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Guidelines for Studying the Way - Part 1
The thought of awakening has many names, but they all refer to the one and the same mind. Ancestor Nagarjuna said, “The mind that fully sees into the uncertain world of birth and death is called the thought of awakening”. Thus if we maintain this mind, this mind becomes the thought of awakening. Indeed, when you understand this continuity, the notion of self does not come into being, ideas of name and gain do not arise. Fearing the swift passage of the sunlight, practise the Way as though saving your head from fire. Reflecting on this ephemeral life, make endeavour in the manner of Buddha raising his foot.
Here we take this text by Dogen Zenji in our first day of our sesshin; and as always, beginning a sesshin, at the first teisho I have the feeling that it is better not to say anything, because we tend to think that sesshin as practice builds through the days, and that the second or the third day will be deeper and better, and that the seventh day or the eighth day will be even better, even though we know already, if we've done previous sesshins, that it doesn't work like that. One day you can be in heaven, the next day in hell, be that the fifth day, seventh day, third day, whatever.
But there is a special quality of the first day that I really appreciate. There is a special quality of the first evening, just before I say some words, just before we read the cautions, when we just come into the dojo and sit. There is a special quality of innocence. There is a special quality of beginner's mind, that mind that is so appreciated by Dogen Zenji. So probably we can say that it is of utmost importance to keep alive that innocent mind of our first zazen of the sesshin, because that mind is still not directing itself towards anything. We are not even conscious of having begun our sesshin. We are just sitting there.
Here Dogen Zenji is giving us what he himself calls “The Guidelines for Studying the Way”, which is an essay of the Shobogenzo, a text on which I am focusing, in a random way, throughout these sesshins. He begins the text saying, The thought of awakening has many names, but they all refer to the one and the same mind . That phrase, “thought of awakening” is a classic phrase in Buddhism, and specially in Soto Zen Buddhism. The Japanese word for that is ‘bodaishin' ¾ thought of awakening; but here ‘shin' is, apart from being “thought”, also “mind” and “heart” ¾ the same ‘shin' we meet in the Hannya Shin Gyo ; the same ‘shin' we meet in the Emmei Jikku Kannon Gyo, when we say “Nen nen fu ri shin”. The thought of awakening [bodaishin] has many names, but they all refer to the one and the same mind, says Dogen Zenji. The definition of ‘bodaishin' is: wish and quest for awakening that establish the determination to practise. The wish and quest for awakening that establish the determination to practise. And we all know determination is called one of the three pillars of Zen: determination, doubt and faith.
So here, this text is concerned with the determination-to-practise aspect — that determination that Dogen Zenji points out very clearly is practice itself, is awakening itself. That kind of determination in the practise is also doubt, is also inquiring, in the meaning of being one with, completely inquiring, completely one with Mu, shikantaza or whatever our life koan is. And there, in that inquiring, being completely one, we find the third pillar, that is called faith — faith meaning some kind of inner certainty that we are already the Buddha -dharma, that this body is the very body and that we can free the many beings. That inner feeling is probably what brings us here. If we didn't have that certainty in the bottom of our heart, we would not be doing sesshin.
So at that point, faith, doubt and determination become one. And when they become one we have that ‘bodaishin', thought or mind of awakening. And also when we say ‘mind' it means ‘heart', “hannya shin gyo”, the heart–mind of wisdom. We find that ‘shin' twice, as I said, in the Emmei Jikku Kannon Gyo. First when we say “Nen nen ju shin ki”: that thought, thought or mind in the now, completely in the now, ‘nen', arises from ‘shin', the heart–mind. At that point, Dogen Zenji says, it has many names, but they all refer to the one and the same mind. The one and the same mind. This is the second “Nen nen”, when we say “Nen nen fu ri shin”: that mind-in-the-now, that thought of awakening, is completely one with the mind–heart: “Nen nen fu ri shin”. One and the same mind.
In the Instruction for the Tenzo, Dogen Zenji says something about that. He says “Great mind is a mind like a great mountain or a great ocean. It does not have any partiality or exclusivity. You should allow the four seasons to advance in one viewing and see an ounce and a pound with an equal eye.” I found very interesting that part when he says “You should allow the four seasons to advance in one viewing” because maybe we are going through winter in our practice, or maybe we are going through spring in our practice, but can we be open enough to the four seasons as we are going through one of them? “Allow the four seasons to advance in one viewing, and see everything with an equal eye”, says our teacher, Dogen Zenji.
He continues, saying, Ancestor Nagarjuna said, “The mind that fully sees into the uncertain world of birth and death is called the thought of awakening”. The mind that fully sees: this is an echo coming from the Genjo Koan. There he says, “When you see forms or hear sounds with your whole body and mind, you understand intimately”. Seeing forms, hearing sounds with our whole body and mind. And our whole body and mind, needless to say, is not restricted to what happens inside our skin. Our whole body and mind, this living fact — when we see forms or hear sounds with that body and mind, we understand intimately. That way of seeing is what he calls “the equal eye” — completely engaged eye. The mind that fully sees into the uncertain world of birth and death: the uncertain world, the uncertain — that's the quality of our lives: the unknown, the mystery. We are full of certainties, to the point that we ourselves are a certainty, and thus our practice is also full of certainties, and this blocks the way for the nameless, the pregnant unknown, and taints the primal innocence, the heart with no goal, the heart of total openness, the heart of wonder and fascination, that is the heart of creative samadhi.
When we fully see, become one with, the uncertain world of birth and death, this is the thought of awakening, this is the mind of awakening, Dogen Zenji says here. Birth-and-death is coming-and-going, which is another name for tathagata, “thus comes, thus goes away”. The coming and going of birth and death is the true human body, Dogen says elsewhere.
So he continues, saying: Thus if we maintain this mind, this mind becomes the thought of awakening. The mind that becomes one with the nameless living fact of this very moment, seeing intimately with whole body, whole mind, that is the mind and heart of genuine zazen, engaging and expressing our whole body; that is the tathagata body that thus comes, thus goes.
If we maintain that mind, he says, it becomes the mind of awakening. And when you understand this continuity, the notion of self does not come into being, ideas of name and gain do not arise. There is an apparent contradiction here about maintaining the mind and understanding this continuity. But I don't see a contradiction at all. The main point is to understand this continuity. Continuity is a process, says Dogen Zenji; you may practise Zen forward but always remember that each step is equal in substance — each step, each tiny step is equal in substance. So here, if we talk about process, we say continuity, practising forward, from the first day to the last day of sesshin, to the last day of our life. That is process. But without understanding this continuity, without understanding that aspect of substance, essential substance, equal, each step equal, each zazen, each Mu, each moment of shikantaza completely equal, full and complete — if we don't understand that continuity, that substance, continuity can only lead us to frustration, delusion, burn-out or rust.
So when we say every step is equal, we are saying every step is newly formed, fresh, sparkling and fully alive. Moment-by-moment zazen, moment-by-moment Mu, moment-by-moment shikantaza — that is ‘nen nen', traceless zazen. “This no-trace continues endlessly”, says Dogen Zenji in the Genjo Koan.
So if you understand this continuity, says Dogen Zenji, the notion of self does not come into being. The notion of self, nor the notion of others; no inner, no outer; no before, no after. Thus ideas of name and gain do not arise. No naming and no gaining. That's a different way of saying being one with the sambhogakaya, our quality of fullness and completeness, the source of joy, the source of dance, the source of love in our practice and our life. And without joy, dance and love how can we liberate the many beings? How can we allow the many beings to come forth and liberate us?Fearing the swift passage of the sunlight, practise the Way as though saving your head from fire , says our text. Fearing the swift passage of the sunlight, practise the Way as though saving your head from fire. As though saving our head from fire: that is in touch, completely in touch with our real need, our burning need. There ‘duhkha' changes from suffering and anguish into essential dissatisfaction, and that essential dissatisfaction nourishes our practice and realisation of the full and complete uniqueness of each moment: we ourselves, with no skin, expressing our life as Amitabha Buddha, Limitless Life Buddha, limitless living fact, coming forth with passion and ease as Mu, as a flash of shikantaza, as our very body. Let us settle there.