53. The Non-Dual Dharma

Zen teachers frequently talk about ‘the non dual dharma’, and we are all familiar with the standard dualities: mind/body, self/world, and so on.

Less attention is given to a very pervasive dualism: the container and the contained. So, our life occurs in time, the leaves fall from the tree in autumn, experience occurs in consciousness, and so forth.

For master Dogen, our lives do not exist in time, but in our lives, time exists. The container/contained duality is replaced by a sense of each thing being the full dynamic functioning of everything, The Whole Universe pivoting on each thing.


49. The Cause of Suffering

Common sense tells us that the cause of suffering is impermanence. We die, nothing lasts. We know this, ergo we suffer.

However, Dogen ascribed the opposite view–ascribed to Senika–that the body and mind/soul are separate, and the latter is permanent, as the root of suffering. The root of suffering.

To make sense of this claim, I think we have to assume that for Dogen, separation–dualism–was the cause of suffering, not impermanence. A belief that we have an eternal essence solidifies dualism. It follows that impermanence has the primary function of waking us up to dependent origination, the dynamic wholeness of everything, waking us up from the dream of suffering.


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.


26. Suchness

Stillness is not the ceasing of activity; stillness is suchness.

When we see being direct, our normal categories fall away. Because linear time falls away, we call it timeless, and so, it is still.

Because causality falls away it is vivid, not a waystation to or from anywhere else.


20. Nonduality


Nonduality is not a mystical state, but a real one. It is abundantly available to us. We fall backwards into it each time the constructed self temporarily falls away. Our practice is a wobbling between the two poles of Self and nondual.

And we should not imagine an unattainable, undifferentiated state. Things continue to exist, but not in the old way. For example, a common metaphor for nonduality in the literature is the mirror. One looks at the mirror and sees apparently separate things, when really they are all part of the whole. But it is not a trick. Differentiation is there also. Differentiation is the face of the world.

Nonduality allows each thing its full expression.


Nonduality is not mystical, but real. It is not undifferentiated. On the contrary, each thing is fully expressed. Each thing fully exerts itself.

Similarly, our practice is not the pursuit of nonduality, but its expression. And each aspect of our practice is an expression of a different aspect of nonduality. So when we bow, we are not bowing to someone or something, because that would be separation. When we bow, we are affirming feelings which are nondual: gratitude, compassion, dignity, faith.

We bow down our head, and the head of the World is lifted up.


Zazen is not the pursuit of nonduality, but its expression. Because nonduality is the complete expression of each thing, each thing is everything. When we say that your zazen penetrates the entire Universe, don’t create a picture of planets and stars, because the Universe which is meant is not this constructed world, but your real experience.

When the constructed world falls away, there is just being. When we fall backwards from this constructed world, we fall into being.