81. The Three Treasures

The three treasures are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Dharma is reality, how things are, which includes the teaching how of things, as they are.

Buddha is the person who wobbles in and out of this reality, quintessentially in zazen.

And what’s Sangha? When we sit together, it is indisputable that a ‘something’ arises. We could call it the field of awareness. We could call it the Buddha field. And within that field is our noise. We don’t aim to eradicate our noise, but we are not within it. Because the field has no boundary, all beings are within it.

So we sit with all beings, for all beings.


82. Five Pieces of Prajñā

In his commentary on the Heart Sutra, Dogen says that the five skandas are five pieces of Prajñā.

When we hear ‘pieces’, we might imagine that we can put them together. To make a world. To make a person. But this putting together with the glue of the Self is the root of suffering; the root of delusion.  

Because each thing is a piece of Prajñā, each thing is all things. Because this is so, each thing is of infinite value, its expressions and facets without limit.


83. Shikantaza

Our practice, shikantaza, is usually rendered as ‘just sitting’. And this is usually interpreted as meaning that we are not sitting with the expectation that we will gain something.

And of course, that’s true. But the practice isn’t me just sitting, it’s just sitting. Taken that way, the practice is an affirmation with the whole body and mind that the cause of suffering is separation, not impermanence.

Outside the open window, the noise continues. But the house is empty.


84. Baso

As practitioners, we try to steer a course between, on the one hand, spiritual grandiosity and narcissism, and on the other, duality and separation.

To help us, Master Baso said ‘Mind is World’. He wasn’t talking about the personal mind obviously, although it’s true that the personal mind has the karmic world it creates, like a mirrored prison.

He meant the mind of awareness. The personal mind arises within this, as do all things. Hence, mind is world. There is nothing for our spiritual grandiosity to inflate into. There is nothing outside this mind, so there is no separation.

The light which falls on us is not our accomplishment. It does not belong to us. But if the world was empty of practitioners, where would the light fall?


85. Spiritual Language

All spiritual language originates in the actual experience of a real person, who then tries to convey that experience in words, using the poetic and allegorical options open to him. That’s why these writings are often prefaced by “It is as if….”

When this language decays over time, religion arises.

It is as if a cascade of tiny birds floods out from the open heart, illuminating the sky

It is as if after a short while these birds turn to stone and fall to the ground.

It is as if people gather up these birds, their shape and colour intact though lifeless and, fascinated, give them names: ‘Buddha nature,’ ‘No Mind.’

It is as if they collect all the birds lying there and put them together, to form structures.

It is as if each structure is a prison.


86. The Scenery of Your Life

Samsara is often described in terms of the six realms. The deluded person falls from one world into the next.

The Chinese called Samsara, the passing between the worlds of experience–Tao, The Way; the same term used by them for Awakening. They didn’t do this because they were short of words.

The practitioner travels between realms, and each realm is the scenery of his life at that moment. He is not caught. He does not fall. Although he travels, he does not choose to go. He does not choose to stay. The deluded person cannot travel. His feet, as it were, are stuck fast to the ground of each realm, and that ground is like a constantly collapsing building.

When we sit, it is as if all the worlds are travelling through us, like clouds through mountains.


87. Full Expression

In zazen, our normal strategies of repression and distraction don’t work. We have no choice: everything that arises expresses itself. It isn’t me expressing mySelf, and so, it is full expression. Likewise, although the activity of zazen is full and complete activity, it is not the activity of the self.

If we can understand zazen as activity and expression, then we can understand the world similarly

In this sense, zazen is the full expression of Buddhist activity


88. Our Teachers, Walking

We honour our teachers by seeing them not as perfect, balanced, but by seeing them as unbalanced.

And us, unbalanced, balancing them. Momentarily.

The whole lineage, walking through time, always unbalanced. If it was not like this, there would be no Way.

Our teacher takes one step.

We must take the next.


89. Tsuki

The Buddha’s true dharma body is just like space;

Manifesting its form according to circumstances,

it is like the moon in water

The image of the moon in water is one of the most familiar in Buddhism. The moon is Buddha, the water is the mind. When the water is tranquil, the moon is reflected perfectly.

It’s a dualistic image, obviously, and Dogen radicalises it by saying that the moon’s light is equally reflected, however the water is. What is important is not the form of the moon, but its expression. It illuminates the water. It illuminates the clouds. It illuminates the heavens. It illuminates itself. And apart from this illumination, there is no moon.

In the masterly Tsuki, Dogen revitalises the image as the active inter penetrating expressing everything.

The first line of the poem says something similar, but in a different way. When we come into the dojo and take our place, the space that was there before doesn’t disappear. It isn’t displaced elsewhere. Buddha doesn’t appear and the person vanishes. It isn’t like that. Both arise together.

We are space and person. Buddha and karmic existence. Particular and universal.


90. A Quality of This Moment

Artwork by Blair Thomson
Kusen 90 collaboration by Blair Thomson

Zazen is often called the mountain still state, the balanced state.

What we need to understand is that the state is momentary. It is a quality of this moment.

Not the person, the moment.

This moment rolls in and out of balance. When out of balance, self, world and linear time all arise, together. When in balance, it is not that the self and the myriad things are negated or affirmed but, as the shin jin mei tells us, they cease to exist in the old way.