The Keystone of Zen
To realize your self is to forget your self. Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, Eihei Dogen (1200-1253)
Learning the Buddha’s truth (your truth) is to forget your self. Forgetting your self is what occurs when you truly achieve mustering your whole body-and-mind, which is zazen, the keystone of Zen. In his works, Dogen uses a number of terms and phrases to refer to this forgetting; besides ‘mustering your whole body-and-mind’ he uses ‘casting off body-and-mind’, ‘no-mind’, ‘nonthinking’, ‘the still-still state’, and a variety of similar terms.
This is why he said that in the experience of Buddhahood, there is no sense of being Buddha. When you forget the self, grasping and aversion no longer bind you to abstract notions and conceptualizations. Theories, concepts, and knowledge are then seen and utilized within their proper sphere and context, not as unbending metaphysical laws, but as rational and dynamic methodological principles for living in the real world.
From ~ The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing by Ted Biringer
Supreme Truth of Bodhi
Expressions of truth are actualized by the skillful and creative application of the subjective energy and volition of the practitioner. Obviously, such skill could hardly be cultivated and developed by turning away or detaching from the world. As a Buddhist master, Dogen understood and taught that authentic practice-enlightenment demanded practitioners to engage in a sustained effort to perceive and comprehend real experience by engaging in the systematic training of observing, cultivating, and exercising their own perceptual capacities. Authentic expressions of truth, being real dharmas, are and must be eternal forms (i.e. real instances of existence-time). As it is the nature of human experience to ceaselessly advance, continuously casting off the “objects” of sense-experience without a moment’s rest, expressions of truth, which manifest or exemplify reality, can only be executed underway, so to speak.
The situation of this supreme truth of bodhi is such that even the whole universe in ten directions is just a small part of the supreme truth of bodhi: it may be that the truth of bodhi abounds beyond the universe. We ourselves are tools that it possesses within this universe in ten directions. How do we know that it exists? We know it is so because the body and the mind both appear in the universe, yet neither is ourself. The body, already, is not “I.” Its life moves on through days and months, and we cannot stop it even for an instant. Where have the red faces [of our youth] gone? When we look for them, they have vanished without a trace. When we reflect carefully, there are many things in the past that we will never meet again. The sincere mind, too, does not stop, but goes and comes moment by moment. Although the state of sincerity does exist, it is not something that lingers in the vicinity of the personal self. Even so, there is something that, in the limitlessness, establishes the [bodhi-]mind. Once this mind is established, abandoning our former playthings we hope to hear what we have not heard before and we seek to experience what we have not experienced before: this is not solely of our own doing. Remember, it happens like this because we are “people who are it.”
Shobogenzo, Inmo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
Goalless, objectless, and other pseudo-Zen escape methods
The successful accomplishment of any task is inherently dependent on the accuracy of its first principles, its fundamental presuppositions – to set a course for a particular destination requires first an accurate fix of our present position. Mainstream Science’s discoveries of dark matter, dark energy, quantum uncertainty, entanglement at a distance, and many other scientific marvels would seem to have much in common with Christopher Columbus’s discovery of “India” – it’s not that the discovered something is “not there,” but rather that this something is “seen as what it is not.”
An irresolute conviction in the truth of a fallacy, for example that America is India, or that sub-atomic particles exist independent of subjectivity, is an impenetrable obstruction to truth. And in ascribing what is false to the true we may even find that the quality of “Indians” or “objective particles” defies our capacities of explanation. This mysteriousness – which only amounts to an inadequate presupposition on our part – may appear so baffling as to lead us to conclude in the ultimate ineffability of reality itself. This is the position of popular pseudo-Zen groups and individuals that foster withdrawal and detachment by advocating “goalless” or “objectless” meditation practices they call “just sitting” and “nothing special” – the true nature of reality is ineffable, they assure themselves and their students, you cannot perceive reality as it truly is – thus there is no reason to try, there is no wisdom that can be attained, let go, accept it all, etc.
The vulgarity of this simplistic positivism in Zen clothing is most clearly apparent in the manner wherein its advocates dismiss the struggles of humankind while demonstrating their unawareness of the fact that they can only assert such distorted (if sanctimonious) claims by standing upon the shoulders of the very achievements realized by the efforts of those struggles. Fortunately our prehistoric ancestors were not “enlightened” practitioners of “just sitting with no goals.” Had they been, none of us would ever have been able to enjoy the achievements of Hakuin, Dogen, Mark Twain, or Mozart – not to mention drinking tea and wearing clothes – even if we would have been spared enduring the difficulty of being born.
Expressing Zen and Expressions of Zen…
As I have often noted in the present work and elsewhere, the single most original and seminal aspect of Dogen’s Zen is his treatment of the role of language in Zen soteriology.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.59
If Dogen critics and scholars are in agreement on one thing it is that Dogen was an unusually gifted master of language. That the astonishingly profound mastery of language demonstrated by Dogen was the single greatest characteristic distinguishing his writings from other Buddhist works, was first adequately emphasized in 1975 by Hee-Jin Kim in his groundbreaking book, Dogen Kigen: Mystical Realist (later revised and reissued under the title, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist). Acknowledged and reiterated by many scholars since, Hee-Jin Kim has remained at the forefront among those insisting on the penultimate significance of this element concerning Dogen’s position in Zen and Buddhist studies.
Undoubtedly, Dogen’s genius for creative expression is the chief reason for the intensity of attention given to his works by contemporary thinkers and students, not only from the realm of Buddhism, but from all spheres of genuine human culture. In our view, this far-reaching appeal is only a hint of the vast beneficial potential Dogen’s work has to offer human civilization. The reason his expressions evoke such intense interest and resonate so far beyond the realm of Buddhism has to do with the fact that his unusual language skills are not a characteristic of Dogen’s unique style of teaching Zen, but a characteristic of the unique style of Zen Dogen teaches. The uncommon mastery of expression demonstrated by the profound clarity and comprehensiveness of the vision presented by his writings is not a product of Dogen’s inherent talent for language, but an actualization of the potential inherent to the vision of Zen Dogen achieved.
This is not to say that Dogen was not innately endowed with a remarkable gift for language; there is no doubt about that. According to historical accounts, Dogen was reading Chinese poetry at the age of three, at the age of eight, following his mother’s death, Dogen read the voluminous Abhidharma (a corpus of Buddhist literature constituted of various technical accounts, philosophical clarifications, and detailed treatises), and by his early twenties had read the entire tripitaka (Buddhist cannon) twice – perhaps even had memorized it! If any of these accounts are even partially true Dogen was a rare bird indeed; and even if none are true, his actual writings, including many from his mid-to-late twenties, testify to a capacity that exceeds any standard warranting the term “gifted.” Thus, nobody would argue the merits of Dogen’s innate capacity for language. Our point here is that true greatness of the vision Dogen presents is not the quality with which he expresses Zen, but with the quality of expression which the Zen of Dogen presents.
The true quality of expression (or language) presented by Dogen’s Zen has, for a variety of reasons, been largely neglected, overlooked, and obscured. One of the major obstacles (perhaps the major obstacle) hindering an accurate appreciation for the quality of expression in Dogen’s works is its direct contradiction with the widespread notion of Zen’s aloof, disinterested, or even disparaging view of language. Where popular notions view Zen as grudgingly tolerant of verbal teachings for novices, but regarding “words and letters” as merely instrumental, not reality in themselves but only “pointing to” or “signifying” reality, Dogen’s Zen sees words and letters as sentient beings, persons as vital and alive as any other being. As Hee-Jin Kim writes:
Words and letters, however socially constructed, are never mere signs in the abstract, theoretical sense, but alive and active “in flesh and blood.” Contrary to the conventional view that language is no more than a means of communication, it is profoundly internal to an individual’s life as well as to the collective life. Language flows individually and collectively through the existential bloodstream, so much so that it is the breath, blood and soul of human existence. Herein lies the essence of Dogen’s radical phenomenalism. Thus knowledge becomes ascesis, instead of gnosis or logos — “seeing things as they are” now means “making things as they are.” In this light the indexical analogy of “the finger pointing to the moon” is highly misleading, if not altogether wrong, because it draws on a salvifically inefficacious conception of language.
Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.64
Ah yes – here is the distinction between, ”the letter that killeth and the letter that giveth life,” the former is already-dead – the latter is ever-already.
The horror, the horror…