61. The Still Still State

Dogen says that we shouldn’t distinguish between practice and enlightenment. Practice isn’t the means by which we attain enlightenment. Practice itself is enlightened activity.

And we can see that Dogen is challenging layers of dualism. If enlightenment is distinct from practice, there must be a person who attains it, and his enlightenment – and his personhood – is distinct from the world.

He is primarily challenging the primary dualism, that of Time and being. It is on this dualism that all the others rest. We are born, we endure, we die. Our lives take place in time. But this is a fundamental alienation from ourselves.

In wholehearted activity time does not exist.


62. Original Face

Whoever says that the Tathāgata goes or comes, stands, sits or lies down, he does not understand the meaning of my teaching. And why?

‘Tathāgata’ is called one who has not gone anywhere, nor come from anywhere.

Diamond Sutra, verse 29

The Buddhist state is instantaneous, immediate, and cuts off past and future.

Tathāgata’ means ‘thus come’ or ‘thus gone. The name itself is a description of reality; not ‘existence’ [because that would entail dualism], not ‘no existence’ [because that would entail nihilism] but something luminous, hovering in the background, behind our conceptualisations.


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.


64. The Bodhisattva Vows

1. The first bodhisattva vow is:

All living beings, I vow to save them

We need to understand the dual meaning of I (Jiko). It means both the personal I, the ego, but it also means the I which is not separate from all of existence.

Taking the ‘I’ in the second sense, the vow is a simple statement. ‘Vow’ and liberation ( ‘save them’) are simply facets of non duality

2. The second bodhisattva vow is:

Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them

We should not understand this as meaning that by great effort, sometime in the distant future we will have no more delusions forever after. That would be a wrong understanding.

We should understand that liberation and delusion, Buddha and Mara, are the two poles of our nature as human beings. We can get rid of neither.

However, when we practice Zazen, when we allow our delusions to freely arise in vast space; to live, to change, to disappear, then is this not ending them? Not forever, because time is a delusion too, but just for this moment

3. The third bodhisattva vow is:

Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them

Because dharma gates are boundless, they are innumerable. And so, they are all dharmas.

If our mind makes each thing a word picture, there are two things, and they can never become one. If each dharma is a dharma gate, then we can ‘enter’ it, and dualism falls away. The vow is also a statement, a statement of non duality.

Because dharma gates are boundless, each dharma is vast beyond measure, and cannot be grasped. Each dharma is thusness

Because dharma gates are boundless, there is no boundary, no separation between each dharma. So, to enter one dharma is to enter all dharmas. To fully encounter one thing is to fully encounter all things.

4. The final bodhisattva vow is:

The Buddha Way, unsurpassable, I vow to realise it

What is the Buddha Way? It is dropping off body and mind. That is, it is decentering our sense of separateness, affirming the whole ness, the dynamic wholeness of everything, which we variously call emptiness, dependent origination, impermanence.

But our sense of self, and of the world as something out there, pleasing or obstructing us, is like a coat which, no matter how often we drop off, we still find around our shoulders again. It is our nature as human beings to clench the fist of the self. And so it is our vow as Buddhists ( to use Uchiyama’s phrase) to open the hand of thought, endlessly, for the rest of our lives.

If we think we have surpassed this, that we are enlightened, this is the most dangerous delusion.

5. Master Dogen said:

When human beings see water, fish see palaces, gods see strings of pearls, demons see blood, or pus.

He doesn’t say that the fish are mistaken, or that the gods are mistaken. But we want to.

The dead weight of the self pushes the world flat, into an image. To then fret to what extent the image is true or false is to miss the primary repression


65. The Jewel of Experience

1. Master Dogen said that we should not regard our body and mind as our personal possession. There isn’t an ‘I’ to possess. Self, mind and consciousness arise itching experience, not the other way round.

If this is so, we do not need to fret about purifying the mind. This erroneous aim inadvertently strengthens the mind/ world dualism, and all the suffering which flows from it

2. If everything occurs within the jewelled net of Indra ( dependent origination), how can it make any sense to talk of relative and absolute truth? Isn’t it better to describe delusion not as falseness – because nothing is false – but as clinging to or rejecting faces of the jewel? Hence, compassionate activity is liberating the myriad dharmas from my anger, greed and ignorance, and the dream of personal liberation is simply a pernicious and disguised example of delusion.

3. Each morning we wake to the dream of the self. But even so, we are born this day. We are born this day

4. Master Dogen said that we must arouse bodhi mind.

Our primary error as practitioners is to confuse this with our personal mind.

We then imagine that we must make our minds quieter, cleanse from it what we don’t want to be there.

Dogen said that bodhi mind is the mind that sees the impermanence of all things. All things. Not just rocks and trees, but all things, including your personal mind. And for him, as for Nagarjuna, impermanence is a synonym for dependent origination. The pulse of your mind and the pulse of the world is the same pulse.

If we can understand this, then we can understand how bodhi mind, the mind of practice, is the mind which is at one with all things.

If we can understand this, there is nowhere for dualism to cling


66. No Gain

We are told that we should sit without expectation of gain. That isn’t wrong, but it’s incomplete.

It is our karmic self which decides to practice, and which gets us to the Zendo, but the ‘person’ who sits without expectation of gain is not ‘I’.

We are double aspected. One aspect is our karmic self, the other is our universal self.

Universal self isn’t the personal self inflated by ‘enlightenment’, it is the whole shebang, dependent origination.

The karmic self occupies a position within dependent origination: universal self – no self – is dependent origination. Each thing is everything.

Zazen is dropping off the karmic self, endlessly. We don’t pin medals on it as it falls.


67. The Eight Characteristics of a Great Person

The last teaching given by the Buddha was ‘The Eight Characteristics of a Great Person’. Master Dogen’s last teaching was a commentary on this teaching.

1. The first of the eight is ‘have few desires’.

A misunderstanding of what the Buddha meant by desire engenders an entirely false perspective of the whole buddhist endeavour, and so it is crucial that we understand this correctly.

He didn’t mean ‘have few feelings’. He didn’t mean ‘don’t feel’.

Underneath our random mental noise is our momentary feeling state, and as practitioners we become very familiar with this. Our indeterminate vitality and aliveness enables us to understand the vitality and aliveness of the whole Universe, because its the same. It is the ground of being. It is our home and our heart.

However, our delusive tendency as human beings is always to ask ‘What is this?’, re-ordering our momentary feeling state as an emotion, which is a kind of thinking, and around which thoughts cluster, giving an explanation: what we must gain, what we must lose, and this is desire.

2. The second characteristic is variously translated as ‘knowing how much is enough’ or ‘to know satisfaction’.

A first response on hearing this is to hear it as an anodyne buddhist piety. We should be happy and content, whatever the circumstances, even if our life is filled with conflict and lack.

But we should ask: satisfaction with what?

In the Shinji Shobogenzo, Book 2 Case 92, Master Chokei Eryo asked Master Hofuku Juten: When we look at matter we are looking directly at mind. Now, can you see that boat?

Master Hofuku said : I see it

Master Chokei said : Forgetting about the boat, where is the mind?

Master Hofuku pointed at the boat again

In this story mind [shin] doesn’t mean our thinking mind, but something more fundamental, which includes our thinking mind. Shin also means heart. So, the story demonstrates that mind, heart and world are not separate.

Taking that to be so, we need to understand the whole circumstances of our life, including emotions thoughts and feelings as the scenery of our life. So, being dissatisfied or in conflict is as it is, and is satisfaction. We don’t need to keep trying to cut off our own arm.

3. The third characteristic is to enjoy serenity.

The Buddha said “..if you want to have the joy of serene nondoing, you should be away from the crowds and stay in a quiet place. If you are attached to crowds, you will receive suffering, just like a tree that attracts a great many birds and gets killed by them. If you are bound by worldly matters, you will drown in troubles, just like an old elephant who is stuck in a swamp and cannot get out of it. This is called ‘to enjoy serenity in seclusion’

We should understand that we do not necessarily leave the crowds behind when we shut the door.But we can separate ourselves from the crowds inside of us. The birds kill the tree; they don’t kill the sky.

4. The fourth characteristic is to practice diligence.

The example the Buddha uses is a constantly flowing trickle of water which gradually wears away rock.

Of course, the water doesn’t intend to wear away the rock, it is just fully expressing its nature. Similarly, if we imagine that we are being diligent, we are simply being dualistic. When we are diligent, there is no observer, and everything is natural.

The Chinese compound for diligence is Shojin. The first character means purified. That is, not two, non-dual. The second character means to make effort. So our diligence, and the diligence exerted by the whole Universe, which constantly causes it to leap out of nothingness, is the same.

5. The fifth characteristic is not to lose mindfulness.

The Buddha said : If people possess the ability not to lose mindfulness, the robbers of the five senses are unable to invade them. For this reason, you constantly should regulate thoughts and keep them in their place in the mind…even if you go among the robbers of the five senses you will not be harmed by them – it is like entering a battlefield clad in armour and having nothing to fear.

Sekiso said that enlightenment was like a thief breaking into an empty house. The five senses are robbers because there is a ‘you’ separate from them.

The place that thoughts should be kept in the mind is vast space. The regulation which they should be subjected to is their complete expression.

6. The sixth characteristic is to practice meditation.

The Buddha said “…if you gather your mind, it will abide in stability..When you have stability, your mind will not be scattered. It is like a well roofed house or a well built embankment, which will help you maintain the water of understanding and keep you from being drowned…”

There are three elements to the simile: water, structure and the space created by structure. And it’s highly noteworthy that the Buddha identifies water -which is almost universally associated with feeling – not with ignorance, or delusion, or desire, but with understanding, when it is somehow ‘contained’ within space, within emptiness.

7. The seventh characteristic is to cultivate wisdom.

The Buddha said : Monks, if you have wisdom, you will be free from can deepen understanding through the wisdom of listening, contemplation and practice”

Wisdom is Prajna, which isn’t intentional knowing. ‘Pra’ means ‘pre’ and ‘jna’ is knowing, hence pre-knowing, that state of intuitive wisdom and wholeness prior to division into thinker and thought. And each of ‘listening, contemplation and practice’ is an aspect of this wholeness.

8. The eighth and last characteristic is not to be engaged in hollow discussions.

The Buddha said: “Monks, if you get into hollow discussions, your mind will be scattered”

When we sit, it is often as if our head is surrounded by our thoughts, and it is as if we are engaged in discussion with our thoughts. But given that there is no head of the self, what is this if not hollow discussion?


68. The Far Shore

(With thanks to David Taylor)

At the end of the Heart Sutra, there’s a mantra:

Gya tei gya tei

Hara gya tei

Hara so gya tei

Bo ji so wa ka

This is simply a Chinese/Japanese inflection of the original Sanskrit which is

Gate gate



Bodhi svāhā

The ‘ga’ in gate, pāragate and pārasaṃgate is the same ‘ga’ as in ‘Tathāgata‘, ‘Thus-come’ or ‘Thus-gone’, by which we mean the Buddha. So, ga means both come and gone.

‘Para’ has various meanings, including ‘beyond’ and ‘the opposite shore'(of a river)

‘Sam’ means ‘with’, ‘together with’

So, the mantra is often translated as

Gone, gone

Altogether gone

To the far shore

So the suggestion is that we leave this shore, cross the river, and reach the far shore of nirvana. But, in this interpretation, the metaphor is confused, because both this shore and the river are identified with samsara.

But if we re-render ‘gone’ as ‘come’, then a different possibility emerges, of the far shore arriving. Thus, it isn’t that we cross over the water of samsara to reach the far shore of nirvana, leaving this shore behind, but rather that both shores are manifested.

And this suggests Zazen, coming at the end of the sutra, which started with an explicit exchange between Śāriputra and Avalokiteśvara about Zazen ( which significantly, is the practice of the latter, not the former). When we sit, we don’t abandon our particularity, our form, our karmic existence ( this shore), but equally, we manifest the self that is not separate from all things ( the far shore)

And both these shores make manifest the river of our true life, held by both.


69. I Shin Den Shin

The transmission of the teaching is like a widening cascade of light. The brightness is indivisible.

The transmission from one real person to another is called ‘I shin den shin‘. ‘Shin’ means heart/ mind, so it can translate as ‘from my heart to your heart’

We might assume there are two hearts, but my heart is this heart; your heart is this heart. This heart is the heart of this-ness–Indivisible.

Because this is so, transmission is intimate, non-dual, feeling. Each thing is the heart of all things. Each time is this time.



70. The Buddha’s True Dharma Body

The Buddha’s True Dharma Body

Is just like space

Manifesting its form

According to circumstances

It is like the moon in water.

Caoshan Benji

‘Manifesting its form’ means that Buddha and human beings arise together; space and the myriad things appear together. It is not that space is pre-existing and the myriad things then take their place. It is not like that.

Similarly, Buddhism is not a house which practitioners can enter, occupy and leave. Practitioners are the house: the roof, the walls, the doors, the windows.

The heart is manifested by what it holds.