Dogen

‘One who has attained dharma is a true authentic buddha and should not been regarded as the same as before. When we see the person, someone who is new and extraordinary sees us. When we see the person, today sees today.

When arhats, pratyeka-buddhas, or bodhisattvas of the three stages and ten classes come to a nun who maintains the treasury of the true dharma eye, they should bow and ask about dharma, and she should receive their bow.

Why are men special? Emptiness is emptiness. Four great elements are four great elements. Five skandhas are five skandhas. Women are just like that. Both men and women attain the way. You should honor attainment of the way. Do not discriminate between men and women. This is the most wondrous principle of the buddha way.’ (Shobogenzo Raihai Tokuzui)

Stirring stuff from the 1240s that we have just been chewing over in the Dogen Study Group.

Jisho Warner

‘Our practice depends on our personal initiative and energy, and yet that is only part of it. We are oriented and taught by the world around us, by what we don’t yet know. The energies we call on for inquiry and action rise in us but don’t originate in us as our own independent entities…

Great energy is native to the four great elements of earth, air, fire, and water. It is equally native to our human selves, so often described by the five aspects of self (skandhas: form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness), which are of course made of the four elements. It is no different whether we think in terms of the four great elements or the hundred-plus elements of the periodic table. The basic elements interact energetically in all things, functioning with the power we call life, or ten-direction universe, or buddha, or dharma. Dogen says that all naturally practice; that is all fulfill their nature completely. And he says that the power of this fulfilled nature is the basis of our practice; it is the motive power, the engine.’ (Receiving the Marrow)

I took this book to Wilbur with me, and it informed and articulated what I felt as I walked and sat in the landscape. Look out for more posts from this chapter soon.

Keizan Jokin

‘Zazen is far beyond the form of sitting or lying down. Free from considerations of good and evil, zazen transcends distinctions between ordinary people and sages, it goes far beyond judgements of deluded or enlightened. Zazen includes no boundary between sentient beings and buddha. Therefore put aside all affairs, and let go of all associations. Do nothing at all. The six senses produce nothing.

What is this? Its name is unknown. It cannot be called “body”, it cannot be called “mind”. Trying to think of it, the thought vanishes. Trying to speak of it, words die. It is like a fool, an idiot. It is as high as a mountain, deep as the ocean. Without peak or depths, its brilliance is unthinkable, it shows itself silently. Between sky and earth, only this whole body is seen.

This one is without comparison – he has completely died. Eyes clear, he stands nowhere. Where is there any dust? What can obstruct such a one?’ (Zazen Yojinki)

Keizan is usually considered the co-founder of Soto Zen in Japan, alongside Dogen; this text has echoes of Dogen’s work and other, older foundational texts from China, which some of you may spot – but then Dogen himself did this in his writing.

Dogen

‘Risking our dewdroplike life in crossing the ocean of ten thousand li and crossing mountains and rivers of a foreign land, we seek the way. However, it is our lamentable fortune to see such a decline of dharma. How much of the pure dharma has perished before us? It is regrettable, truly regrettable.’ (Shobogenzo Semmen)

Is the beauty of this lyrical passage enhanced or diminished when you learn that it follows a paragraph where what Dogen is lamenting is that monks in China have bad breath because they do not use willow twigs?

The Treasure the Road study group has come to the end of that fascicle, and starting today, we will be looking at Receiving the Marrow By Bowing.

Dogen

‘The mind that has been authentically transmitted is: one mind is all things, all things are one mind. Thus, an ancient teacher said, “If you realize this mind, there is not an inch of land left on earth.” Know that when you realize this mind, the entire sky collapses and the whole earth explodes. Or, if you realize this mind, the earth raises its surface by three inches.’ (Shobogenzo Sokushin Zebutsu)

May Days

We do finally seem to have lumbered on to the left shoulder of summer, and none too soon, though the all-prevading nature of wind means it has not been as warm in the city as it might be – I had more of a taste of summer heat when I took the train down the peninsula on Saturday afternoon for a back garden birthday party.

After my sign-off tempting fate last Tuesday, I was a little worried to wake up with a slightly sore throat the next day. I had not slept especially well for the previous two nights, and had talked perhaps more than usual, not least at my student group. I welcomed three to my place for that, and a fourth was joining on Zoom from Singapore, which was amazing, as he sounded as clear as he ever does from Oakland.

A friend, who had had a bad case of COVID over the last couple of weeks, was planning to go and get a PCR test locally that day, so I went along. Thankfully I didn’t feel any worse as the day wore on, and the test came back negative, so I was able to volunteer as planned at Bike To Wherever Day with the Bicycle Coalition, and enjoy a few hours engaging with riders and fellow volunteers. As I wrote on Patreon recently, with Zen Center still closed for public events, I have more of a community with people on bikes these days – not least a couple of new riding regulars on the ferry.

It feels like it has taken a full two weeks to catch up from the two weeks away at Tassajara, and I made sure I kept a chunk of the weekend free, not least because it was the last day of the Premier League season, which I tried to watch as much as possible without spoilers. 

On Monday I had time and space to catch up with writing and preparing for a couple of teaching events this week, as well as going to sit as usual, where it really did feel warm, before diving into the continual nourishment of the Dogen study group. Maybe by Friday I will feel that I have caught up.

I saw this remarkable cloud as I was heading to the birthday party on Saturday.

Dogen

‘To behold all beings with the eye of compassion, and to speak kindly to them, is the meaning of tenderness. If one would understand tenderness, one must speak to others whilst thinking that one loves all living things as if they were one’s own children. By praising those who exhibit virtue, and feeling sorry for those who do not, our enemies become our friends and they who are our friends have their friendship strengthened: this is all through the power of tenderness. Whenever one speaks kindly to another his face brightens and his heart is warmed; if a kind word be spoken in his absence the impression will be a deep one: tenderness can have a revolutionary impact upon the mind of man.’ (Shushogi)

I know real world application of admonitions like this can feel flawed, but we can try our best.

Dogen

‘A person’s body and mind change according to situations 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 it 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 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.’ (Shobogenzo Semmen)

Today sees the launch of a new study group I will be participating in as part of Treasure the Road, along with Catherine and Zachary. We will start studying Dogen by opening this fascicle, all about washing the face (or not just all about washing the face, as the above passage suggests) at 4:30 west coast time.

Mountains and Waters Sutras

‘Even if you have an eye to see mountains as grass, trees, earth, rocks, or walls, do not be confused or swayed by it; this is not complete realization. Even if there is a moment when you view mountains as the seven treasures’ splendor, this is not returning to the source. Even if you understand mountains as the realm where all buddhas practice, this understanding is not something to be attached to. Even if you have the highest understanding of mountains as all buddhas’ wondrous characteristics, the truth is not only this. These are conditioned views. This is not the understanding of buddha ancestors, but merely looking through a bamboo pipe at a corner of the sky.’ (Shobogenzo Sansuikyo)

I read this passage to the retreat group as we silently ate lunch at the Horse Pasture on the first full day of the retreat. It was an amazingly beautiful day, the wildflowers were abundant, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. And, when we got to the Narrows, one of the group, who knew Tassajara very well, slipped and broke a wrist crossing the creek. Luckily another member of the group was a nurse, so we got them strapped up and ready to walk back to Tassajara. Then we came across a rattlesnake at the side of the trail. Only the nurse got past it. I backed everyone else quite a few yards along the trail, and told her to alert the stone office about the injury. The Tassajara protocols worked fine, as did, eventually, throwing small stones in the direction of the snake to encourage it to find somewhere quieter to sun itself. The trained responder sorted out the patient, who was then driven off to hospital in Monterey by the shika.

And that was only the smallest portion of my time there. When I arrived, through clouds on the ridge, I felt the deep relief of being back. Then, on the first morning, chilly after the previous day’s rain, I strained something in my back as I bent over to pull on my boots. Some things, especially sitting down, getting up from sitting, zazen, sleeping on a thin shikibuton, twisting slightly to the left, were painful for a few days, and in the case of sitting and zazen, uncomfortable throughout my stay. Other things – hiking, working with rocks, moving dirt, doing the compost in the shed, cleaning the bathhouse, and very gently yoga poses, were fine.

I didn’t, as I wished, get to give a talk in the zendo, or even be morning doshi, even as the intricacies of service reappeared in my mind, and the chants came back to my voice after all these years. I did offer a presentation on the Beginner’s Mind talk which was well received, and boosted by Steve Weintraub offering a moving personal testimonial on Suzuki Roshi’s way.

I did five hikes in a little over a week, the Horse Pasture and the Wind Caves twice each, first to check (both were in much better shape than I anticipated, thanks to the indefatigable trail crew), and the Overlook and creekside hike on the easy day, which still offered moments of beauty and silence.

I ate a lot of delicious food. I lingered in the baths and the creek. I met up with fellow practitioners from fifteen and twenty years ago that I did not expect to see, and others from summers and work periods past that it was lovely to see again. I tried to encourage some of the newly arrived students, and petted the dogs as often as I could.

I drove a stage one day, and declined to do a town trip, but otherwise did what was asked.

I felt totally at home, and yet did not feel that I needed to move back there any time soon. And this is just the merest glimpse of what it was like. I took notes for the first couple of days, but there were too many details and memories to try to capture it all.

I took a lot of photographs with my new camera, and was glad I had decided to buy it.

Lupins on the way in.
Overlooking the Narrows from the cut-off trail.
The Wind Caves.
It was very green and bright.

Issho Fujita

‘In many cases, zazen instruction consists of a series of “how to’s” – how to cross legs, how to place the hands, how to drop the line of sight, how to keep the back straight, how to pull in one’s chin, how to settle one’s tongue, how to breathe, how to control one’s mind, and so on. With these “how to’s,” practitioners make a lot of effort to control all the body parts, the breath, and the state of mind by faithfully following those instructions one by one. That kind of effort is usually understood as “regulating body, breath and mind.” In this approach to zazen the shallow layer of the mind, the “conscious I” (the ego-consciousness, which is the product of thought), is trying to unilaterally give orders and force the rest of the mind and body to devotedly obey. It is as if it is telling them, “Because our instructor said so, you should do what I tell you without complaints or questions! That is zazen!” 

This approach might work to some extent in the beginning, but eventually there will be many problems – “I can’t sit still because of so much pain in my legs!,” “I can’t do anything about idle thoughts. My mind is out of control,” “I am not good at zazen…” It is no wonder because “I,” which is only a product of thought, is trying to control everything else without getting any agreement, consent, or cooperation from the layer of the mind and body which is much deeper, wider, and wiser than “I.” It is quite natural that the practitioner will experience many kinds of resistance, rebellion, disagreement, and complaint one after another in the form of sleepiness, chaotic thoughts, uncomfortable sensations and so on. If one tries to win this battle by willpower, one is bound to fail. The practitioner will just end up hurting the body and mind by doing too many unnatural things. 

Zen master Dogen calls this type of action go-i (forcible action). It means to do something intentionally, by force, aiming at certain goal. He sets un-i against go-i. Un-i is spontaneous action that emerges naturally in response to the situation beyond judgment and discretion. There is a common misunderstanding that zazen is done as accumulation of go-i. But Dogen says that zazen should be done by “letting go of both your body and mind, forgetting them both, and throwing yourself into the house of Buddha, with all being done by Buddha” (Shobogenzo Shoji). This means that zazen should be practiced as un-i. I show a photo of an infant’s sitting when giving zazen instruction because I hope it will prevent practitioners from practicing zazen as go-i. There is a sentence in the Bible (Matthew 18-3): ”Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Borrowing this famous phrase, I would like to say, “Unless you turn and sit like children, you will never enter the gate of zazen.”’ (Polishing A Tile)

Other perspectives on zazen after the last couple of days.