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.


32. Undefended

In zazen we lay down our arms.

We place one hand on top of the other. The world is unmanipulated and not held at bay.

It comes right up to the heart.


33. The Balanced State

A person prone to waking in the night, who imagines himself an insomniac, would be unaware when he is asleep.

Similarly, although when we sit we are frequently in the balanced state, we cannot see it, since there is no one to see. It is as if we oscillate between the dreams of the mind and the dreams of the body.

My teacher would say that we are always passing through the balanced state, in this movement between body and mind.

It is not that there is a something. It is not that there is a nothing.


34. Obstacles

We should distinguish between obstacles and delusion.

Obstacles are straightforward: a persistent tune, an idea that keeps returning, a scenario that keeps regurgitating itself. These seem a serious obstruction to our practice, but they’re not.

Delusion is our taking a position towards them. One aspect of delusion.


35. Unburdening the Heart

Often our posture is quite poor. We slump, and it is as if our head weighs heavily on our body. Which is to say, our mind weighs heavily on our heart.

When we sit, we allow the spine to uncompress; the head is light and the torso can relax and fully breathe, giving the heart its full space.

The heart is not the seat of the emotions. Emotion is frozen feeling. It is part of the mind, not the heart. The mind is that mass of thought and emotion by which the ego perpetually talks itself back into half existence.

The heart is momentary felt experience. It is always there.


36. Awareness

In zazen, we cultivate unadorned awareness. We simply allow our experience, without making any judgement.

This awareness operates at a number of levels. Most obviously, we are aware of our ego sustaining chatter. Then we are aware of our strategies to avoid our experience–distraction, fatigue, agitation, and so on.

And deeper still, we are aware of our habitual attitudes towards our experience while sitting: anxiety, frustration, hopelessness, resignation and so on, and this habitual attitude mirrors our attitude to our life generally, and so what is unconscious becomes conscious.

Awareness is like a deepening ocean. As it becomes deeper, it becomes clearer. And so, everything is illuminated.


37. Total Exertion

Non-Buddhists conceive of the Universe as things within space. And in the space between things there is room for judgement, room for manipulation.

For Dogen, the realm of nonduality is the realm of intimacy. It is not that there is no differentiation, but there is no gap, no void.

And within that intimacy, each dharma totally occupies its own space. One dharma does not obstruct another, just as one moment does not obstruct another. The total exertion of one dharma–the exemplar of exertion being zazen–is the total exertion of all dharmas, because there is no separation.

The total exertion of one dharma makes real the whole Universe.


38. Compassionate Mind

Compassionate Mind is essential for practice.

The noise in our head is like a small child. If we follow the noise, it will never grow up. If we hate or ignore the noise, we cut out our own heart. We need to hold the noise in vast, compassionate space; vast compassionate awareness.

It is this space which allows it, and all beings, to live.


39. The Life of Each Thing

Our aim isn’t to eradicate delusion, but to actualise space.

Within vast space, each thing can have its own life.

Although it is natural to wish that our demons were gone, only demons can kill demons.


40. The Four Dharma Seals

The Four Dharma Seals are suffering, impermanence, no-self and nirvana.

The second and third are the crucible of our lives. If we think of the self as real, fixed, permanent, then the unavoidable truth of impermanence will cause us to suffer. We are always one step closer to falling.

If we see the insubstantiality of the self, that is the liberation of all beings. Impermanence can then be seen as the dynamic functioning of interconnectedness, and we can live at peace with all sentient beings, undarkening the world by no longer throwing the dust of the self over it.

We have a choice. We either fall down or stand up. And, of course, we do both.