‘One day, Zen master Baizhang Niepan spoke to the congregation, saying, “If all of you go and till the field, then I’ll lecture on the great meaning.”
When the monks had finished plowing the field they returned and asked the master to expound on the great meaning.
Niepan held up his hands before the monks.’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)
You have to bow to the erudition.
‘Our freedom to love arises from discovering that we can live without the concept of self and other. The joy of this discovery is incomparably greater than many of us have previously known, or even imagined – so much that our entire view of life changes.’ (Lovingkindness)
Mind is Thus and objects are also Thus:
There is no true and also no false.
Existence doesn’t concern me,
Nor does nonexistence hold me:
I’m not a holy sage,
But an ordinary fellow who understands things.
‘As soon as there’s something considered important, it becomes a nest.’
This line might not strike so deeply, but it reminded me of an exchange at Tassajara, during one of the practice periods I was there with Reb, Tenshin Roshi. As usual, after he gave a talk, people were allowed to ask questions, and one of his ordained students started to say something – I don’t remember the content. I do remember Tenshin Roshi’s response, which I would characterise as insistent: ‘You’re nesting.’
I more or less grasped what he meant by that – that the priest was holding firm to a view when it would be wiser to hold it loosely or let it go. Since then I have heard other stories about Suzuki Roshi responding very differently to similar situations depending on whether he thought the student was being inquisitive or merely stubborn.
Maybe Tenshin Roshi repeated the phrase a few times; it had the effect of stopping the priest in their tracks. A few people raised their voices to express the opinion that Tenshin Roshi had been cruel to the priest, but I didn’t see it that way. It felt clear to me that he knew the priest well enough to use that tactic, and that he wouldn’t have been as firm with me, or one of the other junior students. I also seem to remember that the priest later acknowledged the wisdom of Tenshin Roshi’s response. Sometimes giving, sometimes taking life…
‘Renunciation does not necessarily mean simply running away from something. It means that we will go into the depths of any such reality to find freedom within it. That is very important here. The desire to free ourselves and others must be balanced with the sense of complete trust in our ability to achieve liberation. We do not see samsara as something that consists solely of unfavorable situations; we also see the possibilities for freeing ourselves from suffering right on the spot. We see that freedom, liberation, and enlightenment are possible within this very moment. Once we recognize this, samsara is no longer seen as something to escape. Freedom is not seen as something that exists outside samsara. Therefore, there is nowhere to run. For example, if you are in Manhattan and you run to a Himalayan cave, you will carry Manhattan with you. It may be even worse for you because the case is much smaller than Manhattan. In the cave, you will probably appreciate and long for all the good qualities of Manhattan: there are nice subways and it is easy to get around.’ Wild Awakening)
‘The truth that is as it is has been continuous since antiquity without ever having varied so much as a hairsbreadth.’ (Swampland Flowers)
Which is why we don’t need to look anywhere else than ‘as it is’. What is it that stops us doing that? The thinking mind, and falling into desires; these are the things we need to pay attention to and let go of, for all our habitual attachment to them.
‘Yunmen asked,”The unchanging person has come. Will the master receive him or not?”
Caoshan said, “On Mount Cao there’s no spare time for that.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)
I am tempted to add: I wonder what they were all so busy doing?
‘Guard and maintain your towel in this way. Fold it in two and hang it over your left elbow. Dry the face with one half of it and the hands with the other half. Don’t wipe the nose means not to wipe inside the nose or wipe off the snivel. You should not wipe the armpits, back, stomach, navel, thighs, or legs with the hand towel.’(Shobogenzo Semmen)
This might seem a little more practical and prosaic than yesterday’s words – and indeed it is worth remembering that Dogen was probably having to instruct young monks who might never have learned the kind of etiquette that Dogen himself would have been brought up with – but then there is also the visual poetry of imagining lines of monks following the forms carefully as an expression of practice. Who is to say that one of these is more profound than the other?
‘A person’s body and mind change according to situation and time. A billion worlds can be sat through within a single sitting. Even so, at that very moment the body and mind cannot be measured by self or other. It is the power of buddha dharma. The scale of the body and mind is not five or six feet, because the five or six feet is not unchangeable.
Where the body is neither bounded nor boundless, it is not limited to this world or that world, to the entire world or the immeasurable entire world. As in an old saying, “What is here? Describe it roughly or in detail.”
The scale of mind cannot be known by thinking and discernment, either. It cannot be known by beyond thinking and beyond discernment. The scale of the body and mind is like this; so is the scale of cleansing. To take up this scale of cleansing, practicing and realizing it, is what buddhas and ancestors have cared for.
Do not make your scheming self a priority. Do not make your calculating self real. By washing and cleansing, you thoroughly take up the scale of body and mind and purify them. Even the four great elements and five skandhas, and what is indestructible [in the body and mind], can be purified by cleansing.
Do not merely think that rinsing with water makes things clean. How can water originally be pure or impure? Even if water is originally pure or impure, we do not say that water makes the places it reaches pure or impure. Only when you maintain the practice and realization of buddha ancestors, the buddha dharma of washing with water and cleansing with water, is water transmitted. By practicing and realizing in this way, you leap over purity, penetrate purity, and drop away beyond purity and beyond impurity. In this way, the teaching of washing what is not yet defiled and washing what is greatly pure is maintained in the way of buddha ancestors alone. It is not known by those outside the way.’ (Shobogenzo Semmen)
Only Dogen could take what is ostensibly a practice instruction on washing the face and turn it into poetry like this. More tomorrow.
Although I try to hold the single thought
of Buddha’s teaching in my heart,
I cannot help but hear
the many crickets’ voices calling as well.