opposites: delusion/enlightenment, true/false, dream/awakening, form/emptiness.

Silly people imagine that you throw away one and get the other. It’s not so.

These are all polarities, delineating the whole body of full dynamic expression. Without firewood, no fire. Without birds, no sky.

Therefore, this day, do not wish all the debris into nothingness. Do not grasp for false tranquillity.

This day, bring a great fire.

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Kusen

203. Neither existence or non existence

We say this life is like a dream. We say it because we want to point to something which is neither existence or non-existence, neither true or false. Something which can be experienced, but not grasped.

And by not being grasped, the backwards and forwards of expression and of meaning between the dreamer and the dream can be vividly enacted.

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Kusen

198. Entangled

If we see trees in a field, to the human eye, they are separate. However, their roots are completely entangled. So, if one of them is stricken, the others will support it, they will not let it fall.

In wide, open awareness, the mind flows into the body and so the body flows: into the ground, into the sky.

So all things are lifted up.

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Kusen

185. The moon in water

A familiar metaphor to describe zazen, and this life generally, is the moon in water.

It is a development of the mirror metaphor. Just like a mirror the water, when still, will reflect everything perfectly. So, as it were, there will be a second moon in the water. But, disturbed by the wind of ignorance, the water is disturbed, and waves form.

The ignorance is the belief that we are separate. But the critical part of the metaphor is deep faith that the wave – our sense of self, what we would call personal thought, feeling and experience – is not different from the ocean.

This faith, not making the ocean and the mind tranquil, is what is critical. Even if the reflected moon is a billion shards of light, because the wind is no longer ignorance, everything is still.

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Kusen

137. The metaphor of the mirror in zen

In Chinese Buddhism the image of a mirror is very frequent, both to describe practice and to describe enlightenment.

It is quite difficult for us to understand, because when we think of a mirror we think of two: the image in the mirror and the owner of that image.

The whole point of the metaphor however is that there is not two: there is just the mirror.

In the mirror, what appears to be separate is really just part of the whole image.

So each individual thing is there and not there.

Similarly, and perhaps unlike the thing itself, we can look on the image with equanimity.

Understanding all this, we are inclined to see the mirror as being a description of how the universe is. But actually, it’s a description of how the practitioner is. It’s a description of practice.

The reflection is the whole body: the masks of the present moment reconnected with the faces of the past, the tendrils of thought dipping deep into bodily sensation. The mirror is infinitely angled: from the past to the present, from the mind to the body, from this body to all bodies, from the storm to the lingering debris; all directions.

We can’t see it with the eyes.