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Only Buddha and Buddha Part 1
Long ago, a monk asked an old master: “When hundreds, thousands of myriads of objects come all at once, what should be done?” The master replied: “Don't try to control them”. What he means is that in whatever way objects come, do not try to change them. Whatever comes is the Buddha dharma, not objects at all. Do not understand the master's reply as merely a brilliant admonition, but realise that it is the truth. Even if you try to control what comes, it cannot be controlled.
OK. Here in our second day of sesshin, we meet Dogen again. The name of the essay we are working on today can be translated as “Only Buddha and Buddha” or “Just Buddha and Buddha”. I find it very interesting, especially for a second day of sesshin. Normally the first day we establish ourselves, take root so to speak, make contact with the ground of sesshin. So it is, I think, most appropriate for a second day, this quotation about controlling or changing what comes forth.
Here it says : Long ago, a monk asked an old master: “When hundreds, thousands of objects come all at once, what should be done?” I don't think this is a special occasion. Maybe it's a special awareness of an everyday fact: hundreds, thousands of objects and beings coming all at once, now. And this refers to another phrase by Dogen Zenji, a very popular one, where he says that the ten thousand beings advancing and confirming, authenticating, the self we call realisation. And he compares that advancing and confirming the self by the ten thousand beings with another kind of perception, that of the self advancing and confirming the many beings, which Dogen calls delusion.
As a matter of fact, he uses that word ‘called' in the two of them: ‘is called realisation', ‘is called delusion'. So we call it that; but those two functions of our consciousness are quite natural. We need the self advancing and confirming the many beings to live our everyday life. I need to call this a stick and this a zafu and this a sesshin. This is the self advancing and naming, confirming, the many beings. But for that to have a deep meaning in our life and practice, we should realise the other side: that is, the ten thousand beings advance and confirm, authenticate, the self. That is when there is complete attention, complete openness, so that the actuality of this moment, the many beings that are also thoughts, feelings, sounds, whatever, are coming forth and authenticating our own self.
Probably the monk was there in his own practice. He's gone past the phase “the self advances and confirms the many beings” and he was, in his own zazen and life, in the other phase: everything was advancing and going deep into himself. So he goes to his teacher and says : “When hundreds and thousands of objects and beings come all at once, what should be done?” The teacher said: “Don't try to control them”. Don't try to control them; that is also ‘Don't attach to them. Don't name them. Don't try to direct them in any way.' It is at that point that Dogen says elsewhere: “In attachment, blossoms fall and in aversion, weeds spread.” So that ‘Don't try to control them' also refers to going beyond attachment or aversion. We find at that point one thing that I am always saying: attention itself, which is zazen itself, cannot be maintained. And the same is true for openness, because the best thing we can do is to establish it, to burn completely into it. But once we try to direct or maintain it, it is already gone. There is a case in the Mumonkan in which Nansen is asked about the Tao, and he says: “If you try to direct to it, you deviate”. In other words, if you try to aim [for] it, you miss. This is another aspect of “Don't try to control them”.
The case continues : What he means is that in whatever way objects come, do not try to change them. Here Dogen adds a new meaning to the phrase of the teacher. It is not only “Don't try to control them” but “Do not try to change them”. And sometimes naming is really changing, because what comes forth has no name. It's just something that comes forth from emptiness itself —no name at all. And we name it. We call it zazen; we call it bright zazen; we call it dull zazen; we call it first day, second day. And in naming it, we change it, and the natural innocence of the living fact is lost.
Don't try to change it. This points to the practice of seeing and living each thing, each moment, each encounter, just as it is. This is the tathagata coming forth, sweeping away all delusions. And this happens if our mind and heart are ready. What is that readiness we are talking about? Readiness is when no heart, no mind, no body are there—just full attention opening.
There we find another phrase by Dogen Zenji that can be inspiring in our practice. He says: “The entire universe is the dharma body of the self”. The self is the entire universe. Not to change, not to control: not only attention and openness, but we also need respect and appreciation for the unique quality of each being, of each moment and each encounter. This body of uniqueness is referred to as one of the three bodies of the Buddha, the nirmanakaya— unique. So let us wake up that respect and appreciation to whatever is coming, without naming it as good or bad, bright or dull. This leads naturally to what we call the third body of the Buddha, the sambhogakaya, —the full, joyful and complete quality of each being, each moment and each encounter. So it is not only that it is unique, but it is also full and complete, full of joy, and life.
“Not to control, not to change”, Dogen says here. That is, allow the actuality of the present moment to come forth as our own life, as our own body, our own mind. There zazen meets this patchy quality of life, which is, as our zazen itself, unpredictable and constantly alive. So what is the way in which we can sit and live in that not-controlling, not-changing practice? I think the only way is not to be there, the same way that the best way of doing zazen is by not being there, really not doing zazen: body and mind falling away and zazen is just happening—not we ourselves doing it or going through this sesshin. Zazen does the sesshin; Mu does the sesshin; shikantaza does the sesshin. We have no part there. In that way, body and mind disappear in each spark of attention, each moment of endless practice.
Our text continues, saying: Whatever comes is the Buddha dharma, not objects at all . Whatever comes is the Buddha dharma, not objects at all. We've had that phrase ‘tathagata', which is one way the Buddha used to refer to himself, and it literally means ‘that which thus comes'. That is the point [when] Dogen says, “Whatever comes is the Buddha dharma”, — the tathagata. And in Seeing—that is the place in which we can really wake up this sense of appreciation and containment that we were talking about in the last teisho.
Do not understand the master's reply as merely a brilliant admonition, but realise that it is the truth, says Dogen Zenji . Even if you try to control what comes, it cannot be controlled . That's a very interesting phrase. Even if you try to control and change what comes, it cannot be controlled; just, cannot be controlled. It looks here as if Dogen Zenji is speaking about my old bike! But it's not just that. I think it's the true nature of reality. And that is our hope, that is our opening. If essential nature were just a matter of riding it, it would be our own creation, which, as Harada Daiun Roshi said, has no power to save even horses or donkeys. So zazen is not conflict, nor is it a struggle between what is now and our idea of what should be. Sitting with no control in mind, there is only attention, and our skin does not separate our selves from the vast universe and the vast dharma itself: only zazen, only Mu, only shikantaza, with the observer, the actor, disappearing in the understanding of its own insubstantiality.
At that point of wonder and aliveness, there is never an entire universe that is not ourselves, the dharma body itself. The monk says: When hundreds, thousands of objects and beings come all at once, what should be done ? What should be done? There is a saying: