|home||back to Zen Teachings: teishos|
Guidelines for Studying the Way - Part 4
You should know that arousing practice in the midst of delusion, you attain realisation before you recognise 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 of words. This is not made to happen by Buddha, but is accomplished by your all-embracing effort.
Moreover, what practice calls forth is awakening; 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 awakening 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 though climbing the steps of awakening, 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.
We continue going through Dogen's “Guidelines for Studying the Way” in this the fourth day of our sesshin. Here he touches on a very interesting point about, basically, practice.
You should know that arousing practice in the midst of delusion, you attain realisation before you recognise it. Here Dogen Zenji is pointing to practice just there where delusion is: “arousing practice in the midst of delusion”, he says. There we attain realisation before we recognise it. Truly, indeed. Sometimes we tend to think that awakening or enlightenment is the dojo of our practice, but it is not. Delusion is our true dojo. That is the intimate place of practice, in the midst of delusion. So how can we arouse practice there?
We can arouse practice and establish practice in that dojo of delusion just seeing clearly where there is no practice, where there is delusion — not only in our lives but in our own body and mind. We have to arouse and establish practice where there is no practice, not just stay where there is already practice. So in our zazen we go through our body, finding those spots where practice is not happening, and creating a new dojo there. We go through our breathing, through our emotions, through our mind, finding where delusion is and no practice is happening. And at that very point we establish again the true dojo of practice.
And not only our own mind — we do not only go through our Mu or our shikantaza to find out where in our own mind there is no practice, but also that great Mind that Dogen says is the sky, the clouds, the ocean, the rocks, the many beings. Our zazen and our Mu and our shikantaza then become fully engaged in establishing practice right there where there is no practice. This is indeed bodhisattvas' work, arousing practice in the midst of delusion.
In doing that, Dogen says, we attain realisation before we recognise it. That's very interesting. We attain realisation before we become aware of it. Elsewhere, Dogen says, “Realisation is not as you expect. Realisation differs always from your expectation, is not like your conception of it and cannot take place as previously conceived.” So we are practising and wanting to have realisation, but what is that realisation? It's not as you expect, says Dogen Zenji; it always differs from your expectation. It is not like your conception of it and cannot take place as previously conceived. So at that very moment in which you are arousing practice in the midst of delusion, we have to let go all concepts, all ideas, all expectations about realisation itself.
Thus we attain realisation before we recognise it. So that's even more disappointing. Maybe we attain realisation and we don't know it! So what? We attain realisation before we recognise it. He says, regarding that: “Do not suppose that what you realise becomes your own knowledge and is grasped by your own consciousness. Although actualised immediately, the inconceivable may not be apparent. Its becoming apparent is beyond your knowledge.” So it's better to say that in our Zen way we are more concerned with expression of that primal realisation than with realisation itself, because we don't know what that is, and whatever we think is realisation, it is not, and it will not happen in that way.
So truly, indeed, the practice is as we say in the Shodoka: “To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression”. We are practising expression, not only in the dokusan room, not only in our interaction in daily life, but as zazen itself — zazen as expression, full and complete expression of Buddha -nature, zazen as the intimate expression of Buddha -nature. There we attain realisation, before we know it. But we can feel it, we can know it through our expression, in the task of liberating the many beings and ourselves, as ourselves.
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 of words. We finally cut off our old understanding, bound up in the vines of words. What is that cutting off? There's a lot of misunderstanding about cutting off. It's not the dualistic act of going to the thing and cutting it off as if it were not part of ourself, as if it was not ourself, the thing that we are trying to cut off. Cutting off, in this context of Zen practice and expression, means going deeply, intimately, to the root of it, becoming completely one with the root of it. So we cut off words and we cut off thoughts when we become truly intimate at the very root of them, even beyond meaning. That is cutting off; and at the same time it is bringing forth the true words, the true thoughts, the true actions.
A Latino writer that I am very fond of says: “We are the words that tell who we are”. We are the words that tell who we are. These are not the words bound up in the vines of words. These are not the words of old understanding that Dogen Zenji is pointing at. These are living words, in touch with the source, in touch with the root, beyond meaning. Thus those words are meaningful and tell us who we are.
Dogen says also: “For a long time the gourd's head has been the practice place, but its vital force is vines”. The vital force is vines. That is very interesting. Where is our practice happening now? Is it happening at the gourd's head? Or has it the vital force of being one with the vines? In that process, we sink deeply to the root, beyond meaning; and we find Soen Roshi saying about that point, regarding the precept of Not Speaking Falsely: “That means, do not express rootless words”. Do not express rootless words. Do not practice rootless zazen. Do not perform rootless actions. Getting in touch with the root that is beyond meaning, we do that cutting off that is also bringing forth to life.
Dogen continues: This is not made to happen by Buddha, but it is accomplished by your all-embracing effort. That's a very interesting phrase: “all-embracing effort”. We say, regarding the practice of shikantaza or “shikan-Mu” as Maezumi Roshi liked to say, that we first sit the body and sit the breath and sit the mind; but that is not the end of it. We have also to sit the Mind that is the heavens, sky, clouds, ocean, rocks and every being. Shikantaza is to allow that Mind that is the whole universe to sit as our own mind, as our own breathing, as our own body. This is all-embracing practice, all-embracing effort.
And in a chapter called “All-inclusive Study”, Dogen says, “All-inclusive study and practice is to practise as wheels, as spontaneous freedom, where sacred truth does not do anything. What degrees can there be?” This all-embracing effort, all-embracing practice, is to practise as wheels, as spontaneous freedom, where sacred truth does not do anything. We can't find any degree there. And this, of course, is just single-minded sitting, shedding off body and mind.
There Dogen points the way. He says, “At the moment of going there, just go there. At the moment of coming here, just come here. There is no gap.” That “no gap” is the place of practice. That “no gap” is our true home. That “no gap” is the place where we should come back every time we go astray, to nourish our shikantaza, our Mu, our zazen. No gap. If you go there, just go there. If you come here, just come here. There is no gap at all.
Moreover, what practice calls forth is awakening. Your treasure-house does not come from outside. We touch again the same point, the point Mumon was making when I quoted him yesterday saying, “Don't you know that the family treasure doesn't come through the gate?” Here Dogen says, Your treasure-house does not come from outside. What is that “outside”? Is he going into a world in which practice happens inside and delusion is outside? Is he pointing to a world in which our treasure-house is inside, and outside there are no treasures? I don't think so. To understand that meaning of “outside”, we have to sink into Dogen's phrase when he says, “When you say ‘outside', skin, flesh, bones and marrow are all outside; when you say ‘inside', skin, flesh, bones and marrow are all inside”. Just one living fact, just one body, just one bodhisattva practising true zazen.
How enlightenment functions is through practice; how could actions of mind-ground go astray ? How awakening functions or expresses itself is through practice, he says. How could actions of mind-ground go astray? Mind-ground is a technical term in Buddhism and in Dogen's writing. The Sino-Japanese is ‘shinchi', and the meaning is “foundation of all things”, “mind-nature” or “mind-field”, limitless mind which is identical with all beings. Limitless mind, completely identical with all and each being in the whole universe.
How could actions of mind-ground go astray? says Dogen in our text. These are actions coming from the source, as the source itself, engaging fully body and mind. There we find the Buddha standing alone, pointing to heaven and to earth and saying, “Only I in the whole universe”. But also, in those actions coming from the source, we find the Buddha walking the dusty roads of India, sharing his vision with all beings. How can those actions, based on the mind-ground, go astray?
So if you turn the eye of awakening and reflect that on the realm of practice, nothing in particular hits the eye, and you just see white clouds for ten thousand miles. Turn the eye of awakening and reflect back on the realm of practice, he is saying. And what is that eye of awakening? He also says, “There is only a Buddha 's single eye, which is itself the entire universe”. So he is basically saying: turn the whole universe-eye back and reflect on practice. Let the ten thousand beings come forth and authenticate the self. The same old phrase.
Then, he says, nothing will hit the eye, and you just see white clouds for ten thousand miles. He's saying: at that moment, Zen practice is an everyday, on-going activity which does not appear to have outstanding or extraordinary attributes at all — just our daily life, nothing extraordinary sticking to it, nothing “stinky” about it; just the eye of the whole universe, practising, practising, practising, beyond any aim, beyond any result. That is how true expression can come forth.
If you arouse practice as though climbing the steps of awakening, not even a speck of dust will support your feet. You will be as far from true practice as heaven is from earth. If you arouse practice as though climbing the steps of awakening — climbing steps toward enlightenment — not even a speck of dust will support your feet, and you will be as far from true practice as heaven is from earth. I say here, at the moment in which not even a speck of dust is supporting your feet, that is the point itself. At the moment in which not even a speck of dust is supporting your practice, there are no steps to awakening.
Now he says, ending this chapter, Step back and leap beyond the Buddha land . “Stepping over the head of Vairochana is samadhi without conflict”, our text also says. So it is not enough if we reach that pure and clear body of the Buddha that we call Vairochana. That pure and clear world is not enough. We have to step over the head of that, Dogen says. We have to step back and leap beyond that Buddha land. How can we do that? Realising that each moment of zazen is equally wholeness of practice, equally wholeness of realisation.
Elsewhere, Dogen points to the Way, saying, “Things here leaps off here. It means ‘What is now?'”. Very simple, isn't it? “Thus the everyday activity of Buddha ancestors is nothing but having tea and rice.” Even though we should ask “What is now?” not only with words but with our whole body and mind, “Here leaps off here. It means ‘What is now?'”, says Dogen Zenji. Just that question, just the word, just the source, just the eye that contains and is the whole universe, coming forth as our very zazen.