Dogen

Mountains and rivers intimately transmit the power of mountains and rivers.
From the outset the self has not had much ability.
Who cannot grasp which of these sides returns?
After fully questioning once, question it again.

Robin Wall Kimmerer

‘”It’s our way,” (Lena) says, ” to take only what we need. I’ve always been told that you never take more than half.” Sometimes she doesn’t take any (sweetgrass) at all, but just comes here to check on the meadow, to see how the plants are doing. “Our teachings,” she says, “are very strong. They wouldn’t get handed on if they weren’t useful. The most important thing to remember is what my grandmother always said: ‘If we use a plant respectfully it will stay with us and flourish. If we ignore it, it will go away. If you don’t give it respect, it will leave us.'” The plants themselves have shown us this.’ (Braiding Sweetgrass)

‘If you go to Japan and visit Eiheiji monastery — before you enter the monastery you will see the small bridge called Hanshaku-kyo. “Hanshaku-kyo” means “Half-dipper Bridge.” Whenever Dogen Zenji used (dipped) water from the river, after he used half of it he returned the water to the river again without throwing it away. That is why we call that bridge Hanshaku-kyo — Half-dipper Bridge. In Eiheiji monastery when we wash our face we do not fill the basin. We just use 70% of the basin and after we wash it we do not throw the water away from the body. We empty the basin this way — toward the body. It means to respect the water. This kind of practice is not based on just economy. It may be pretty hard to understand why Dogen Zenji returned the water after he used half of it. This kind of practice is beyond our thinking. When we feel the beauty of the river, or water, we intuitively we do it in this way. That is our nature. But when our nature is covered by some economic idea you may think it doesn’t make any sense to return the water back to the river.’ (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)

Shohaku Okumura

‘I think Buddhist and Zen teachings too often put emphasis on no-self and universal-self and forget about the self that is not others. And the actual self that is in a community is one that is not others. How can we manifest “no-self” and “universal self” through the self that is not others? We need to realize that I am responsible for doing what I should do. No one else can practice for me. This is the most important point when we practice as a member of the community. Through studying Buddhist teachings, we study “no-self”; when we practice zazen, we study the “universal self” that is beyond separation of self and others. And within our day-to-day lives, we must study how this individual person that is not others can manifest the reality of “no-self” and “universal self”. This is the most important and difficult koan in our day-to-day practice.’ (from an article on Dogen’s Eihei Shingi)

Jan Willis

‘Nirvana is not a place! Rather, it is simply a view! Remember what the Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna said: “Between samsara and nirvana, there is not the slightest thread of difference.” The only difference is in one’s perception of it. Viewed with attachment, our world of experience is samsara; viewed without such attachment, it is nirvana.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

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‘Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings.’ (Genjo Koan)

I am sure there are other words from Dogen that illustrate the first point, but this was the one that came to mind.

Dogen

It seems that the mountain spring wind 
Has begun to blow - 
On the peaks and in the valleys, 
Myriad flowers are shining.

Trusting WordPress to have done its sums right, this marks the 2000th post of this blog. It seems appropriate to have Dogen mark the occasion with one of the waka poems from the book compiled by Shohaku Okumura a few years ago, which I was lucky enough to be able to buy when he visited Tassajara to speak about the poems when the book was released.

As I have said before, compiling this blog is good practice for me, encouraging me to read widely. It feels great to share meaningful pieces every day, and little snippets about my life sometimes, and I hope it is beneficial for you as well. Thanks for being a part of this creation over the past five and a half years. I think I will keep going…

Myriad flowers are shining across San Francisco at the moment, none prettier than the California poppy in profusion. Even though Twin Peaks has been re-opened to cars, and is not the haven it has been for the past year, it was quiet enough to take this picture the other day when I went up on my bike.

Dogen

‘What I previously saw of words and phrases is one, two, three, four, five. Today what I see of phrases is also six, seven, eight, nine, ten. My junior fellow-practitioners, completely see this in that, completely see that in this. Making such an effort you can totally grasp one-flavor Zen through words and phrases.’ (Tenzokyokun)

I have had this open for a few days as I contemplate using another passage in a teaching. I could explain exactly what he is talking about, but if you really want to know, I suggest you listen to one of my classes on the subject.

Shauzhou Zhangjing

Shauzhou Zhangjing said to the assembly, “If you take one step forward, you will be at odds with reality. If you take one step backward, you will lose touch with phenomena. If you remain immovable, you will be like an insentient being.”
A monk asked, “How can we not be like an insentient being?”
Shauzhou said, “Keep moving in your daily activities.”
The monk asked, “How can we not be at odds with reality and not lose touch with phenomena?”
Shauzhou said, “One step forward, one step backward.”
The monk bowed.
Shauzhou said, “In going beyond, one may understand it in this way. But I will not approve it.”
The monk said, “Master, please point directly for me.”
Shauzhou hit him and drove him out. (Shinji Shobogenzo)

The commentary points out, ‘A good sailor knows to trim the sails according to the wind.’ The wind is always moving, as Dogen reminds us in the Genjo Koan, so we should be as well. Keep moving in your daily activities. And don’t ask a second time.

Dogen

‘This mountain monk has not lectured for the sake of the assembly for a long time. Why is this? Every moment the Buddha hall, the monks’ hall, the valley streams, and the pine and bamboo endlessly speak on my behalf, fully for the sake of all people. Have you all heard it or not? If you say you heard it, what did you hear? If you say that you have not heard it, you do not keep the five precepts.’ (Extensive Record, discourse 49)

Perhaps he also wanted a nice hot bath and something good to eat…

Nan Shepherd

‘I began to discover the mountain in itself. Everything became good to me, its contours, its colours, its waters and rock, flowers and birds. This process has taken many years, and is not yet complete. Knowing another is endless. And I have discovered that man’s experience of them enlarges rock, flower and bird. The thing to be known grows with the knowing.’ (The Living Mountain)

When I read this passage, I cannot help but hear echoes of Dogen, with the proviso that while things grow with the knowing, the thing itself is beyond the knowing.

The Ventana Cone seen from the Tassajara Road one morning in 2015

Brad Warner

Nishijima Roshi used to say that every philosophy but one fell into either the category of materialism or the category of idealism. Buddhism, he said, was the only exception. This is why the Buddhist worldview is so hard to understand. Whenever we encounter a philosophy that denies the materialistic view, we tend to think of it as idealistic. It’s almost impossible not to do so.

In fact, in terms of how our thinking works it may actually be impossible to hold a worldview that is neither materialistic nor idealistic in our thoughts. Thought insists on seeing things one way or another. It can’t contain contradictory viewpoints. And yet reality itself is not limited to the categories our thoughts insist upon. 

This is why Nishijima Roshi called Buddhism a “philosophy of action.” It is a philosophy that you experience in real action in the present moment. This is why Dogen used deliberate contradictions as a way of pointing out the limitations of language and thought to ever fully explain reality.’ (from Hardcore Zen)

I don’t feel I need to get too philosophical about this, but I agree with the overall premise here, and I think that Dogen might boil it down to ‘reality itself is not limited.’