Shohaku Okumura

‘I see the process of ordinary education as being like piling up blocks to make a building of knowledge. When that building is completed it becomes our prison. It’s difficult to get out. If one is a lawyer, a doctor, or any professional – in my case a Buddhist priest – we accumulate knowledge necessary to our field. A lawyer thinks in legal terms that are not understandable to common people. A doctor speaks in medical jargon; a Buddhist scholar writes using too many Buddhist technical terms. Becoming experts, we close our minds, and we think this is the perfection of our knowledge. We have difficulty opening an entrance or window to get fresh air. This happens not only for elite professionals but for everyone who acquires knowledge. Then when we hear strange things like “mountains are walking,” we just say “nonsense” because it is outside of our mental prison. This is only natural. Dogen says it happens according to baseness and crudeness. These are harsh words, but I think he is right.
When we hear the words “flowing water,” we naturally accept the idea without thought or questioning. This is also a problem for us. Dogen is saying that we need to be free from such ready-made, habitual views created by our karma.’ (The Mountains and Waters Sutra)

I think this is a really clear way through to Dogen’s way of thinking, his constant challenge to us to check our understanding of reality and not abide in established thinking. Of course I think of Suzuki Roshi, but also of the recent passage of Brad Warner’s that I posted: how can we explain Dogen to people without falling into the trap of expertise?

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