This is the time when the brochure for next summer’s Tassajara guest season is being put together, so I am being asked for words to describe the retreats I am going to be helping with. For one of the retreats, we are planning on using the Mountains and Rivers Sutra as a study guide, as well as borrowing a phrase from it for the title of the retreat. Reading it through again today, I try to find a small paragraph to extract that might be less bamboozling than Dogen usually is for most people. When I am teaching Dogen, or talking about him, I have often encouraged people to treat his words like poetry, allowing them to sink in rather than expecting to understand it cognitively; these days I am also thinking that reading the Shobogenzo is like tackling a book of cryptic crosswords – once you grasp the way the clues are assembled, it becomes easier to approach the meaning.
That said, try this:
“At this time, human beings deeply know that what is in the ocean and the river is water, but do not know what dragons and fish see and use as water. Do not foolishly suppose that what we see as water is used as water by all other beings. You who study with buddhas should not be limited to human views when you see water. Go further and study water in the buddha way. Study how you view the water used by buddha ancestors. Study whether there is water or no water in the house of buddha ancestors.”