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Going Beyond Buddha
Zen master Daowu visited the assembly of master Shitou.
Shitou said, “Not to attain, not to know”. Understand that in Buddha-dharma the fundamental meaning is in the first thought, as well as in the ultimate level. This fundamental meaning is not-attaining. It is not that there is no aspiration for enlightenment, no practice, or no enlightenment. But simply, [there is] not-attaining.
The fundamental meaning is not-knowing. Practice-enlightenment is not nonexistent or existent, but is not-knowing, not-attaining. Again we say, the fundamental meaning is not-attaining, not-knowing. It is not that there is no sacred truth, no practice-enlightenment, but simply not-attaining, not-knowing
The vast sky does not hinder the white clouds from flying. These are Shitou's words. The vast sky does not hinder the vast sky. Just as the vast sky does not hinder the vast sky from flying, white clouds do not hinder white clouds. White clouds fly with no hindrance. White clouds' flying does not hinder the vast sky's flying. Not hindering others is not hindering self right
Right now, raise the eyebrow of the eye of [practice and] study and see through the coming forth of Buddhas, ancestors, self and others. This is a case of asking one question and answering ten. In asking one question and answering ten, the person who asks one question is the true person; the person who answers ten is the true person.
This is a chapter of “Going Beyond Buddha”, which is a text in the Shobogenzo. Basically, “Shobogenzo” means “eye and treasury of the true dharma”. I see this chapter as very much appropriate for our third full day of sesshin, usually the turning point—the turning day —in a long sesshin.
However, over the years I have noticed something very peculiar about these stages in a sesshin, where we say the first day is like this, second day is like this, third day is like this, and so on. What I have seen is that if the sesshin is, for example, a three-day sesshin, the second day will be the turning point. And if it is a one-day sesshin, in the middle of the day there will be some turning point. So if this is so, and that turning point and the symptoms of the first day and the second day are really not fixed points, we can understand that the turning point is everywhere. And also that the symptoms of the first or the second day, or the seventh day are everywhere in our sesshin. We just say the third day is the turning point; but every moment, every breath, every zazen, is a turning point.
So here we are, the third day, third full day, facing the Shobogenzo. Now we find Zen master Daowu here, visiting the assembly of master Shitou. Daowu asked, “What is the fundamental meaning of Buddha-dharma?” Shitou said, “Not to attain, not to know”.
That's very interesting. In our four vows, before they were corrected to the form we are using now in the Diamond Sangha, we used to say “Buddha's way is beyond attainment; I vow to embody it fully”. We still use that translation in our Latino countries, partially because we like it and partially just because of laziness; we just don't want to change it. And I think it has some meaning, that thing about Buddha's way being beyond attainment. It's just exactly the same point that is being said here, in the words of master Shitou: not-attaining, not-knowing the fundamental meaning of the Buddha -dharma. So if there is not-attaining and not-knowing as the fundamental meaning, what is that? I think it is pointing to the continuous returning to what we can call basic, primal sanity—ground sanity, earth sanity, the sanity of primal roots: not attaining, not realising, not understanding.
But also we have to be very careful not to interpret that as something lacking. This “not to attain, not to know” is the mind of Bodhidharma facing the Emperor Wu, saying “I don't know”. There we have Bodhidharma, 120 years old, coming from far away, facing the Emperor, and all he can say is, “I don't know”. This is, of course, not merely ignorance, or not knowing how to answer, but being in intimate contact with the mystery itself, and showing it without any kind of defilement—just “don't know”. I call that basic sanity.
We approach that basic sanity when we free ourselves from concepts of goals or progression along the path, even though progression can happen. As Dogen Zenji says, “You may practise Zen forward, but you have to know that each step is equal in substance”. The tricky thing is that sometimes we reverse the meaning of that phrase, and so we dedicate our whole effort to practising forward, thinking that, in some moment, each step that is equal in substance will appear. But the thing is already the reverse of that. We practise each step equal in substance, and suddenly, with surprise and joy, we find ourselves going forward.
So practice is the path itself, rather than the attainment of a so-called goal. There we meet Shitou's mind: not to attain, not to know; returning once again to the “don't know” mind, in which every single koan is understood, seen and presented with the eyes and dance of primal innocence. So here the path is the Tao, is what moment by moment inspires our lives, rather than the goal itself. The path, the koan, shikantaza is not ahead, there; but right here, right now, breathing through our very body. You see, if not like this, if not now, then when and where,?
Thus in the Buddha Tao, in the Buddha way, there is no goal at all; just that dropping off of body and mind. And this happens when the 10,000 dharmas advance to the very bottom of oneself, to the very bottom of the universe. And then that self, (if you wish to call it that), that innermost part of the universe and ourself, comes forward and saves the many beings.
Our text continues : Daowu said, “ Is there some turning point in going beyond, or not?” Shitou said, “The vast sky does not hinder the white clouds from flying”. And a bit further in the text, the same theme is taken again : “The vast sky does not hinder the white clouds from flying”. These are Shitou's words. The vast sky does not hinder the vast sky. Just as the vast sky does not hinder the vast sky from flying, white clouds do not hinder white clouds. White clouds fly with no hindrance. White clouds' flying does not hinder the vast sky's flying. Not hindering others is not hindering self.”
By ‘others' here, it doesn't mean just another person, but it means breathing, body, sounds, space, time, pain, thoughts, ideas—whatever. Not hindering others is not hindering the self. So in such a way, if we don't hinder the sound of the birds, we don't hinder the self itself. Here body-and-mind is dropped away; and here the body and mind that are dropped away come forth and dance with joy in the Buddha-dharma .
That point, I think, is the true turning point; that very “not hindering” is the turning point. Probably that is why the third day is the turning point in sesshin: we've finally realised we can't help it, we'll be here, stuck in our sesshin, till the very end. So we don't hinder it, and it changes. In that way, practice itself becomes the dharma gate of ease and joy; very exciting and beautiful and light.
Next we see Shitou saying , “Not to attain, not to know. Understand that in Buddha -dharma the fundamental meaning is in the first thought, as well as in the ultimate level.” In other words, the fundamental meaning is from the very beginning to the very end of any path. So the Buddha way is a complete journey, rather than a final destination. There is a proverb in Chinese culture that says: It is better the way than the inn. Really, it‘s like that: the practice itself, the journey itself — no path, no person, no going. We say in our new sutras: “We, our food and our eating are empty”. This is what is called the three wheels, in Buddhism. So here we don't have any path, we don't have any person practising it, and no going anywhere. In that way, the three wheels are pure to the very bottom.
I see basically three elements in that journey. Probably there are more than that, but I see only three. I can call them the quality of space, the quality of play and the quality of application. And they can be seen in the light of the so-called three bodies of the Buddha: dharmakaya , sambhogakaya, nirmanakaya; body of emptiness, body of joy and fullness, and the body of uniqueness.
I see the quality of space related to the wholeness of practice, that true human body that Dogen is pointing to when he says: “The entire world in the ten directions is the true human body”; that wholeness that Dogen Zenji is pointing to when he says: “The mind is the sky, the stars, the clouds, the stones”. We need that space, we need that wholeness in our zazen.
The second quality I see is the quality of play—play also as interrelationship, not only between each one of us but the interrelationship of every action, every sound that can be called our own perception, our own life; but the life of the whole bodhisattva of wisdom that is this very moment. That quality of play is also related to energy and passion in our practice.
The third quality I see is the necessary application of all those qualities that we have seen before. If there is no application, there cannot be any sense of space, there cannot be any sense of play.
So how can we relate that to the three bodies of the Buddha ? Our text continues: “The fundamental meaning is not-attaining. It is not that there is no aspiration for enlightenment, or no practice, or no enlightenment. But simply, [there is] not-attaining.” Here Dogen Zenji is taking up three elements: aspiration, practice and enlightenment, as well as not attaining. These three, I think, can be related to the three bodies of the Buddha .
I see aspiration in intimate relationship with the quality of space, wholeness of space, time, life and this very moment, this flash of the mind in the now. And this is related with what we call the dharmakaya , the body of emptiness. Or maybe we can call it the body of complete openness; or, using the words of Yamada Zenji, the body of empty oneness.
The second one that Dogen Zenji points to here is practice. I see practice as play, as the energy of dance, the energy of lightness and precision. So I see it related to what we call the sambhogakoya, the second body of the Buddha, which is usually formulated as the body of joy and completeness, the body in which every single thing in the whole universe is complete as it is, nothing lacking. And the realisation of that is the arising of joy. In that element, sambhogakaya practice, there is play and joy, there is no control, no tension, constantly going beyond the immediate experience, flowing along.
The third element, Dogen Zenji calls enlightenment; or maybe we can get rid of that stinky word and say ‘awakening' or ‘opening'. ‘Awakening', maybe, is more closely related with the meaning of the word Buddha. This is related with nirmanakaya, which of course refers to the historical Buddha; but also it's called the body of uniqueness. In the first one, we said emptiness is there present, full and bright. In the second one, we have completeness and joy. And in the third one we have uniqueness: every single person, every single zazen, every single moment, every single being is completely unique, preciously mysterious, unique as it is. To see that, and to embody that, is the practice of the nirmanakaya, practice of awakening. And of course it's related to form; and it's related to action, as an expression, an intimate expression of that uniqueness in form.
Continuing with our text: “Right now, raise the eyebrow of the eye of [practice and] study, and see through the coming forth of Buddha s, ancestors, self and others. This is a case of asking one question and answering ten. In asking one question and answering ten, the person who asks one question is the true person; the person who answers ten is the true person.” So we need not pollute our practice with the concept of spirituality or attainment. Our practice can be just a simple and interesting journey, which is our very life. We can't get off the train anyway, and that journey is the constant flow of relationships with reality, the dance with reality. And this dance, this living process, is the path, is the Tao, in which shikantaza naturally blooms, saving the many beings, as we sit, walk or dream.
In asking one question and answering ten, the person who asks one question is the true person; the person who answers ten is the true person, says Dogen Zenji. So this is a matter of just one person practice. We call it dai bosatsu, or ‘great bodhisattva', filling the whole universe, us. That one person is practising; earth is practising; life itself is practising. We ourselves disappear. But what are we saying here? We were not there from the very beginning!