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Lecture 7: Dogen Zenji's Genjo-koan
Rev. Shohaku Okumura
Director, Soto Zen Education Center
(Text: section 8)
Life-and-death and 'Self'
Genjo-koan is the first chapter of the 75-volume version of Dogen Zenji's Shobogenzo. This is one of Dogen's most popular written works. But to understand this short article is very difficult. Dogen Zenji does not explain himself, he simply expresses the buddha dharma using a very poetic and precise language that was the outcome of his profound insight and experience. In Japan, we study the Shobogenzo along with its commentaries. But, often, the commentaries made by Soto Zen masters are just as difficult as Dogen's writings. In order to understand Dogen we need to read the text and the commentaries many times and reflect on our own experience of zazen and day-to-day practice. So today, I will present my own understanding based on my own study and practice. Don't believe my words, but please learn through your own study and practice. This is the way the buddha dharma has been transmitted generation to generation.
From section 4 to 7 of Genjo-koan, Dogen Zenji discusses delusion and enlightenment, and buddhas and living beings based on the relationship between the self and all myriad things. In the end of section 7, Dogen Zenji says, "When we conceive our body and mind in a confused way and grasp all things with discriminating mind, we mistakenly think that the self nature of our own mind is permanent. When we intimately practice and return right here, it is clear that all things have no [fixed] self."
In section 8, Dogen Zenji discusses life and death, or arising and perishing as the reality of our life that is impermanent and egoless (no-fixed self). In order to discuss arising and perishing, we need to think of change of "things" within "time". We usually think we are born, live and die within the stream of time flowing from the past to the future through the present. But Dogen says it is not the only way to see the "time".
Life-and-death is an English translation of Japanese expression shoji. The Japanese word sho as a verb means "to live (ikiru)", and also "to be born (umareru)". This expression can be translated into English as birth-and-death. Shoji is the process of our life in which we are born, live and die.
As a Buddhist term, shoji (life or birth and death) is used as equivalent of two Sanskrit words. One is jatimarana that means the process of birth and death. This is also used as an abbreviation of "birth, aging, sickness and death" that is; the four kinds of suffering or duhkha.
In Buddhist philosophy, there are two kinds of life (birth) and death. One is life and death of an ordinary living being who is transmigrating within the six realms in the three worlds (the worlds of desire, form and formlessness) and being pulled by karma. This life-and-death is called bundans-hoji, separating life-and-death). Another is the birth (life)-and-death of bodhisattvas who practice within the three worlds to save all beings, although they are free from transmigrating based on three poisonous minds. They continue this practice life after life toward accomplishment of buddhahood all the way through the fifty two steps of bodhisattva practice. This kind of life-and-death based on the bodhisattva vow is called henyaku-shoji, transforming life-and-death).
There are also two other kinds of life and death. One is called ichigo-shoji, life-and-death as one period) that is the life span between birth and death as we usually understand it. Another is called setsuna-shoji, moment by moment life-and-death). Setsuna (Skt. Ksana) means the slightest moment, much shorter than a second. Our body and mind are born (arising) and dying (perishing) moment by moment. Dogen discusses this in Shobogenzo Hotsu-bodaishin (Arising Awakening Mind).
The second Sanskrit word as the origin of the expression life-and-death is samsara. Life-and-death is another name of samsara in which living beings transmigrate within the six realms (hell, the realms of the hungry ghosts, animals, the asuras. human beings, and heavenly beings). It is important to remember that life-and-death in common Buddhist usage is samsara, that is the opposite of nirvana. When Dogen Zenji says in Shobogenzo Shoji (Life-and-Death), "Life-and-death is Buddha's Life," he means our life in samsara is nothing other than Buddha's Life, that is, nirvana. Unless we understand this point, we cannot really appreciate the power of Dogen's words.
Life-and-death has two meanings: one is the process of being born, living and dying; another is transmigration within the six realms of samsara. And often these two are used alternatively because the usual process of an ordinary being's life is birth, living and dying, and is a part of transmigration in samsara. But here in Genjo-koan, Dogen Zenji uses this expression as the process of being born, living and dying in the case of living beings, or arising, staying for a while, and perishing in the case of things other than living beings before separation between samsara and nirvana.
We were born at a certain time in the past. In my case, I was born on June 22nd, 1948, fifty-two years ago. When I was born my body was tiny. Since then, my body and also my mind have been constantly changing. The baby became a boy. The boy became a teenager. The teenager became a young adult. The young adult became a middle-aged person as I am now. If I am lucky, the middle-aged person is going to become an old person. And eventually the old person is going to die and disappear.
Between our birth and death, we are constantly changing, experiencing various conditions. But somehow, we commonly think that fifty years ago, the baby was Shohaku and fifty years later this middle aged person is the same Shohaku. Thirty years ago, I was a newly ordained young monk with lots of energy and problems. Now, thirty years later, I don't have so much energy and I have totally different kinds of problems. My way of thinking was very different when I was twenty. I never thought I would live in the United States and speak English. My way of thinking has been strongly influenced by American ways of thinking since I came to this country. And yet we usually understand that I am the same person I was when I was a baby, as I was when I was a teenager, and when I was in my twenties, and then thirties, forties and fifties. This is our common understanding. We almost always believe it to be so. But, is it really true?Buddha's teaching of no-self
If, it is true, then we have to agree with a theory that there is something that does not change within ourselves. And this unchanging entity stays intact right through the very process of changing. This one thing, which is not a baby, a teenager, a young man, a middle-aged man, or an aged man, changes it's appearance through the flowing of time. It is like one person who changes clothes one outfit after another depending upon the occasion. My body and mind, which are constantly changing, are like various pieces of clothing that I put on and take off. This one entity which does not change goes through the process of changing only in appearance. This is an idea Indian people believed at the time of the Buddha. This one thing called atman transmigrates through many different conditions being pulled by good and bad karma. The atman (soul) is pure but it is imprisoned in the body that is source of delusive desires.
The definition of atman (ego or fixed-self) in Buddhist philosophy according to the Abidharma-kosa, written by the famous Indian Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu, is that the atman is something which is permanent, only one, the owner of this body and mind (five aggregates) and the operator of the body and mind. The Atman is like the owner and driver of a car and the body and mind; as the five aggregates that are always changing, are like a car. The owner owns the car and drives the car as far as the car runs. When the car becomes old and not possible to fix anymore, then the owner gives up that car and buys a new one. The Atman (soul or ego) is like an owner of this body and mind. When this body and mind dies, the owner leaves the body and mind and it will be born with the new body and mind. This is the basic idea of how the atman (soul, ego) transmigrates and is born again and again life after life. And according to the Indian belief, depending upon our good and bad deeds, the atman transmigrates from a hell to a heaven within the six realms.
If we do good actions and accumulate good karma, we will be born with a good body and mind in a good circumstance. When we do bad actions and accumulate bad karma, we will be born with an inferior body and mind in a difficult environment. This is the theory of karma that was widely believed in Indian society at the time of the Buddha.
When the Buddha taught anatman, that is, no-atman (no soul, no-ego, no self). He was against this basic idea of atman that is a permanent entity transmigrating in samsara. Buddha taught that there are only five aggregates (form or material, sensation, perception, impulse and consciousness) which are not substantial. In the case of human beings the five aggregates refer to body and mind. Buddha taught that only the five aggregates exist and nothing else. And the Heart Sutra says that those five aggregates are in their self-nature empty.
Then what is transmigrating? This is a very natural question. The Buddha negated the theory of atman but did not negate the belief of transmigration because that was the basis of social morality in India. The Buddha put emphasis on cause and result. If we do bad things we have to receive a painful effect. If we do good things we will receive a pleasurable effect. This is the principle of causality. If so, if there is no atman, who does the action and who receives the result? Buddha said that the self has to receive the result of one's own karmic actions. What is this self, if it is not atman? This is a question often asked regarding the Buddha's teachings. And many Buddhist philosophers in various schools tried to logically explain this problem. And yet, as far as I know, there is no perfect answer so far. Without offering any perfect explanation, both the theory of no self (anatman) and the belief of transmigration within six realms are maintained within almost all Buddhist traditions.
Dogen and no-selfIn the case of Dogen, in the Bendowa (Talk on the Wholehearted practice of the Way) and a few other chapters of Shobogenzo such as Sokusinzebutsu (Mind is itself Buddha), and Bussho (Buddha-nature), he clearly negates the atman. In Bendowa, question 10, Dogen said:
This fallacy says that there is a spiritual intelligence in one's body which discriminates love and hatred or right and wrong as soon as it encounters phenomena, and has the capacity to distinguish all such things as pain and itching or suffering and pleasure. Furthermore, when this body perishes, the spirit nature escapes and is born elsewhere. Therefore, although it seems to expire here, since [the spirit-nature] is born somewhere, it is said to be permanent, never perishing. Such is this fallacious doctrine.
However, to learn this theory and suppose it is buddha-dharma is more stupid than grasping a tile or a pebble and thinking it is a golden treasure. Nothing can compare to the shamefulness of this idiocy. National Teacher Echu of Tang China strictly admonished [against this mistake]. So, now isn't it ridiculous to consider that the erroneous view of mind as permanent and material form as impermanent is the same as the wondrous dharma of the buddhas, and to think that you become free from life and death when actually you are arousing the fundamental cause of life and death? This indeed is most pitiful. Just realize that this is a mistaken view. You should give no ear to it." (The Wholehearted Way, P.32-33, Okumura and Leighton, Tuttle, 1997)
Some people think mind to be permanent and body to be impermanent. In this case, mind was considered to be atman; that is, pure and permanent. And the body was considered to be the source of delusive desire and impermanent. In this case, mind was called shinsho (mind nature) and body was called shinso (bodily form). And this mind-nature was often used as a synonym of buddha-nature. This is the reason Dogen negates the idea of kensho (seeing the nature).
On the other hand, in Shobogenzo Sanjigo (Karma in the Three Times), or Jinshin-inga (Deeply Believing in Cause and Result), Dogen puts emphasis on faith in the principle of cause and result beyond this present lifetime. Also in Shobogenzo Doshin (Way Mind) Dogen encourages people to deeply take refuge in the Three Treasures; Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. And gives advice that one should ceaselessly chant "I take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha" during the period of chuu (antara-bhava) between death in this life and the next birth, that is usually considered to be 49 days. He said, we should chant "I take refuge in the Buddha," life after life until we reach buddhahood. I am pretty sure Dogen himself believes in the bodhisattvas' henyaku-shoji, (transforming life and death) that is, as the Buddha did, bodhisattvas practice life after life because of their vows to save all beings and accomplish the buddhahood.
For me, these two sides seem to contradict each other. At least, I don't understand that if there is no atman (permanent self) beside this impermanent body and mind, what is chanting, "I take refuge in Buddha." after the death of this body and mind? Anyway, if this is a contradiction, Buddhism itself has had this contradiction from the very beginning until today. Many Buddhist philosophers have tried to clarify this point and no one has been completely successful.
I am not going to try to create a new theory to explain this contradiction. I don't believe in rebirth and yet, I don't negate it. There is no basis to believe or negate it. What I can say for sure is, "I don't know." The important thing for me is to practice in this lifetime as the Buddha instructed in the Dammapada, "To refrain from anything bad and practice everything good. Purify your mind. This is the teaching of the seven Buddhas." If there is rebirth, it is all right, I will try to practice in the same manner. If there is no-rebirth, I don't need to do anything after my death. So I don't need to think about it in that case. Even if I don't believe rebirth as a person, I don't negate the principle of cause and result. What I am doing now will have result even after my death. My practice is a result of my teacher's practice.
This is how I answered the question about rebirth until recently. But after I became fifty, I found that I have a wish to live the next life, simply because this lifetime seems too short to practice the buddha way. For example, I have been working on the translation of Zen Buddhist texts from Japanese to English, and there is too much work for me to do in this lifetime. Also my life seems too short a span to fully understand the true meaning of Buddha's, Dogen's and other teachers' words. I need much more time to translate all the texts I want to introduce. I wish to be reborn as a Buddhist again and continue to work on it. I think this is because I am aging and have found my limitations. Probably the belief in the Bodhisattva's henyaku-shoji (transforming life-and-death); ceaseless practice life after life because of their vows was originated in this awakening to the limitations of our personal lives.
Life-and-death and "Time"
Well, I have discussed about atman and anatman too long. I need to talk about "time" and life-and-death. Dogen's philosophy of the unity of "time" and "being" is very famous among philosophers not only in Japan but also in the West. It sometimes compared with the thought of modern Western philosopher, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Since I don't know much about Western philosophy, I cannot tell whether Dogen and Heidegger thought the same thing or not. Anyway, this section of Genjo-koan is one of the sources of Dogen's idea of identity of "time" and "being". Later, he wrote Shobogenzo Uji (Being Time) and clearly said, "Time is just being, and all beings are time." "All beings in the whole Universe are stretching in a row and at the same time, it is my being-time. Because being and time are one, it is 'me(self)-being-time'."
Here Dogen compares life and death to firewood and ash. We commonly think that a seed sprouts and grows gradually and after long period of time, becomes a big tree. When we need firewood, we cut the tree, split it into small pieces, pile them and dry them to make them into firewood. And when we burn the firewood, the firewood becomes ash. This is the same as we think our own life and death. I was a baby, I grow up for about twenty years, I then stop growing and live as a grown-up for certain period of time, then I start to get older and older and finally die. Finally, I will be burned and become ash.
We think there is a stream of time, like a river that is flowing from the beginningless past to the endless future. When I was born I appear in the stream and when I die I disappear from the stream. But the stream continues to flow before my birth and after my death. This is our thought about time, history and our own lives. And as a thought, it might be not wrong. But this is not exactly how we live and die.
According to Dogen, 'time' is 'being' and 'being' is 'time'. As a tree, a tree has it own time. As firewood, firewood has it own time. As ash, ash has also it own time. Each being is at its own dharma-position (hoi), and at each dharma-position, each being has its own past and future. When a tree is at the dharma-position of a tree, it has it own past as a seed and its own future as firewood. When firewood is at the dharma-position of firewood, it has its own past as a tree and its own future as ash. When ash stays as its dharma-position as ash, it has its own past as a tree and its own future as something else. If ash is scattered on the mountain it will be part of the mountain and help other beings to grow.
And the dharma-positions of a tree, of firewood, and of ash are independent of each other. When we use the analogy of tree, firewood, ash, or each stage of our own life and death, each position seems to have length of time. But, as a reality, the present moment does not have any length. If there is length, no matter how short it is, we can cut it into half and one half is already in the past and another half is still in the future. When I say "now", when I pronounce "n", "ow" is still in the future. When I pronounce "w", "no" is already in the past. The present moment has no length. It is zero. When we think of a certain period of 'time' including the present moment, all which exists is only past and present. The present moment is just a "line" without any width as its definition in geometry. Isn't it strange? The present moment is the only reality, the past is already gone and the future has not yet come. Still there is nothing that can be grasped as the present moment. The present moment does not exist. So, time does not really exist. Still, at the present moment which is zero and does not exist, the entire past and the entire future are reflected. And this present moment (zero) is the only real reality. And at each moment, everything continuously arises and perishes. Each moment everything is new and fresh.
A seed stays at the dharma-position of a seed and it has it own past and future. Since a seed has life, it has a power to negate it's own position when it has appropriate conditions such as moisture, temperature, sun light and so on. It sprouts and becomes something that is not a seed. When a seed fully functions as a seed according to its own life force, it negates itself and becomes something else. That is the reality and function of a seed. A seed is not stuck in a stage of being a seed. A baby is the same. When a baby fully lives as a baby, within it's life force, it has a power that negates babyhood and becomes a boy or a girl. That is the function of the lifeforce of a baby. Everything has this life force which negates itself and changes into something else, this is what "everything is empty in it self-nature" means. A baby is a baby because a baby negates its babyhood. The Buddha is Buddha because the Buddha is not Buddha.
A baby Shohaku negated itself and became a boy Shohaku, and the boy Shohaku negated itself and became the teenage Shohaku. The teenage Shohaku negated itself and became the grown-up Shohaku. There is continuation but the baby Shohaku was not a boy Shohaku and the boy Shohaku was not the teenage Shohaku. Is there something which does not change within this constant change? According to the Buddha's teachings there is nothing. All existences are just correction of five aggregates of each time. There is a continuation, therefore the baby Shohaku did not become a bird, a dog or other human beings beside Shohaku. But there is no Shohaku as a fixed self. Isn't this strange? Yes it is strange. This reality is very difficult for us to grasp. This is why, we call the reality 'wondrous dharma' (myoho ) as in the title of the Lotus Sutra ( the Sutra of Wondrous Dharma Like a Lotus Flower).
This means that even though we are a continuation from our babyhood as we have karma (influences from the previous experiences) from the past, our life is always new and fresh. There was a Japanese Soto Zen priest whose name was Rev. Doyu Ozawa. When he was a young soldier in the World War Two, he lost both of his legs. After the War, because he had no legs, he had to go through many difficulties. After all the struggling, he made up his mind to believe that he was born just now, without legs. That was how he could accept the reality of his life at this moment, and could live positively without his legs. And after that, he was always smiling. After Uchiyama Roshi retired from Antaiji in 1975 and lived in Ogaki, he met Rev. Ozawa and encouraged him to write about his experiences. Rev. Ozawa's book became one of the bestsellers of the year.
We all have the past as karma, memory, habit, and experiences, but the past has already gone. We all have the future as our hopes, wishes, vows, and ambitions, or goals, but the future has not yet come. This present moment is the only reality. How can we live fully at this moment? If we are firmly caught up in the past experiences, we are afraid to change. If we put too much emphasis on the future, this moment becomes merely a step to the future. When we live in such a way, if we die before reaching our goal, our life becomes meaningless.
Dogen's teaching of time allows us to live fully right now, and right here, in this given condition and change this condition as a practice of this moment. This is what he meant when he says that "there is before and after, but the before and after are cut off." As he wrote in the first three sentences of Genjo-koan, "there is both life and death, enlightenment and delusion, buddhas and living beings" and at the same time there is no such thing. And again, he discusses how we should practice with life and death, living beings and buddhas, delusion and enlightenment.
In Shobogenzo Shoji, Dogen says exactly the same thing; "It is a mistake to think that life turns into death. Life is a position at one time with its own before and after. Consequently, in the buddha dharma, it is said that life is itself no-arising. Death is a position at one time with its own before and after. Consequently, it is said that death is itself no-perishing. In life there is nothing other than life. In death, there is nothing other than death. Therefore, when life comes, just live. And when death comes, just die. Neither avoid them nor desire them."
Is this difficult to do? Yes, it is. We want to chase after something like such as life, enlightenment, buddha and escape from something we don't like such as death, delusion or living beings. Our main mortive in our lives is greed and hatred, like and dislike. Sometimes we are successful and feel like a heavenly being sometimes we fail and feel as miserable as a hell dweller. This is samsara in our present life-time.
In Shobogenzo Zenki (Total Dynamic Function), Dogen says, "Life in the present moment lies in this functioning mechanism, and this functioning mechanism lies in life in the present moment. Life is not coming; life is not leaving; life is not appearing; and life is not becoming. Rather, life is a manifestation of total dynamic function, and death is manifestation of total dynamic function. You should know that among the countless dharmas within the self, there is life and there is death."
In 1975, Uchiyama Roshi retired from Antaiji when he was sixty-three years old. He retired while he was so young because he was physically a very weak person. He said that after retirement, his practice was facing his own life-and-death. When he was around seventy, he published a collection of several poems on life-and-death. The following are his poems where I think Uchiyama Roshi expresses the reality and practice of life-and-death within no-life-and-death.
Dogen Zenji's Genjo-koan Lecture (8)
Rev. Shohaku Okumur
Director, Soto Zen Education Center
Realization and the moon
In this section Dogen Zenji discusses the experience of a person who has attained realization. Here, "realization" is the translation of a Japanese word "satori." Dogen does not use the Chinese characters here but rather he wrote this in hiragana (one of two systems of the Japanese phonetic alphabet, the other being katakana).
All things are like "the moon reflecting in water". The image of "the moon reflecting in water" has been used as an analogy for emptiness throughout the history of Buddhism. It occurs in scriptures dating all the way back to India. Here is an example that comes from the Vimalakirti Sutra. Speaking to Upali, one of the Buddha's disciples, the lay person Vimalakirti says;
"The moon in water" is used as an analogy of the emptiness of all beings. All beings have no fixed self-nature, therefore they are ungraspable, and transitory. All beings neither arise nor perish.
Our body is like "the moon in water"
In this saying, the moon in water is used as an analogy of the emptiness of our own body, which is neither being nor non-being. In Mahayana Buddhism and the Chinese Zen tradition, all dharmas (things) and the self (our body) are both like "the moon in water." It is clear that Dogen Zenji uses this analogy from the same source in the same context; as an analogy of prajna and emptiness.
"The moon in water" is buddha's dharma body.
Anyway, Dogen Zenji quotes several expressions that include "the moon in water" from Buddhist sutras and sayings of the Chinese ancestors.
In the very beginning of the chapter, he quotes from the Konkomyokyo (Sutra of Golden Radiance).
Dogen's comment on this saying is as follows;
The common meaning of the Chinese word nyo is "be like", "such as," "as if," or "to be equal to." The Chinese sentence means "It is like the moon in water." This is a very accurate translation. But Dogen reads this nyo as the nyo in shinnyo. Shinnyo is a Chinese translation of a Sanskrit word "tathata" that is translated into English as "thus-ness", "such-ness," "as-it-is-ness," or simply "true reality".
Also, the Chinese word chu that is translated in the sentence as "within" can also mean "middle" as in the "middle way." And this "middle" is important in Nagarjuna's philosophy and also in the Tendai teachings that Dogen studied while he was in the Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei in Japan before he started to study Zen.
In his Madhyamaka-karika, Nagarjuna discussed the Two Truths as the basis of his philosophy. The absolute truth and the conventional (relative) truth. Nagarjuna-said;
"Relational origination" is another translation of "interdependent origination" that is the reality of our life. Sunyata (emptiness) is beyond any wording, conceptualization, or categorization and is the absolute truth. "A provisional name" is what we use to grasp things using words, concepts and categories and is the conventional truth. Seeing the reality from both sides without clinging to either side is the middle path.
Tendai Chigi (Tiantai Zhiyi, 538-597), the great master of the Chinese Tendai School, used the same principles to make up the "Three Truths". This is one of the essential teachings in the Tendai School. The "Three Truths" refers to the Truth of Emptiness, the Truth of the Expedient and the Truth of the Middle. Those three truths are again based on Buddha's teachings of interdependent origination.
The Truth of Emptiness refers to the way of seeing the reality of interdependent origination as no-substance or egoless-ness (anatman). The Truth of the Expedient refers to the way of seeing the reality of inter-dependent origination as follows; each and everything exists as an expedient and temporal collection of infinite different causes and conditions. Nothing exists without a relationship to something else. So when other things change, the one thing has to change. The point here is there are things that are a collection of causes and conditions and that exist as temporal and expedient beings such as Shohaku. This is the Truth of the Expedient.
Shohaku has no substance; he is just a collection of body parts that are always changing depending on the conditions inside and outside. Shohaku's mind is also simply a collection of the results of his experiences since his birth. Also, in addition to his body and mind, there is no Shohaku who owns and operates his body and mind. But Shohaku is here as an empty collection of body and mind. He is Japanese, a Buddhist, and a priest. He is talking about the Buddhist teachings as part of his responsibilities as a Buddhist priest. He is here but he does not really exist as fixed entity; neither his body nor his mind is Shohaku. He is talking about, Dogen, but those are things he has studied from many Buddhist texts in the past. What he is talking about is just a collection of the results of what he did in the past, that is, simply his karma. His knowledge and his words are a gift from the society in which he grew up and was educated in. This is the truth of the Middle.
The Truth of Middle means to see the reality of each and every being from both sides; the emptiness (there is not) of everything and the existence as a temporal being (there is). I think the first two truths are the equal to the first two sentences in Genjo-koan. And chu is what Dogen said in the third sentence of Genjo-koan. In other words we need to live, practice and do things using our transitory body and mind based on the first two truths. This transcends both "abundance (expedient being)" and "deficiency (emptiness)". In this part of the Shobogenzo "Tsuki (The Moon)" he is saying that "the moon in water" is not just simply the symbol of emptiness of all beings or of our own body, or merely the reflection of the buddha's dharma body, but it is the reality as chu (middle).
I think what Dogen wants to show us in this writing is that our practice of the buddha way is based on the two truths but it transcends the two truths in the living reality of our life.
Dogen is not a philosopher but a Zen master. He is not giving us a lecture on the basic philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism. He is showing the actual reality of our life explained with the theory of Mahayana Buddhism. Dogen would laugh at me if he heard me talk in this way just as the Zen master Dogo (Daowu) laughed at a lecture by Kassan (Jiashan). But still, I believe it is important for us modern people who are so highly trained to think using our intellect to understand what Dogen is saying on a philosophical basis in order to be free from our intellectual understanding. When we find chu, in Dogen's writings, it important to have an association of the meaning of the chu in Mahayana philosophy and not cling to it as a logical or philosophical concept. We need to accept those teachings as the reality of our own lives right "within (chu)" our own ordinary day-to-day lives.
The Buddha's dharma-body has no form like empty-space. But the formless dharma-body manifests itself within the phenomenal world as each and every phenomenal thing, just as the moon reflects in the water. In this verse from Konkomyokyo, the moon in water is a manifestation of the formless dharma-body of the buddha. Formless thus-ness should be expressed as concrete this-ness, that is, as our day-to-day activities using our own body and mind.
The moon is the self
In his comment on this poem, Dogen says:
I think this part of Shobogenzo "Tsuki (The Moon)" is an explanation of what Dogen says in section 9 of Genjo-koan. In the case of this poem, the moon is the self and it illuminates all phenomenal beings. But I think the topic is the same: the inter-connected-ness and the total function of the self and the myriad things.
The mind in "one mind is all dharmas" is not our psychological mind. My teacher Kosho Uchiyama Roshi called this mind "the reality of our life." As the reality of our life, we are connected with all beings. Or, the reality of our life is before the separation of self (subject) and others (objects). We separate our self from others by discriminative thinking, when we "open the hand of thought"(or release our discriminating views), we are right in the network of interdependent origination. We are connected with everything. Uchiyama Roshi called this oneness of self and all things "original self" or "universal self." Our zazen practice manifests this reality before separation between self and all beings. In "Tsuki" Dogen Zenji calls the same reality "moon." The moonlight swallows all things, all things disappear and become part (or the contents) of the self. There are no objects to illuminate. The entire universe becomes the moonlight. The entire body of the self is the entire moon. All things are the entire moon. We are born, live and die within the moon. Our ordinary daily activities become the moon. This is what Dogen Zenji means when he says, "when a person attains realization."
The rabbit in the moon
The modern Japanese translation of this collection was one of my favorite books when I was a child. A Japanese Soto Zen Monk and poet Ryokan (1758- 1838) also loved the story and wrote a poem about the rabbit in the moon. I would like to introduce the story with Ryokan's poem. This poem is written in beautiful Japanese.
It is clear that Dogen does not refer to this story in Genjo-koan, but when I read Dogen's writing about the moonlight, I naturally think of this story. It is important to me. The moonlight is not just something simply vast and boundless but also, for me, it is the symbol of the bodhisattva vow to save all beings as an expression of Buddha's compassion.
I was ordained when I was twenty-two years old while a student at Komazawa University. Since then, I have been practicing zazen and as a result I have not developed any skills to have a regular job. I have been pretty poor. But I think the quality of my life has also been very rich with wonderful teachers and my many dharma friends. I am very grateful to live such a life. But, it's true I don't have much money or possessions. Often I felt I was like the rabbit and had nothing to offer except my body and mind. One of the most important teachings of Kodo Sawaki Roshi was "Gaining is delusion; losing is enlightenment." A problem for me was that I did not have anything to lose. Particularly when I lived on takuhatsu (begging), I felt I only received offerings from many people without offering anything back to them. I felt guilty about it. So, the story of the rabbit has a very significant meaning for me. I did not burn my body, but I tried to practice zazen as my offering of body and mind to the buddhas and all beings. But still sometimes, I felt that I used my zazen practice as an excuse not to help others who were in need. Our vow, practice and psychological conditions are so fragile. Without being illuminated by the moonlight of the Buddha's vow and compassion, I think I could not continue to practice.
When Dogen Zenji says that the vast moonlight reflects on a tiny drop of water, I felt that even though I have to practice using this tiny, weak, impermanent body and, deluded self-centered mind, the Buddha's boundless compassion is reflected in my practice if I can let go of my ego-centered thought.
In this section, the drop of water is the self and the moon is the ten-thousand dharmas. We need to keep in mind that the self is a knot in the network of interdependent origination of the myriad things. Without a relationship with the myriad things, there is no self. Actually the relationship itself is the self. As Zen Master Banzan Hoshaku said, the self swallows the myriad things and the myriad things swallow the self. What is this thing swallowed by both the self and myriad things? The moon is reflected each and every drop of water no matter how small it is.
Dogen wrote a waka poem entitled "Impermanence";
A waterfowl dives into the water and comes out of a pond and shakes its bill. Tiny drops of water scatter in the air and return to the surface of the pond. On each and every drop of the water that exists for only less than a second, the moon is reflected. Our life is like the moonlight on a drop of dew. We are so tiny, weak and transitory, like a dewdrop. But the vast, boundless and eternal moonlight reflects on each and every drop of dew. This is really a beautiful expression of a life that is the intersection of impermanence and eternity, individuality and universality. I think within this short poem, the essential point of Mahayana Buddhist teachings is vividly expressed.
To awaken to the tininess and shortness of our lives, and discover the vastness and eternity of the moonlight (of Buddha's wisdom and compassion) reflecting on our lives is Dogen's message in section (4), "Conveying oneself toward all things to carryout practice/verification is delusion and all things coming and carrying out practice/verification through the self is realization." In our practice, the reality awakens to the reality and the reality actualizes the reality. We are not the subjects of a practice that is trying to attain some desirable thing called "enlightenment".
Even though the vast moonlight is reflected, we are still tiny drops of dew as individual persons. The vastness of the moon does not destroy the dewdrop. And the small size of our lives does not prevent the moonlight from reflecting. When Dogen talks about satori (realization, verification, awakening), this is not a concrete one time psychological experience. It is rather an awakening to the very ordinary reality that we are tiny, impermanent and self-centered and the network of interdependent origination in which we are living is vast, boundless and beyond discrimination.
Although we are so tiny, impermanent, and ego-centered as individual persons, our life is immeasurably deep and boundless. The depth of our life is the same as the height of the moon. As our practice, we need to investigate how high and vast the moon is and how deep and subtle the reality of our life is. We need to go higher and higher, deeper and deeper endlessly trying to understand and express the height and depth within our activities.
Two sides of the buddha dharma
Then from section 4 to section 7, he discusses (1)delusion and realization, and (2)buddhas and living beings. In section 8, he speaks about (3)life and death. The first and the second sentence are apparently contradicted each other. But as I explained in my commentary in that section, these are two sides of Buddhist teachings. And the theme of the entire Genjo-koan is how to live and practice based on the clear insight of both sides.
Practice based on the two sides
But still, he says, the moon has infinite height and water has infinite depth and we need to investigate how high it is and how deep our life can be. This process of inquiry is the process of our practice.
Seeing the ocean as one circle
In this section, he discusses that, after we clearly see that all things have no [fixed] self, we should inquire how we should live as an original person based on such an insight. Here he uses an analogy that we are sailing on a boat in the midst of ocean where we don't see the coast anymore. We only see a circle of horizon.
Dogen's voyage to China
In Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Dogen talked to his own students about Myozen's resolution to go to China. Myozen's original teacher was a Tendai monk named Myoyu. When Myoyu was in his deathbed he asked Myozen to postpone the trip to China for a while in order to take care of him and conduct his funeral service. After having a meeting with his dharma brothers and disciples to discuss this matter, Myozen said,
These days, to go to China from Japan takes only a few hours by airplane. Since there are many flights by different airline companies everyday, it is not a big deal to postpone a trip for a while. But, in the 13th century, to sail to China was very dangerous. Many people who sailed to China did not come back to Japan. Also, if they missed a chance they could not know when the next chance to take a voyage would be. The next trip to China by Japanese Buddhist monks after Dogen and Myozen in the history, was in 1233. That was 10 years after their departure. Actually Myozen died at Tientong monastery in China when he was 42 years old and Dogen returned to Japan with his ashes. Myozen's resolution was not simply an exaggeration.
With two other attendant monks, Dogen and Myozen left Kenninji in Kyoto in February 1223 to Hakata, Kyushu probably by a boat and then they changed boats to sail to China.
On the Inland Sea between Osaka and Kyushu, they could always see the coast of Honshu, Shikoku or many other smaller islands. But after they departed from Hakata in the end of March, they saw nothing but the circle of the horizon until they arrived in the port of Ninbo, in April. About the voyage, Dogen said in the Zuimonki, "On my way to China, I suffered from diarrhea on the ship, yet when a storm came up and people on the ship made a great fuss, I forgot about the sickness and it went away."
This voyage must have been a very impressive and important experience for Dogen. I think the process of this voyage and the process of his search for the true dharma and a true teacher were overlapped in Dogen's mind.
Is seeing one-circle enlightenment?
After we sail out to the vast ocean, we only see the ocean, its horizon like a circle and the vast sky. We see the oneness (or not-two-ness) of all things. It is a surprising experience to us. But is it enlightenment? Or is it the goal of our practice? Dogen says, " No!"
He says, if you feel such a condition is enlightenment, then, the Dharma has not yet fully penetrated into body and mind. He continues and says, "when dharma has fully penetrated the self, we see that something is still lacking." This means that when the dharma fills us, we will see the incompleteness of our practice and the various characteristics of all beings, and we will understand that we need in inquire endlessly about these characteristics and how we can sincerely practice with them as bodhisattvas. The moon has infinite height and our life as an individual self also has infinite depth. But what we see with our eyesight is limited. No matter how deep, high or broad we try to see, our sight is limited. To see this limit is wisdom.
As a finite human being, we cannot see the entire reality as it is. We are born, live and die within the reality. We can only see the reality from inside. We need to take a position in the reality. That means we cannot see the parts of reality hidden by our own existence. Our eyesight is smaller than 180 degrees. When we see forward, we cannot see backward. When we turn our head to see backward, we cannot see in front of us. We can not see our back. Our eyes cannot see themselves.
But somehow, we have an ability to remember things we saw in the past and to integrate them with what we are seeing right now and create a picture as if we are seeing 360 degrees or the total reality. What we need to understand is that this way of seeing is simply a picture of the world we create in our mind, that is, a mind-construction.
Even the circle of the horizon on the ocean is a mind construction. Therefore it is still a limited view of a conditioned self. Seeing that not only our discriminating views but also our view of oneness or beyond discrimination is a mind-construction, is the beginning of seeing the reality. Seeing how deluded we are is the wisdom to see the actual reality of our life.
Kodo Sawaki Roshi said, "Everyone reads the sections of the newspaper in a different order. One person reads the stock market page first, another turns first to the sports page, a serial novel, or the political columns. We are all different because we see things through our own individual discriminating consciousness. Grasping things with human thought, we each behave differently. We can't know the actual world, the world common to everyone, until we stop discriminating."
The view without discriminating is sometimes expressed as one round circle like the horizon in the ocean. But once we take it as a kind of concept or description, we are already out of the reality. "To stop discriminating" occurs only in letting go of thought in our actual sitting practice of zazen.
Sawaki Roshi also said, "People often say, ‘in my opinion… ' Anyhow, ‘my opinion' is no good –so keep your mouth shut!"
Keeping our mouth shut, does not mean we stop thinking. But rather we should try to see the actual reality more and more clearly, deeply and from a broader perspective. And in our actual lives, we also should see that we are also moving and changing so that the things around us seem different not only because they are changing but also because we are changing. Things that used to be attractive in my twenties are not at all attractive to me in my fifties.
A Palace for fish is water for human beings
Dogen Zenji writes about the difference of viewing water depending upon the karmic conditions of each being in Shobogenzo Sansuikyo (Mountains and Waters Sutra) as follows.
Thus the views of different beings are diverse depending upon their karmic conditions. We should question this for now. Should we think that each being views one and same object in different ways? Or do all kind of beings make a mistake when we see that various different forms we see as one and same objects? We should inquire further on the top of our efforts of inquiry. Therefore, our practice/realization as engaging the Way should not be only one way or two ways. The ultimate realm has onethousand or ten thousand of ways.
The important point in Dogen Zenji's comment on this analogy is that he questions even the fixed existence (self-nature) of the water that is seen by those four different beings. The common interpretation of this analogy is that there is one reality of water and four different kinds of views. Dogen says that it is not certain if there is water as a fixed object objectively outside of the relationship between each being and something tentatively called water. This is what Dogen meant when he said, "Therefore, flowers fall down even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them." We feel sad when we see a flower that we love is fading. We dislike weeds growing only if the weeds are growing in our garden where we have to pull them up. We don't care how many weeds grow on a mountain or a grassy plain where we don't need to weed. We rather enjoy the scenery.
What is the difference between Dogen and Yogacara philosophy? Yogacara teachers say that only consciousness exists and nothing else exists outside of our consciousness. What Dogen says is that our self and the world are working together within a relationship of inter-dependent- origination. The world and everything in the world appears within this relationship between our self and all myriad dharmas. For him the important point is how we act, or practice within our relationship with the myriad dharmas. His concern is not whether the self, or the myriad dharmas exist or not. He questions all the possible ways of thinking and de-constructs whatever concepts we have and cling to, regarding the myriad dharmas and us.
In Shobogenzo Ikka-no-myoju (One Bright Pearl). Dogen Zenji introduces a story of a Chinese Zen master, Gensha Shibi (Xuansha Shibei, 835-908). One day Gensha, while he was still a student, was leaving his teacher's monastery to visit other masters. Shortly after he left the temple, he stubbed his toe on a stone. As it bled with terrible pain, he suddenly had a deep insight and said, " This body is not existent. Where does this pain come from?"
When we study Mahayana Buddhism we learn that our body is just a collection of five skandhas and that it is empty and does not really exist. Still, when we injure even a tiny part of it like our toe, we have terrible pain. If the body is empty, where does the pain come from? This is not a "question" for Gensha, but a realization of reality. To see the emptiness of all beings, or the five skandhas as our body and mind, is exactly the same as seeing the ocean as just the one circle. No individual, independent, fixed entity is there. Still we have pain and the pain is so real, fresh and immediate that we need to take care of it somehow. Each pain comes from emptiness but each pain has its own causes and conditions. We need to figure out what is the cause of each particular pain and how to take care of it. Just seeing the emptiness or oneness of all beings does not work. Even though it's true that seeing the ocean as one circle is to see that the entire ten-direction world is one bright pearl (as Gensha said after he became a Zen master.) But within the one bright pearl, there are many different kinds of pain that people suffer. Each pain has different cause and needs a different cure. We need to study each pain one by one.
As Dogen Zenji experienced on his voyage to China, within one circle of the ocean, he did not have only beautiful, peaceful days, he also had stormy days. Dogen suffered from diarrhea on the ship, yet when a storm came up and people on the ship made a great fuss, he forgot about the sickness and it went away. When we have a larger and more serious problem, we sometimes forget our smaller problems and somehow they go away. Each of us may have had this kind of experience. But such a thing does not always occur. In our actual lives, we experience many different kinds of situations and depending upon our karmic conditions we interpret each experience and condition in many different ways. Most often we make a story in which we are the main subjects.
It is right here in the middle of our story where we need to keep our eyes open and try to examine the myriad beings, and ourselves very closely in order to study the reality of interdependent origination. We should try to see reality with fresh eyes; without grasping our fixed ideas or a system of values that we have created from our previous experiences.
We only see or grasp as far as the power of our eye of study and practice can see. I have been practicing zazen and studying Dogen Zenji's teachings more than thirty years, from the time I was nineteen years old, through my twenties, thirties, forties, and now, my fifties. In each stage of my life, the power of my eye of study and practice has been changing so that the scope I can see and grasp has been changing. On one hand, I feel the longer I practice and study, the more I can see myself and things around me deeply. On the other hand, I feel that I am losing the energy to change myself, and the situations I am involved in. I don't think it is appropriate to say I am improving and growing or I am losing energy and backsliding. Both are true and both are not true. Though I did not have deep understanding when I was 19, I think I was much more sincere in my practice. When I was young, I was young. When I am in my fifties, I am just in my fifties. I am getting older and older, and my condition inside and outside my self will always be ceaselessly changing. At any stage, I will try to be honest and keep practicing and studying endlessly. There is no time I graduate from this practice. On the day, my teacher Uchiyama Roshi died, he wrote a poem on his diary and said that it finally fully expressed what he wanted to say. He kept studying, practicing, and trying to express his dharma in even a little bit better than the day before, until the day he died when he was 86 years old.
The one-circle as the Logo of Zen
In Shobogenzo Bussho (Buddha-Nature) Dogen wrote about his experience at a Chinese Zen Monastery. On a wall of a walkway, he found the painting of a one-circle. He asked what did the circle mean? The guiding monk said that it was a painting of Nagarjuna manifesting the form of a round moon. Later on, Dogen discussed about the story of Nagarjuna in the same chapter. I think the story of Nagarjuna was the origin of the one-circle. When Nagarjuna sat in zazen, his physical form disappeared and people only saw the form of a round-moon. Dogen criticized the painting on the walkway and said, if they wanted to paint Nagarjuna's form of a round-moon, they should just paint Nagarjuna's sitting as we usually do. Dogen was a very unique Zen Master and probably did not care about being a "Zen Master" anyway.Dogen Zenji’s Genjo-koan Lecture (10)
Rev. Shohaku Okumura
Fish and Bird in Zazen
In Shobogenzo Zazen-shin (The Acupuncture Needle of Zazen) written in 1242 (9 years after Genjo-koan), Dogen discusses Wanshi Shogaku’s verse entitled "Zazen-shin." Wanshi Shogaku (Hongzhi Zhengjue, 1091-1157) was a famous Chinese Soto (Tsaodong) Zen Master. He was the abbot of Tiantong monastery for almost thirty years from 1129 to his death in 1157. It is said that during his abbacy, the temple buildings were completed and accommodated twelve hundred monks. Tiantong was also the monastery where Dogen practiced several decades later with his teacher Nyojo (Rujing). Wanshi was well known for his excellent poetry and composed verses on 100 koans. Later Bansho Gyoshu (Wansong Xingxiu, 1166-1246) wrote commentaries on his verses and created the Shoyoroku (Book of Serenity) which is still studied by Zen students today. Dogen respected Wanshi and called him Wanshi Kobutsu (Ancient Buddha) and quoted many of Wanshi’s verses and formal discourses in his own discourses recorded in the Eihei-koroku (The Extensive Record of Eihei Dogen). This verse on the Zazen-shin by Wanshi is obviously the source of Dogen’s analogy of the fish and birds found in Genjo-koan. My translation of Wanshi’s verse is as follows.
Even though Dogen does not use the word "zazen" at all in Genjo-koan, it is clear to me that this analogy is about our zazen practice not excluding our day-to-day activities and the entire universe as our environment. He discusses the nature of our zazen practice and how it forms the foundation of our attitude toward our entire lives. The water or the sky does not simply refer to an environment that is outside of ourselves.
What is the water
According to Dogen, the water Wanshi is talking about is not simply the water in the ocean, or a river that forms the environment in which a fish is swimming. It is not the water in the "external" world separate from us. The water has no boundaries such as a bank or a shore.When a fish goes through this water, we cannot say that there is no movement. Although [the fish] migrates more than ten thousand miles, [their movement] cannot be measured and is unlimited. There is no bank from which to survey it, there is no air to which [the fish] might break the surface, and there is no bottom to which it might sink. Therefore, there is no one who can measure it. If we want to discuss its measurements, [we say] only that the water is thoroughly clear to the bottom. The virtue of zazen is like the fish swimming. [Although, in our sitting, we progress] a thousand or ten thousand miles, who can estimate it? The process of going that thoroughly penetrates to the bottom is that the whole body is ‘not flying the way of the birds’.
According to Dogen, the water in Wanshi’s verse is boundless water without the limitations of a shore or a bank by which we can objectively measure how vast or how small it is. This is, of course, the water of emptiness. No separation between the fish, and the water, the earth or the air. This is another description of what Dogen has said earlier in Genjo-koan; "Conveying oneself toward all things to carry out practice/enlightenment is delusion. All things coming and carrying out practice/enlightenment through the self is realization." Dogens emphasis here is not on the objective facts, but on the reality that is manifested when we practice with the attitude of "all things carry out practice through the self."
In the Bendowa (Wholehearted Practice of the Way) Dogen also said, "Even if only one person sits for a short time, because this zazen is one with all existence and completely permeates all time, it performs everlasting buddha guidance within the inexhaustible dharma world in the past, present, and future." It is obvious that the key is our practice of zazen.
What is the Sky?
Again, this sky is not the space outside us. The sky and the bird are one without separation. We are com-pletely part of the sky. The sky is inside us too.
When a bird flies through this sky, flying in the sky is the undivided dharma. Its activity of flying in the sky cannot be measured. Flying in the sky is the entire uni-verse, because the entire universe is flying in the sky. Although we do not know the distance of this flying, in expressing it with words beyond distinction, we say "far, far away." "Go straightforwardly, there should be no string under the feet." When the sky is flying away, the birds also are flying away; and when the birds are flying away, the sky also is flying away. In studying and pene-trating the "flying away", we say "Simply being here." This is the acupuncture needle for the immovable sitting. In travelling ten thousands miles by "simply being here," we express it (zazen) in this way.
When a bird is flying, the sky is also flying. The bird is a part of the sky and the sky is the part of the bird. The entire sky is the wings of the bird. This is not true only in zazen. When a fish is swim-ming, the whole water is swimming. When a bird is flying, the entire sky is flying. When we live, the entire universe is living with us. Fish and water, bird and sky, all living beings and the universe are completely one. When we sit in zazen and let go of our discriminative thoughts, we are completely one with the universe. When we stand up from our cushion, however, and go out of the zendo we again start to think, make distinctions, evaluations, and judgements. As Dogen says, sometimes we think the shore is moving, sometimes we think we are moving, sometimes we think both are moving, sometimes we think all things in the world are totally separate individual entities. Based on such thinking, naturally we make choices and take action. But our unity with all beings remains because whatever we think about, thinking is just thinking. Thinking cannot change reality.
For example, until the time of Galileo Galilei (1564- 1642), people in Europe thought that the earth was not moving, but rather the sun, the moon and the stars were moving around the earth. In reality, regardless of both common people’s and Galileo’s ideas, the earth had been moving around the sun since its birth 4.6 billion years ago. Our thought cannot change the reality.
In reality we are all tiny parts of the universe. Each one of us is a collection of causes and conditions. We are products of the co-evolution of Life and the Earth. I am made of things that are not "me". The foods I eat are not "me". The air I breathe is not "me". The water I drink is not "me". But without, foods, air and water that are not "me", "I" don’t exist. Not only water, air and foods, our life itself is a gift from the universe.
As Human beings, we are born in human society and because we are born in a very immature stage, we cannot live without support from others for a long time. We cannot even stand up until we are over a year old. We need to be fed without working for a long time, at least until we become teenagers. In order to become really independent members of our society, we have to study for about 20 years or more. Until then we are basically supported and taken care of by our society.
Even the language we use to think is gift from our society. We are taught how to think and behave through the process of education. Because I was born and grew up in Japan, I think using the Japanese language and act mostly according to my Japanese system of values. The Japanese language is the result of a culture created by all the Japanese people who have lived in the land of Japan.
Our self and all beings in the entire universe, past, present and future are all connected. This is not a mysterious truth, which can only be seen in a certain mental condition such as a trance or by using some special spiritual intuition. This is a very simple, plain reality we can understand using our reason. Still, we are almost always losing sight of this plain reality due to the separation and discrimination created by our thinking using words and concepts.
In the end of Shobogenzo Zazen-shin, Dogen writes his own poem with the same title as Wanshi’s.
Does Dogen’s understanding in his verse exactly match Wanshi’s? This is an important point in understanding Dogen’s teaching on zazen. But that is not the point of Genjo-koan. So I won’t discuss it now. Dogen Zenji says that there are no independent entities separate from the water or the sky called a fish or a bird, but still there is something like a fish or a bird, which is swimming or flying. This is his expression of the reality of our lives that function together with all beings in the world in the past, present and future.
This total reality in which each and every thing exists within the network of all beings is what Dogen wants to show us. However we must not forget that within this reality, we are living as an individual person. For example Shohaku is not a fixed entity but still Shohaku is living like Shohaku. And Shohaku needs to take responsibility for what Shohaku does. This integrity of totality and individuality is the way we actually live. Dogen Zenji’s teaching in Genjo-koan shows how we can recognize real-ity and live according to it.
Range of life
During the time I was living at Valley Zendo from 1976 to 1981, my range was very small. The Zendo’s property was about 5 acres but most of the land was covered with trees. We cut the trees and dug out the stumps in about one-acre and built the zendo and made a garden. That one-acre of land was the entire range of my life for five years. I did not go out of the zendo very much. I did not get out of Western Massachusetts so often. Since I had neither a TV nor a radio and I did not read newspapers, I knew almost nothing about what was going on in the world. The range of my life was really very tiny. I just practiced zazen with two other Japanese priests and a few American practitioners. I knew nothing about the world and almost no one knew me.
In comparison, since I began to work for the Soto Zen Education Center in 1997, I have traveled extensively from California to New England and from Alaska to Florida. I have met and practiced with so many people. I am on an airplane almost every month. Although I still don’t have a TV or a radio, I do get the news of the world through the Internet. I also give many lectures. My range looks much bigger than while I was at Valley Zendo. But in either case, what I have been doing is just sitting facing the wall with my body and mind and talking about my understanding of zazen. That’s all. In whatever condition, I am simply living my own life that is connected with all things in the universe.
No matter how large our range may be, we cannot reach the end of the universe. And yet, no matter how small our range may be, we are living being connected with the entire universe. Our body and mind are much larger than we usually think. And our life has a much more intimate connection with all things than we can imagine. We share the same DNA structure with all living beings on the earth.
In Shobogenzo Shinjin-gakudo (Studying the Way with Body and Mind), Dogen Zenji says about the mind, "Mountains, rivers, the great earth, sun, moon and stars are the mind." And he says about the body, "The entire ten-direction world is the true human body. Using this body, we refrain from the ten unwholesome deeds, keep the eight precepts, take refuge in the Three Treasures and leave home to become a monk. This is the true study of the Way."
It is certain that the source of Dogen’s image of fish and birds in Genjo-koan is Wanshi’s verse of Zazen-shin. I am not one hundred percent sure, but I guess that the source of Wanshi’s image of fish and birds might be Chuang Tzu. In the very beginning of the first chapter of Chuang Tzu entitled, "Free and Easy Wandering", it is said that there was a huge fish and the fish transformed into a huge bird and flew to heaven.
In the northern darkness there is a fish and his name is K’un. The K’un is so huge I don’t know how many thousand li he measures. He changes and becomes a bird whose name is P’eng. The back of the P’eng measures I don’t know how many thousand li across and, when he rises up and flies off, his wings are like clouds all over the sky. When the sea begins to move, this birds sets off for the southern darkness, which is the Lake of Heaven. (Translated by Burton Watson)
According to a Japanese commentary, one li is about 405 meters (1336 feet). The size of the fish/bird is out of our imagination. There is, however, an important difference between Chuang Tsu and Dogen. In Chuang Tzu, small creatures such as a cicada, a dove or a quail laugh at the large bird.
Where does he think he’s going? I give a great leap and fly up, but I never get more than ten or twelve yards before I come down fluttering among the weeds and brambles. And that’s the best kind of flying anyway! Where does he think he’s going?
Then Chuanng Tzu said, "Such is the difference between big and little." By comparing the big bird with a cicada, a dove and a quail, Chuang Tzu looked down and laughed at those small creatures. His conclusion is that people in the mundane world caught up in the conven-tional concepts and systems of value are like those small living beings and his ideal person is like the large bird. Chuang Tzu said, "Therefore I say, the Perfect Man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit; the Sage has no fame."
Dogen says that even a small bird like a quail flies the entire sky. Even a cicada that lives only for several days in the summer is one with entire past, present and future. For Dogen, we are like those small living beings. As a bodhisattva, it is important to aware of how small we are. And yet, no matter how tiny we are, we are flying the entire sky and the entire sky is flying with us. I think this is one of the differences between Taoism and Buddhism.
Life is a bird; Life is a fish
We cannot live separated from the world. For us, this world is our life. Since we are one with the world and supported by all things as a part of the net of interdependent origination, we have to take care of the world and the self and others. How can we live our lives with such a magnanimous view of the self, others and the world?
Life needs to be a bird or fish or something else to manifest itself in a concrete way. Otherwise, life is just an abstract concept. Without a particular body and mind of living beings, no matter how tiny, weak, deluded or selfcentered it is, there is no way for life to live life.
In Buddhism, the reality of all beings (the Dharma) is the way we should study and the way we should live. One of the problems for us human beings is that we usually don’t think that the world in which we are living is our life. We think our life is only this body and mind asindividual and it continues only between the date of our birth and the date of our death. We think that all other people and things are the materials we can use to make us meaningful, happy and satisfied.
The Necessity of finding our own place and path
This is Dogen Zenji’s conclusion of how we should live based on the buddha dharma he discussed in the very beginning of Genjo-koan.
When I was a high school student, I was exactly like the fish and birds that hesitate to swim or fly until they completely investigate the entire water or sky. Before I started to do anything, I wanted to find the purpose and meaning of life. I tried to find the answer in books. I thought if life is meaningless, I should not continue to live. I was very childish but extremely serious. I read many books on religion, philosophy and science. But according to the books I read, I discovered that there was no meaning that supports our life. I found that "meaning" or "value" can have "meaning" and "value" only within a relationship with other things. I cannot judge the meaning of just myself. Human beings cannot measure the value of human beings. Anyone in the universe cannot evaluate the universe. In order to do so, we need something like an Absolute Other, like God. But I could not believe that God existed outside the universe.
I became nihilistic and I was completely lost. I could not do anything, even commit suicide. To commit suicide,I needed to find a reason or a meaning to do so. But if our life has no meaning, to kill myself is also meaningless. I could not live and I could not die. I faced a dead end. As you can imagine, my high school life was not a joyful one.
I think that if I did not have the chance to read my teacher Uchiyama Roshi’s book, such a condition would have lasted much longer. As it was, I had a friend who has the same kind of question. Because he knew someone who went to Antaiji monastery to practice zazen with Sawaki Kodo Roshi, he visited Antaiji and stayed there during a summer vacation. That was around the same time Uchiyama Roshi published his first book entitled "Jiko" (Self). My friend allowed me to read the book after he returned from Antaiji.
In the book, Uchiyama Roshi wrote about his own search for the meaning of life. I read that when Uchiyama Roshi was a teenager, he had the same question as I did and he had spent his life searching for the answer to it. After he found the answer, he practiced it and taught it. Since I knew nothing about Buddhism or Zen, I did not understand Uchiyama Roshi’s answer, but I knew I wanted to live like him. That was the one of the main reasons I started to study Buddhism and Zen and became Uchiyama Roshi’s disciple. Although I had read about many spiritual teachers who taught the truth, for me, Uchiyama Roshi was the first actual person who I met who lived in such a way. Somehow I wanted to become his disciple.
After practicing with my teacher for some time, I found that meaning is created when we find our own place and path and we begin to do something. Until that moment there is no ready-made meaning or purpose to our lives. When I found my place as a student of Uchiyama Roshi and a practitioner in the lineage of his teacher Sawaki Roshi, and the source of their teachings; Dogen Zenji and Shakyamuni Buddha, life became mean-ingful and precious to me. To continue my teacher’s vow to transmit the tradition to the next generation became my path and many different kinds of support to my practice became available.
When I first read Genjo-koan, this point on how we create meaning really struck me and based on that I decided to follow Dogen Zenji’s teaching even though I didn’t understand anything else. I was saved by Uchiyama Roshi and Dogen Zenji.
When I made up my mind to become Uchiyama Roshi’s disciple and actually started to practiced zazen, I finally found my own place and path. When I choose one thing and actually did it, I found the path to proceed. The Manifestation of reality (genjo-koan) is not a concept or philosophical idea, but rather it is actual practice using our body and mind that is connected with the entire world. This path of zazen practice has led me to a won-drous and unbelievable way of life. The path is so broad, flexible and endless. Since then, I have been walking the path for thirty years. I am still a beginner in this path. The path has no beginning and no end but permeates all time and space. And yet, it is only this moment right now and right here.
One thing at a time
I found my place as a zazen practitioner under the guidance of Uchiyama Roshi, and committed to it, and in each moment, each day, and through each stage of my life, I have tried to see the many people, things, and situ-ations I have encountered as my own life and practice. Whatever I encounter, I try to do my best with a sincere attitude.
In the Tenzo-kyokun (Instructions for Tenzo), Dogen Zenji teaches how we should work together with each and every thing with our sincere heart, using the example of cooking.
Next, get ready the following morning’s breakfast. Select the rice and prepare the vegetables by yourself with your own hands, watching closely with sincere diligence. You should not attend to some things and neglect or be slack with others for even one moment. Do not give a single drop from within the ocean of virtues; you must not fail to add a single speck on top of the mountain of good deeds. (Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community, P.34)
When we work on one thing, we study it, do some experiments with it, take care of it and penetrate it. One by one, each time. This is how we study the characteristics of all things. One thing at a time. When we practice that role sincerely, we penetrate that thing. When we make a mistake, we penetrate that mistake and learn from the mistake. Then a mistake is a great teacher for us. Nothing is meaningless when we have our own place and path to walk. Actually this place and path is not something outside us. The place and path are nothing other than ourselves.
The way is endless
Even though we walk on the path, we cannot measure how far we have come and how much farther we will have to go to reach the goal. As Buddhist practitioners, we commonly think our goal is very clear, that is, to become a Buddha. According to Mahayana Buddhist teachings, a bodhisattva must practice through the fifty-two stages to reach Buddhahood and it takes three great kalpas, which means almost forever. And yet, to become a Buddha is not the end of the story but rather it is simply the starting point of life as a Buddha. A Buddha practices Buddha’s practice. That is helping all living beings to become bud-dhas and to make entire world into buddha land. It also takes almost forever.
Within such an endless process of the Buddha way, it is nonsense to measure how much we have achieved, which stage we are at now and what we need to do to go further. In Buddhist teachings of many different traditions, there are many sets of stages of spiritual achievement, such as the four stages toward arhathood, and the fifty-two stages of the bodhisattva. But these stages are all a kind of expedient means.
Dogen Zenji does not use such expedients. He simply says the buddha way is endless and there is no way to measure where we are now. No matter how long and how hard we have been practicing, within the infinite length of the buddha way, the distance we have walked is the same as zero.
When faced with this truth, what we can do is try to be mindful in each moment, and practice one thing wholeheartedly in the way that we can penetrate that one thing. This is what Dogen Zenji means when he says, "When Buddhas are truly Buddhas, they don't need to perceive that they are themselves Buddhas. However, they are enlightened buddhas, and they continue actualizing buddha."
This is a lesson we can apply to many parts of our lives. For example, if peace is the condition in which there is no war among countries, no fighting or conflict among people, and no pain, anxiety, or struggle in our minds, probably there is never a time that such a condition can be completely achieved. Then is "peace" a meaningless dream? Not at all. According to Dogen Zenji, our peaceful efforts themselves are the source of peace in each moment and each step we take. Nirvana or buddhahood is the same thing.
Our practice is just to practice one thing at a time wholeheartedly and manifest our own lives moment by moment without evaluation. That is all. This is what shikan (just) in Dogen’s expression shikan-taza (just sit-ting) means. This is also what Dogen means when he says that practice and realization are one.