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284. Dogen’s Dharma Hall Discourse number 24: An expression never before expounded

‘In the entire universe, in the ten directions there is no dharma at all that has not yet been expounded by all Buddhas in the three times. Therefore all Buddha’s say, “In the same manner that all Buddhas in the three times expound the dharma, so now I also will expect the dharma without differentiations”. This great assembly present before me also is practicing the way in the manner of all Buddhas. Each movement, each stillness is not other than the dharma of all Buddhas, so do not act carelessly or casually, Although this is the case I have an expression that has not yet been expounded by any Buddha. Everyone, do you want to discern it?’

After a pause Dogen said, ‘ in the same manner that all Buddhas in the three times expound the dharma, so now I also will expound the dharma without differentiations.’

The passage that Dogen cites and then repeats is a direct quote from the Lotus Sutra.

 To understand this dharma discourse it’s helpful that we understand the several uses of the word ‘dharma’. It originally meant teaching, as in the Buddha’s teaching. ‘Dharmas’ are all the individual things within experience: fences, walls, mountains, thoughts, dreams and so on. And because the Buddha’s teaching is about reality, a very creative combining took place of these two senses of the word, on the already fertile soil of chinese culture. It came to be thought that all beings (dharmas)  proclaim the dharma. Or, more precisely that everything (all dharmas) is the dharma. 

Thus, the movements of Dogen’s monks while they were listening to him, or their stillness were all expressions of the dharma. 

Which leaves the question: in what sense was Dogen’s simple repetition of a phrase from the Lotus Sutra a new expression?

It was new because everything’s new.

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168. Five pieces of prajna

Master Dogen, in his instructions for meditation, said that when we practice zazen, we have to take ‘the backward step’.

That suggests that the world we ordinarily experience is constructed. But also, that what we are searching for is abundantly available to us, and always has been. It isn’t somewhere we’ve not been to yet, but somewhere we’ve forgotten. It is easy enough for us to say that the ways we demarcate the world is a construction, but harder to say – and to mean – for the self, or, as the Heart Sutra says, ‘the five skandas’.

To abandon one but not the other is useless, like collapsing all the props, yet leaving the actor on stage. Which is more essential to the delusion?

In his commentary on the Heart Sutra, Dogen said that the five skandas are five pieces of prajna. Pra-jna. Pre-knowing. So, what is differentiated in the stepping forward into self and world is ‘one piece’, which is broken when we step forward, unbroken when we fall back, breaking and unbreaking, like space.

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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.

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46. Prajñā

If we claim to know our experience, how can we avoid falling into dualism?

Prajñā, pre-knowing, is the state prior to knowing and naming. Zazen is the practice of Prajñā. We can also call it intimacy, because there is no separation.

We can also call it illumination; not because each thing is brighter, but because it is no longer smudged by the fog of the self.

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4. Wisdom isn’t Knowing

We often talk about Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, and Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, but we misunderstand Wisdom and Compassion.

We think that Wisdom is some state where we know and Compassion is another state where we feel. But what is rendered as Wisdom, Prajñā, isn’t knowing. It is a state before knowing where everything is intuitively whole.

If someone throws a ball at us unexpectedly and we catch it, we don’t catch it with our mind and we don’t catch it with our body. And Kanzeon is portrayed as having manifold hands and eyes. She sees and then she acts. She is never portrayed as having manifold hearts, bleeding or otherwise.