‘Hearing the term “buddha nature,” many students mistakenly regard it as the self explained by Shrenika, a teacher outside the way. They think this because they have not met a true person, the true self, a true teacher, They mistakenly regard the conscious mind, which is caused by the movement of air and fire, as the awareness and understanding of buddha nature. But who says that buddha nature has awareness or understanding? Even though those who are aware or understand are buddhas, buddha nature is neither awareness nor understanding.
Furthermore, the buddhas awareness, of which they speak, is not the same awareness they mistakenly regard as awareness. The movement of air and fire is not the cause of buddha’s awareness. It is just that the awareness is one or two buddha faces, ancestor faces.
A number of ancient masters and early sages went to India and returned to China to guide humans and devas. They have been as common as rice, flax, bamboo, and reeds from the time of the Han and Tang dynasties until the time of the present Song Dynasty. Many of them regard the movement of air and fire as the awareness of buddha nature.
What a pity! They make this kind of mistake because their study of the way is coarse.’ (Shobogenzo Bussho)
We were studying this passage in the Dogen study group this week. There was much talk of the elemental understanding of ‘air and fire’ at that time and in that culture (and I regrettably misquoted its appearance in the Gyojikihan, the Standard Observances). I was also thinking of the passage in the Mountains and Waters Sutra, which, equally regrettably, I do not seem to have posted here, where Dogen lists different ways you can consider a mountain, before concluding along the lines of “it is not just this.” This is how Dogen encourages continual investigation, and the ability to reside peacefully in the awareness that things are always beyond our conceptual boxes and our wish to put everything in a conceptual box. As he says elsewhere, it’s not that this is wrong, but it is not the only story.