Dogen

Dogen drew a circle in the air with his whisk, held up the whisk, and said: If I hold this up, you call it buddhas appearing in the world. If I put it down, you call it the ancestral teacher coming from the west. If I draw a circle, you call it what is protected and cared for by the buddhas and ancestral teachers. When I do not hold it up, put it down, or draw a circle, how do you assess this? Even if you can assess it, you should laugh at both the view of the unconditioned and at the livelihood in the demon’s cave. Although it is like this, students of Eihei, there is another excellent place. Great assembly, do you want to see that excellent place?
Again Dogen held up his whisk, and after a pause said: Great assembly, do you understand? If you understand, the Dharma body of all buddhas enters my nature. If you do not understand, my nature in the same way joins together with the Tathagata. Great assembly, what is the meaning of “the Dharma body of all buddhas enters my nature”, and of “my nature in the same way joins together with the Tathagata”?
After a pause Dogen said: In the early morning eat gruel, at lunchtime rice. In the early evening do zazen, and at night sleep.’ (Extensive Record, 518)

I did not understand so well the function of the whisk and how it can manifest the teaching in the way that Dogen is talking about here, until I saw Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi offering lessons in how to use the whisk ahead of the Mountain Seat Ceremony at Zen Center in 2012. When I went looking for the pictures, I also found photos of him with ceremonial cymbals, inkins, a piece of paper, and a statue of Bodhidharma, all held and met with the same sense of complete presence and concentration. I think this is what Dogen was also doing.

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Sekkei Harada

‘When you think, your whole body from your head to your toes is thinking, and that is all. But we have the idea that there is some “mind” inside of us that is operating and creating thought. For that reason, we believe that “I” and the thoughts that arise in “me” are something separate. But it is not like that.’ (Unfathomable Depths)

Silvia Boorstein

‘To perfect my truthfulness I need to be able to tolerate seeing clearly all of who I am and all of what is happening. I need to not feel ashamed or afraid. If I pay attention calmly and steadily, my mind will be unbiased and its secrets will reveal themselves to me in an honest, gentle way. I will not be distressed. The pleasure I’ll experience by not hiding from myself will inspire me to create the intimacy of non-judgmental gentle honesty with everyone.’ (Pay Attention for Goodness’ Sake)

Michael Stone

‘When we are safe in our own bodies, we have a ground from which to step out into the world.’ (Awake in the World)

I always get a lot of reading done at Wilbur, and when I was packing for my recent trip, I chose to take the one book of Michael’s that I possess. Opening it at the bookmark where I had presumably stopped reading the last time I picked it up, perhaps six months ago, it was deeply poignant to find myself in the midst of his deep exploration of suicide.

Sharon Salzberg

‘Fear is the primary mechanism sustaining the concept of the “other”, and reinforcing the subsequent loneliness and distance in our lives. Ranging from numbness to terror, fear constricts our hearts and binds us to false and misleading ways of viewing life. The fallacy of separate existence cloaks itself in the beguiling forms of our identifications: “This is who I am,” or “This is all I can ever be.” We identify with a fragment of reality rather than with the whole.’  (Lovingkindness)

I might add that often we are very choosy about the fragment we identify with, and make an effort to push away other parts of our selves that don’t fit that narrative. I have many parts of my self that aren’t especially flattering, but I try to keep them with me rather than push them ‘out’ through shame. I also try to keep with me kind things that wise people have said about me, rather than choosing not to believe them because that would not fit my self-story. And also trying to stay with the slippery realisation that all of these are just fragments of an unknowable and ever-changing whole.

Mary Farkas

‘When in recent years I was asked if we were given “instruction” in Zen, my considered answer had to be “no.” To those of us who received Sokei-An’s teaching, the word “instruction” is a misnomer. His way of transmitting the Dharma was on a completely different level. One could say he “demonstrated” SILENCE, but that would still give no indication of how he “got it across”, or awakened it or transmitted it.’ (Appendix to The Zen Eye)

Once again, reading about Sokei An brings Sekito Kisen to mind, in this case the first line of the Sandokai: ‘The mind of the great sage of India is intimately transmitted from west to east.’ This ‘intimate’ is the secret.

Shohaku Okumura

‘When we see emptiness, we realize there’s no hindrance, no obstacles to block our life force, it is soft and flexible, like a plant that tries to go round a big rock and continues to grow. There is always some other way to live, to grow.’ (Commentary on the Heart Sutra)

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This little pine did not survive the fire of 2008, but before then, every time I visited the Wind Caves near Tassajara, I marveled at the way it grew; I could not help but add this picture to the quote.