‘We know that Master Dogen did not lie down to rest for three years, yet he tells us not to stand out or go to extremes. How can he say this? He can say this because he made the great effort of not lying down to sleep. Because of his own great effort he was able to instruct us, to tell us, “You needn’t experience the same hardships that I have. I’ve realized that it’s all about now. So the most important thing is to realize that everything is already the way it should be. It isn’t good to look for something special.”
But we should be very careful. Just because Master Dogen said this doesn’t mean that we needn’t do anything. A delicious piece of cake will not simply fall in to our lap by just thinking about it. Cake is not going to fall out of the sky, no matter how long we wait for it to. We won’t fill our stomachs that way. Only after having made great effort is someone able to say, “The practice of the Three Vehicles is totally unnecessary.” (Unfathomable Depths)
So is Sekkei Harada telling us that if we want to have cake, we don’t need to bake it from scratch, but that, since cake shops exist, it is okay to go and buy a ready-made cake when we want it?
Seriously, though, there is a strong point here that seems hard to grasp at the beginning of practice. I did not go anything like as far as Dogen, or the other stories we read of diligent students poking themselves in the leg with an awl to stay awake; yet I know that my experience of doing a number of practice periods at Tassajara would seem pretty extreme to most people. And I know that it is not essential to do this. It just does seem to take a radical shaking of our conventional world-view, however it comes about, to have us awake to the crucial point expressed above: ‘the most important thing is to realize that everything is already the way it should be.’