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Only Buddha and Buddha Part 2
Buddha dharma cannot be known by a person. For this reason, since olden times no ordinary person has realised Buddha dharma. No practitioner of the lesser vehicles has mastered Buddha dharma. Because it is realised by Buddha s alone, it is said only a Buddha and a Buddha can completely master it. When you realise Buddha dharma, you do not think “This is a realisation just as I expected”. Even if you think so, realisation always differs from your expectation. Realisation is not like your conception of it. Accordingly, realisation cannot take place as previously conceived. When you realise Buddha dharma, you do not consider how realisation came about. You should reflect on this. What you think, one way or another, before realisation is not a help for realisation. Although realisation is not like any of the thoughts preceding it, this is not because such thoughts were actually bad and could not be realisation. Past thoughts in themselves were already realisation. But since you were seeking elsewhere, you thought and said that thoughts cannot be realisation. However, it is worth noticing that what you think one way or another is not a help for realisation. Then you are cautious not to be small-minded. If realisation came forth by the power of your prior thoughts, it would not be trustworthy. Realisation does not depend on thoughts, but comes forth far beyond them. Realisation is helped only by the power of realisation itself. Know that then there is no delusion and there is no realisation.
OK. We continue our disorderly hopping through the Shobogenzo.
Dogen Zenji begins by saying: Buddha dharma cannot be known by a person. For this reason, since olden times no ordinary person has realised Buddha dharma. Believe it or not, this is not a discouraging assertion. “Buddha dharma cannot be known by a person” points perfectly to true practice.
‘Cannot be known’, he says here. And it reminds me of a saying by Master Shitou, who said: “The fundamental meaning of Buddha dharma is not to attain, not to know”. That is really pointing to the unknown, the mystery, but not the unknown that can be known; not the mystery that can be solved, but the one that cannot be known because that's its true nature: “cannot be known”. Always fresh, always new; never an object of knowledge, of something to deposit into our brain. “The Buddha dharma cannot be known”, says Dogen Zenji. And this is not far away: this “cannot be known” is just ‘leaves are green, flowers are red', expressing clearly and intimately the mystery of the unknown. What is the mystery of life and the mystery of our own practice?
Then he says: Cannot be known by a person . I think we can see two kinds of meaning in that word ‘person’, the same as we can see two persons, which is not to say that they are different, but two sides of the same reality in each one of us. One of them, one of those persons, is the one that is made up by the five skandhas, [as] we recite every day in our Maka Hannya Haramitta Shin Gyo. That makes up, in time as we grow and become adults, our conditioned mind, with its natural anxiety, fear, expectation, resentments, wishes and dislikes, always searching for continuity, something secure to hold on to, some affirmation. That is one kind of ‘person', always reacting from the mechanical mind, from the ashes of the past, thus never being responsible [responsive] to the now, responsible [responsive] to the actuality of this very moment. And, as Aitken Roshi points out, responsibility is the ability to respond. We cannot respond if we are clouded by our memories, expectations, wishes or concepts.
The other is Rinzai Zenji's ‘true person with no rank; true person with no characteristics at all.' He says: “In that lump of flesh and bones, there is a true person always going in and out through our senses”. That person is the one in which our practice can take refuge for understanding the Buddha dharma. That is the point of what Dogen Zenji says: Because it is realised by Buddha s alone, it is said only a Buddha and a Buddha can completely master it . It is realised by Buddha s alone: there the true person realises the true person, Buddha s realise Buddha s, and the Buddha dharma realises the Buddha dharma itself.
And it's not saying here that we get transformed into Buddhas, that we ordinary beings get transformed into Buddhas at that moment; but only that we take refuge in it, be one with our true reality, the true fact, the true joy that Hakuin Zenji points at when he says: “This very body is the Buddha”. Here the Buddha dharma is not only realised, but also personalised, which I think is the most important part of our practice. Personalise it as our ourselves, as the entire universe.
Dogen continues: When you realise the Buddha dharma, do not think: ‘This is realisation, just as I expected'. Even if you think so, realisation always differs from your expectation. Realisation is not like your conception of it. Accordingly, realisation cannot take place as previously conceived. ‘This is realisation, just as I expected, do not think like that’, says Dogen Zenji. Expectations and conceptions come from the past, which is the known, which is just memory. And to quote Bankei Zenji, the unborn that he was always talking about through all this teachings, the unborn that constantly is coming into life as our very life, our practice that is completely free, is not subject to expectations or concepts. And, you know, after all, what would be more disappointing than to find out that realisation is just as we expected! Boring, indeed!
Dogen says: “...cannot take place as previously conceived.” Really, cannot take place. This is a strong affirmation; also when he says: What you think is not a help for realisation. Really, if there is a clear previous concept about how things should be, how realisation should manifest itself, these concepts are occupying a place in which realisation can sit and do Mu and do shikantaza, do zazen.
He says: What you think is not a help for realisation , but we should understand also that it is not an obstruction. This ‘just thinking’ doesn't help, doesn't block. How can it block the power of the unknown?
He continues, saying: Although realisation is not like any of the thoughts preceding it, this is not because such thoughts were actually bad and could not be realisation. Past thoughts in themselves were already realisation. Past thoughts in themselves were already realisation itself, he says. Here he's pointing to the thought itself and not to the chain of ‘thinking about'; just the thought, just that flashing moment of the mind in the now. This is what we call also ‘nen'. Every day we recite the Enmei Jikku Kannon Gyo, saying “Nen nen fu ri shin”: the mind in the now (nen), the thought in the now (nen), is one with the mind, comes from the mind. At that point we can just see a thought as realisation itself, a flash of mind in a moment as realisation itself.
Since you were seeking elsewhere, you thought and said that thoughts cannot be realisation, he says. We were searching around, and in that activity we couldn't recognise what was already manifesting itself, vividly clear. Since you were seeking elsewhere, you thought and said that thoughts cannot be realisation, that your actual mind cannot be realisation. This is projecting our Mu or our shikantaza or our zazen, our very life, into the future, practising as if the Buddha dharma, the Buddha way were a kind of Star Trek. And it is not like that. That way we don't pay attention to Hakuin's very simple, very effective advice: “Attention, attention, attention”.
There is a story in the Sufi tradition, where a person was searching for something in the garden, and a friend comes and says to him: “What are you searching for?” He said: “I am searching [for] the key to my house.” So the friend decides to help. And after several hours, he asks: “So, where did you lose the key?” And the other guy says: “Oh, I lost the key over there.” So the friend gets really upset and says: “So why are we searching here?” And the other says: “Because in that place it's dark, and over here has more light”. This is a basic temptation of our practice: to settle down in those so-called bright places. But this is not the place where we lost the thing. We should go to the dark places, that dark cave, the mouth of the wolf that Hakuin says is the mirror of Hannya wisdom. But really, there is nothing terrible about that dark mouth of the wolf. Nothing is more dark than the obvious, nothing more obvious than the actuality of the present moment as life, as practice, as ourselves.
Continuing, our text says: However, it is worth noticing that what you think one way or another is not a help for realisation. Then you are careful not to be small-minded. If realisation came forth by the power of your prior thoughts, it would not be trustworthy . This is a very interesting phrase: “If realisation came forth by the power of your prior thoughts, it would not be trustworthy”. It would be just our own creation. Elsewhere, in the Mumonkan, there is a phrase that says: “Things that are the result of cause and effect go away because of cause and effect”. Every single thing that we produce through our practice, that we create through our practice, will go away. That's for sure. So the Buddha dharma is not concerned with the kind of realisation which is just the projection of our ideas or concepts.
There is a story about a chicken that, after hard practice, was able to become a fox. That was just what she wanted. And at that moment, she discovered in bitter disappointment that she was not able to eat corn any more! Sometimes this is the nature of transformation: we become a fox, but we still want to eat corn. This happens when we are just creating a ground first and then we walk through it and then we reach some place. That's possible. It happens every moment. But that is not the true thing.
Realisation does not depend on thoughts, but comes forth far beyond them, says Dogen Zenji. Realisation is helped only by the power of realisation itself. “Does not depend on thoughts, but comes forth far beyond them”: from the limits of the limitless universe, Mu comes forth, shikantaza comes forth; from the most intimate of our self, Mu comes forth, shikantaza comes forth, filling all life, all time, all space. Realisation there “is helped only by the power of realisation itself.” What is that power of realisation itself? Rinzai Zenji has something to say there: “When I am hungry, I eat; when I am tired, I sleep”. This is true power. This is true realisation. No technique or method can produce total attention, genuine realisation. This is not a promised result, just as love is not. Just to see intimately, with our whole body-and-mind, the complete dance of non-attention clouding the aliveness and completeness of each moment, is attention itself, is practice itself, is realisation itself.
Our text finishes, saying: Know that then there is no delusion and there is no realisation . We say here there is no realisation. So I say at this very moment there is no delusion. There comes to my mind a poem that says:
For those who wait only for flowers to bloom