71. The Ocean and the Wave

The Great Ocean is a frequent metaphor in Buddhism for the inter-connectedness of all being. The whole ocean effects each part. Each part effects the whole. Each part effects each part. If anywhere changes, everywhere changes. Nonetheless, the wave fully lives his own life.

Until the moment of our death, we are sustained by all things. The medicine for suffering is not enlightenment, but gratitude.


72. Switching

A striking paradox in Mahāyāna is that whilst it is avowedly non-dualistic, it seems full of dualisms.

Saying that Saṃsāra is Nirvana appears to oblige one to explain why they seem different. So for Nāgārjuna there is the absolute and the relative, for Baso there is the phenomenal world and the truth underlying it, and for almost everyone there is the contrast of delusion and enlightenment.

Dogen is different. For him, reality can be approached by switching between perspectives, specifically between the perspective of one dharma dynamically functioning and the whole network of dependent origination functioning.

So Genjo ( manifestation) is the first, Todatsu ( liberation) is the second.

But they can switch.

Being is the first, Time is the second.

But they can switch.

The perspectives swap places.

The particular and the universal swop places.

Jumping in and out of each other.


73. Buddha Nature

One of the principal differences between Theravada and Mahayana is the doctrine of Buddha Nature.

This takes a number of forms–and Dogen has a unique position on it–but generally, it is the idea that we have Buddha Nature as a kind of foundational ground or potentiality.

The doctrine probably derives from the Tathāgata Garbha tradition. Tathāgata is Buddha; Garbha means both embryo and womb.

But who is giving birth to whom?

We might be inclined to see the embryo as our latent Buddha nature, but perhaps it’s the other way around. Perhaps the doctrines, the ritual, the lineage, the traditions; everything, is the womb which enables us to give birth to ourselves.

It is as if Buddhism is a plaster-cast on something broken. When the body is healed, when the body is whole, Buddhism is no longer needed.

When we have crossed the river, do we still require to carry the boat?


74. Jinzu

In the Shōbōgenzō chapter, Jinzu, Dogen talks about mystical powers.

At his time, many people thought that through the practice of Zazen, practitioners acquired mystical powers, such as the ability to see into past lives, to change form, and so forth.

The hope of personal enlightenment is a residue of this sort of thinking. But we need to understand that whatever can be grasped makes us a fist.

For Dogen, these mystical powers were the small mystical powers, not the great mystical power.

So what is the great mystical power?

For him, it was chopping firewood and carrying water. In other words, ordinary activity. The great miracle that there is something, not nothing.

Zenki is the great mystical power

Gratitude, love, is the great mystical power

Unclenching the fist of the mind is the great mystical power

The world and the heart leaping out of each other. The Great Mystical Power.


75. Dependent Origination

Kusen collaboration artwork by Margaret Kerr

The foundation of buddhism is dependent origination. The most frequent metaphor for that is Indra’s Net.

We can’t know, but it seems a reasonable guess that the inspiration came from someone looking up at the night sky; the glistening stars through the clear dark air.

For that person, the image was static. For us, it’s dynamic, because we know that when we look at the sky, we’re looking at time. Many of the stars we appear to be seeing are no longer there. There.

From this dharma position, here, now, the star exists. From another dharma position the star doesn’t exist. From the position of the whole, the star exists and doesn’t exist. Hence, empty.

And not just for the star, obviously.


76. With Our Listening

A pernicious and invisible delusion for practitioners is that there is an inside and an outside to experience: We should cleanse inner experience by eradicating thoughts and noise, and our experience of the world will be transformed.

But of course, there isn’t an inner and an outer, there’s just this experience, within which there is inner and outer, self and world, mind and body, and all the other familiar created dualities.

Our task isn’t to change this experience, but to listen to it. Really listen. Listen with our ears. Listen with our eyes. Listen with our skin. Listen with our breath. Listen with our listening.


77. The Body of the World

Sanskrit has distinct and separate words for Enlightenment (bodhi), the path from delusion to enlightenment (marga) and the six realms of Saṃsāra (gate).

The Chinese translated all three as Dao, Way. In Japanese, ‘Dao ‘ is ‘Do’ as in, for example, Dotoku, Expression. Toku means to attain, to be able, to say.

For us, that seems extraordinary, and for us to understand requires a huge shift in perspective, from the personal to the universal.

It was not that the Chinese had a shortage of words, or were careless. For them Way is primary because it is a description of the full dynamic functioning of everything.

In a similar fashion, the original meaning of Dharmakaya, the universal body of the buddha, was his teachings. When his body of flesh had gone, his body of words would remain. The Chinese universalised that to mean The Body Of The World, Everything.

To every thing a voice


78. Mind is World

Master Baso famously said, “Mind Is World”

We’re apt to take this to mean that we create our world.

But he didn’t say that, he said Mind Is World.

When we carefully observe the mind, what remains ours? Isn’t it the case that everything comes from ‘outside’? Isn’t what we call Mind a vivid exemplar of dependent origination? And if that is so, what is there to clear? What is there to settle?


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.


80. Nothing is Mine

The Bodhisattva of Compassion, practising zazen, sees that the five Skandha are empty, and relieves all suffering.

Okumura said that it is not me seeing that the five Skandha are empty, it is the five Skandha seeing that the five Skandha are empty.

That is, the five Skandha are not the property of the self. This body and mind does not belong to me. That being so, I cannot do other than care for it, as it is not mine. Because nothing is mine, I can take care of all beings.

So it is that the Bodhisattva of Compassion appears when Emptiness appears, when the seeing of the five Skandhas appears: everything jumps out at the same time, and always at this time. And he is the whole world.