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Eihei Dogen's Guidelines for studying the Way
Ed Brown & Kazuaki Tanahashi
©San Franscisco Zen Center, 1985
You should arouse the thought of enlightenment.
The thought of enlightenment has many names but they all refer to one and the same mind.
Indeed, when you understand the discontinuity the notion of self does not come into being, ideas of name and gain to not arise. Fearing the swift passage of the sunlight, practice the way as though saving your head from fire. Reflecting on this ephemeral life, make endeavor in the manner of Buddha raising his foot.
When you hear a song of praise sung by a kinnara god or a kalavinka bird, let it be as the evening breeze brushing against your ears. If you see the beautiful face of Maoqiang or Xishi, let it be like the morning dewdrops coming into your sight. Freedom from the ties of sound and form naturally accords with the essence of the way-seeking mind.
If in the past or present, you hear about students of small learning or meet people with limited views, often they have fallen into the pit of fame and profit and have forever missed the buddha way in their life. What a pity! How regrettable! You should not ignore this.
Even if you read the sutras of the expedient or complete teaching, or transmit the scriptures of the exoteric or esoteric schools, without throwing away name and gain it cannot be called arousing the thought of enlightenment.
Some of these people say, "The thought of enlightenment is the mind of supreme, perfect enlightenment. Do not be concerned with the cultivation of fame or profit."
Some of them say, "The thought of enlightenment is the insight that each thought contains three thousand realms."
Some of them say, "The thought of enlightenment is the mind of entering the buddha realm."
Such people do not yet know and mistakenly slander the thought of enlightenment. They are remote from the buddha way.
Try to reflect on the mind concerned only with your own gain. Does this one thought blend with the nature and attributes of the three thousand realms? Does this one thought realize the dharma gate of being unborn? There is only the deluded thought of greed for name and love of gain. There is nothing which could be taken as the thought of enlightenment.
From ancient times sages have attained the way and realized dharma. Although as an expedient teaching they lived ordinary lives, still they had no distorted thought of fame or profit. Not even attached to dharma, how could they have worldly attachment?
The thought of enlightenment, as was mentioned, is the mind which sees into impermanence. This is most fundamental, and not at all the same as the mind pointed to by confused people. The understanding that each thought is unborn or the insight that each thought contains three thousand realms is excellent practice after arousing the thought of enlightenment. This should not be mistaken.
Just forget yourself for now and practice inwardly—this is one with the thought of enlightenment. We see that the sixty-two views are based on self. So when a notion of self arises, sit quietly and contemplate it. Is there a real basis inside or outside your body now? Your body with hair and skin is just inherited from your father and mother. From beginning to end a drop of blood or lymph is empty. So none of these are the self. What about mind, thought, awareness, and knowledge? Or the breath going in and out, which ties a lifetime together: what is it after all? None of these are the self either. How could you be attached to any of them? Deluded people are attached to them. Enlightened people are free of them.
You figure there is self where there is no self. You attache to birth where there is no birth. You do not practice the buddha way, which should be practiced. You do not cut off the worldly mind, which should be cut off. Avoiding the true teaching and pursuing the groundless teaching, how could you not be mistaken?
Once you see or hear the true teaching, you should practice it without fail.
One phrase offered by a loyal servant can have the power to alter the course of the nation. One word given by a buddha ancestor cannot fail to turn people’s minds. The unwise ruler does not adopt the servant’s advice. One who does not step forward cannot accept the buddha’s teaching. If you are unbending, you cannot stop floating along in birth and death. If appropriate advice is not heeded, governing with virtue cannot be realized.
In the buddha way, you should always enter enlightenment through practice.
A worldly teacher says, "Through study one can gain wealth." Buddha says, "Within practice there is enlightenment."
It is unheard-of that without studying someone should earn wealth or that without practicing someone should attain enlightenment. Though practice varies—initiated by faith or dharma knowledge, with emphasis on sudden or gradual enlightenment—you always depend on practice to go beyond enlightenment. Though study can be superficial or profound, and students can be sharp or dull, accumulated studying earns wealth. This does not necessarily depend on the king’s excellence or inability, nor should it depend on one’s having good or bad luck. If someone were to get wealth without studying, how could he transmit the way in which ancient kings, in times of either order or disorder, ruled the country? If you were to gain realization without practice, how could you comprehend the Tathagata’s teaching of delusion and enlightenment.
You should know that arousing practice in the midst of delusion, you attain realization before you recognize it. At this time you first know that the raft of discourse is like yesterday’s dream, and you finally cut off your old understanding bound up in the vines and serpents of words. This is not made to happen by Buddha, but is accomplished by your all-encompassing effort.
Moreover, what practice calls forth is enlightenment; your treasure house does not come from outside. How enlightenment functions is through practice; how could actions of mind-ground go astray? So if you turn the eye of enlightenment and reflect back on the realm of practice, nothing in particular hits the eye, and you just see white clouds for ten thousand miles. If you arouse practice as thought climbing the steps of enlightenment, not even a speck of dust will support your feet; you will be as far from true practice as heaven is from earth. Now step back and leap beyond the buddha land.
This portion was written on the night day, third month, second year of Tempuku .
You should not practice Buddha’s teaching with the idea of gain.
The practice of Buddha’s teaching is always done by receiving the essential instructions of a master, not by following your own ideas. In fact, Buddha’s teaching cannot be attained by having ideas or not having ideas. Only when the mind of pure practice coincides with the way will body and mind be calm. If body and mind are not yet calm, they will not be at ease. When body and mind are not at ease, thorns grow on the path of realization.
So that pure practice and the way coincide, how should we proceed? Proceed with the mind which neither grasps nor rejects, the mind unconcerned with name or gain. Do not practice buddha-dharma with the thought that it is to benefit others.
People in the present world, even those practicing the buddha-dharma, have a mind which is far apart from the way. They practice what others praise and admire, even though they know it does not accord with the way. They reject and do not practice what others fail to honor and praise, even though they know it is the true way. How painful! You should try to quiet your mind and investigate whether these attitudes are buddha-dharma or not. You may be completely ashamed. The eye of the sage illuminates this.
Clearly, buddha-dharma is not practiced for one’s own sake, and even less for the sake of fame and profit. Just for the sake of buddha-dharma you should practice it.
All buddhas’ compassion and sympathy for sentient beings are neither for their own sake nor for others. It is just the nature of buddha-dharma. Isn’t it apparent that insects and animals nurture their offspring, exhausting themselves with painful labors, yet in the end have no reward when their offspring are grown? In this way the compassion of small creatures for their offspring naturally resembles the thought of all buddhas for sentient beings.
The inconceivable dharma of all buddhas is not compassion alone, but compassion is the basis of the various teachings that appear universally. Already we are children of the buddhas. Why not follow their lead?
Students! Do not practice buddha-dharma for your own sake. Do not practice buddha-dharma for name and gain. Do not practice buddha-dharma to attain miraculous effects. Practice buddha-dharma solely for the sake of buddha-dharma. This is the way.
You should seek a true teacher to practice Zen and study the way.
A teacher of old said, "If the beginning is not right, myriad practices will be useless.
How true these words are! Practice of the way depends on whether the guiding master is a true teacher or not.
The disciple is like wood, and the teacher resembles a craftsman. Even if the wood is good, without a skilled craftsman its extraordinary beauty is not revealed. Even if the wood is bent, placed in skilled hands its splendid merits immediately appear. By this you should know that realization is genuine or false depending on whether the teacher is true or incompetent.
But in our country from ancient times, there have not been many true teachers. How do we know this is so? We can guess by studying their sayings, just as we can scoop up stream water and find out about its source. In our country from ancient times, various teachers have written books and instructed their disciples, offering their teaching to human and heavenly beings. Their words are immature, their discourse has not yet ripened. They have not yet reached the peak of study; how could they have come close to the state of realization? They only transmitted words and phrases or taught the changing of Buddha’s name. They count other people’s treasure day and night, not having half a penny themselves.
Previous teachers are responsible for this. They taught people to seek enlightenment outside mind, or to seek rebirth in another land. Confusion starts from this. Mistaken ideas come from this.
Though you give good medicine, if you do not teach a method of controlling its use it will make one sicker than taking poison. In our country since ancient times it seems as though no one has given good medicine. There are as yet no masters who can control the poisonous effects of medicine. Because of this, it is difficult to penetrate birth and death. How can old age and death be overcome.
All this is the teacher’s fault, not at all the fault of the disciples. The reason is that those who are teachers let people neglect the root and go out on the limbs. Before they establish true understanding, they are absorbed only in their own thinking, and they unwittingly cause others to enter a realm of confusion. What a pity! Those who are teachers do not yet understand this confusion. How could students realize what is right and wrong?
How sad! In this small, remote nation buddha-dharma has not yet spread widely. True masters have not yet appeared here. If you wish to study the unsurpassed buddha way, you have to travel a great distance to call on the masters in Song China, and you have to reflect deeply n the vital road outside thought. Until you have a true teacher, it is better not to study.
Regardless of his age or experience, a true teacher is simply one who has apprehended the true teaching and attained the authentic teacher’s seal of realization. He does not put texts first or understanding first, but his capacity is outside any framework and his spirit freely penetrates the nodes in bamboo. He is not concerned with self-views and does not stagnate in emotional feelings. Thus, practice and understanding are in mutual accord. This is a true master.