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To carry yourself forward and experience the many things is delusion. That the many things come forth and experience the self is awakening.
Those who have great realisation of delusion are Buddha s; those who are greatly deluded about realisation are living beings. Much more, there are those who continue realising beyond realisation, who are in delusion throughout delusion.
When Buddha s are truly Buddha s, they do not necessarily notice that they are Buddha s. However, they are actualised Buddha s, who go on actualising Buddha s.
Today we touch a portion of the Genjo Koan, a phrase that has many possible translations. One of them is “actualising the fundamental point”, translating “koan” as “fundamental point” and “genjo” as “actualising”. But also the way Dogen Zenji wrote the word “koan” is slightly different from the usual; and here “ko” means the absolute and “an” means the relative. The oneness of absolute and relative. And “genjo” means “that which does come forth” — very similar to tathagata. So some people have translated “Genjo Koan” as “the koan of everyday life”, or “the koan of ordinary existence”. Genjo.
The text we are focusing on today begins with the well known and often quoted phrase by Dogen Zenji: To carry yourself forward and experience the countless things is delusion. That the countless things come forth and experience the self is awakening. Those who have great realisation of delusion are Buddha s. Great realisation of delusion. In the previous phrase, Dogen says delusion is basically to carry the self forward and experience, confirm, the countless things. So those who have great realisation of that delusion are Buddha s.
What does this mean, great realisation of the delusion, of carrying the self forward and experiencing the countless things or beings? I think it's the great realisation, or the deep realisation, of the function of carrying the self forward, which is a very natural one, and without which we wouldn't be able to live. If we do not go forward and experience the many things, we cannot comb our hair, we cannot have a shower, we cannot take the bus. So that's a very normal activity in our life.
Even though Dogen says that is delusion, we should realise the function of the carrying the self forward and experiencing the many things. That means that just at the moment in which we are going forward and naming something, like “water”, “book”, “carpet” — at the very moment in which we are going forward and seeing something or acting on something — taking the cup of water, taking a step, doing our gassho — at that very moment in which we are carrying the self forward and experiencing something, we should realise the uniqueness of that very naming, that very seeing, that very act itself, touching the most intimate. That is great realisation of delusion. At that very moment, there is no self advancing to the thing, no thing advancing to confirm the self. Just the simple and whole act of doing gassho, taking a step, having a cup of water.
At that point, “the whole world becomes the Buddha seal and the entire sky is awakening”, Dogen Zenji says elsewhere. There the whole world is the ground of application and expression of Buddha dharma, Buddha nature, our own true nature, and the entire sky is limitless space of practice and realisation — total wholeness of body and mind, expressing essential nature at every single moment.
Dogen Zenji says that there are those who are greatly deluded about realisation, and those are living beings. Those who have great realisation of delusion are Buddha s. Those who are greatly deluded about realisation are living beings. That means us, doesn't it? Greatly deluded about realisation. That is, deluded about the function of that very thing called “the ten thousand beings advance and confirm, actualise, the self”. Deluded about that. It's the point at which we say: OK, it doesn't work if I go toward Mu, if I go toward shikantaza, if I go toward the many beings and try to control them, to make them work in a certain way that will be good for me.
We realise, OK, that doesn't work. So now we will try something different. I will try to be open so the ten thousand beings can come and confirm my self. So we try and try, but this is a different face of the same thing, about carrying the self forward, pretending that we are opening our self for the many beings to come forward and confirm the self. So we are greatly deluded about realisation, basically because we don't drop the concept about what should be done, what realisation is, and what that mysterious thing about the ten thousand beings advancing and actualising the self is. So that delusion is to think that the whole universe exists for my own sake — the greatest of all delusions.
Dogen goes on to say: Much more, there are those who continue realising beyond realisation. Realising beyond realisation. That's a wonderful phrase. It touches a point similar to the one where he says elsewhere: “When the dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing”. That's a very interesting phrase. We tend to think that we go towards the point in which the dharma fills our body and mind, and that will be the end, we don't need anything else. But Dogen Zenji here is saying: when dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing.
So we can also reverse that and say: If you truly understand that something is missing, at that very moment the dharma is filling your whole body and mind. There is the moment of going, of realising beyond realisation — “leaping clear of the many and the one”, says Dogen. Leaping clear of the many and the one is free not only from ignorance and delusion, but also from wisdom and realisation.
This is the moment-by-moment vision of the whole, the whole expressing the whole, beyond the frontier of space and time. This realising beyond realisation is zazen, Mu, shikantaza or just one everyday act, with no beginning nor end, with no attainment nor failure, a whole and vital activity that has no goal, burning itself completely at each moment of expression. That way, our practice continues realising beyond realisation.
And there are those who are in delusion throughout delusion, says Dogen Zenji. That is truly bodhisattva practice; that is truly bodhisattva work, going deep into the world of delusion, completely immersed in delusion, doing there our practice of realising beyond realisation. In that world, in the midst of delusion throughout delusion, is where, from the bottom of our heart, with total sincerity, the vow of liberating the many beings comes forth and does it in the very moment in which we express it. And that is also the heart reframing that vow: “The many beings are countless, I vow to allow them to liberate me completely”.
In the Instructions for the Tenzo, the cook, Dogen says “If there is sincerity in your cooking and everyday actions, whatever you do is an act of nourishing the sacred body”. Sincerity or pure heart or total, open attention. Thus whatever we do is an act of nourishing the sacred body.
When Buddha s are truly Buddha s , says Dogen, they do not necessarily notice that they are Buddha s. When zazen is true zazen, we don't necessarily notice that it is true zazen. When Mu is truly Mu, we do not necessarily notice that this is true Mu, true shikantaza If we were noticing, it would vanish at that very moment. That not-noticing itself is the fundamental ground for Mu, for zazen, for shikantaza, our very life, to express itself as Buddha nature itself.
When Buddha s are truly Buddha s, they do not necessarily notice that they are Buddha s . However, they are actualised Buddha s who go on actualising Buddha s. Even though we do not notice that Mu is true Mu, that shikantaza is true shikantaza, it goes on actualising Mu, actualising shikantaza, actualising the true body and mind of the dharma. There, Dogen says, “no trace of realisation remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly”. There is no end to the water for the fish, no end of space for the bird.
He says also, in the Genjo Koan, “When the activity is large, the field is large. When the need is small, the field is small.” He is touching here on two points of practice: activity and need. If we encapsulate our zazen or our Mu or our attention so that the activity is not large, the field also is not large. That activity with no bottom, with no final limit, covering the whole universe, is the true dojo of practising Mu, is the true dojo of practising shikantaza. Large, limitless activity; large, limitless Mu; large limitless shikantaza.
When the need is small, the field is small also, says Dogen Zenji. That need is what we call ‘dukkha'. When that need is truly coming from the heart, that sincere heart that Dogen is pointing out in the Instructions for the Cook, that need is itself the aspiration for realisation, the aspiration of actualising realisation, liberating the many beings.
Thus true zazen, true shikantaza, is total freedom from ambition and authority, be that the inner authority of the “should be” or the outer authority of the “should be”. Freedom from fear and comparisons, in touch with dhukka, that vital, essential dissatisfaction. There we settle ourself, shedding off body and mind into the changing dance of life, each moment a jewel, each encounter a fresh and sparkling dharma gate. Just one ‘nen', just one Mu, just one blossoming moment of shikantaza, just one, just, just…