Mar 31 2012

Midterm Question #3


What is Dogen’s intention in Genjo Koan when he says, “Here is the place. Here the way unfolds”?

Dogen’s intention is always to shake up our ideas about practice. I think a lot of his students were long-term practitioners with ideas and concepts about what it meant to practice the Buddha Way. As a skillful teacher he is, Dogen brings forth the dharma in such a way that it inspires us to practice, while at the same time, keeps us from turning the dharma into some “thing” to know, understand or grasp. Repeatedly Dogen is reminding us to practice and realize the dharma as an experience, not as a knowing, and to stop trying to gain some “thing” that is different than what is already here.

In the Fukanzazengi Dogen instructs us not to “go off to dusty realms”. His intention is to bring us back to right here, right now. This is where practice-realization occurs; in the midst of our experience of whatever is going on. Dogen keeps bringing us back to non-dualism of this is good practice, this is bad practice, this is enlightenment and this is delusion. We don’t need to create some special state of mind, or special way of being, or even set up special circumstances to bring forth the something called “realization”. Dogen repeatedly wants to remind us that this is realization and that this is Buddha.

I occupy a body that is disabled. There are limitations to the amount of energy I have to function, and there are limits to the amount of sitting practice my body can take. For a long time, I would look at my teachers and mentors, or look at other senior people and think, “If I could practice like them, I might “get it”. Or, “I can’t possibly experience enlightenment because I can’t physically do all the things I am “suppose” to do”. Dogen is breaking up that thought with seven simple words.

Can I let go of my view that something has to change for me to “really practice”? Can I stop thinking my enlightenment resides in my teacher’s practice, or in that other priests practice, and simply allow my practice to be what it is? The perfect expression of Buddha’s Way in this body with this mind, and living with these causes and conditions. Dogen is pointing me towards the enactment of practice as realization.

It is of interest to me as I unpack Dogen’s expression of Dharma, that he really does say pretty much the same thing over and over. Get rid of the idea that anything is separate including the dharma, including enlightenment, including delusion. Look at what is happening and let that expression be all that is necessary. Dogen does his best to shake up our ideas. This includes our ideas about what he is saying. There is nothing special here, which of course makes his teachings very special. Zazen practices Zazen; practice is realization; expound the dharma of this moment simply by letting go and allowing this moment to expound itself. We don’t need to find some special state, special practice, or special place. It’s all already here, practicing itself. I am starting to see the answer to Dogen’s question that sent him to China. He asked, “If we already have Buddha-Nature (or even are Buddha-Nature), then why do we have to practice?” He answers, “Because that’s what Buddha’s do. They practice.”

Mar 31 2012

Midterm Question #2


What does Dogen mean in Genjo Koan by “myriad things come forth and illuminate themselves”?

I think when we begin to practice; we want some relief from our suffering. There is something in our lives that brings us to do this, and we have some motivation to accomplish this thing called “relief”. We set out to achieve enlightenment, and then hearing Dogen, maybe we begin to search out this “dropping off body and mind” thing. We strive for something, we attempt to practice the dharma in the same way we live our lives; getting it right and receiving the rewards of getting it right.

Dogen here turns that idea on its head. He says, “To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion.” Don’t think you have anything to “do”. It is similar to his instructions about studying. It’s not an intellectual study, nor is this an activity that is a “doing”. This is Dogen’s non-dualism again. Practice is realization. The activity is almost secondary in some ways.

Dogen follows this instruction with the line about those who have great realization about delusion are Buddhas, and those who are greatly deluded about what realization is, are sentient beings. So if you think you “know” something about realization, then you are stuck. But once you practice-realize the nature of delusion as awakening, then you are practice-realizing Buddhahood.

As human beings we always have an agenda; even if our agenda is to have no agenda. For instance, as a Chaplain, I want to enter a room and meet what is happening with an open mind and an open heart. I try to cultivate beginners mind, to meet each experience as new. This too is an agenda. Dogen is instructing us in this line to let even that be included in our expression of the moment. Not to worry when I notice myself having some agenda or writing some story about how “it should be”. Instead Dogen says, recognize that all things, including our agendas come forth of themselves, and not to worry about it. Let that story illuminate itself, see it for what it is, empty and without merit.

It is important to note that this is also Dogen’s reminder about non-duality. There is no right or wrong here. As the mind arises in this moment it isn’t closer or further away from enlightenment. It is doing what minds do. As our lives present themselves can we let go of the duality of right and wrong, good or bad, and just experience the arising as it is. Suzuki Roshi called this, “Things as it is”. The myriad things appear to us. We just let that register as a myriad thing, let it illuminate itself, and then allow it to pass away. Anything extra is moving towards that “thing” and into delusion.

This line is an expression of the instruction for what Dogen means by the word “study”. Let the experiences, and situations come forth, and tell you about themselves. To study isn’t some sort of knowing, but simply paying attention to the nature of the myriad things that arise in each moment. Sitting zazen, without an agenda or special process, but merely to allow zazen to come forth and then for us to meet it as it comes. That is Dogen’s shikantaza.

Mar 31 2012

Midterm Question #1


What does Dogen mean in Fukanzazengi by taking the backward step to turn within?

This line follows Dogen’s instruction to “cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech”. And it is followed by the line that says, “Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest.” Dogen’s instruction is to stop trying to figure it out. Don’t think you have to “know” something or even “understand” something. The way for body and mind to drop away, which is one of Dogen’s expressions of practice-realization, is to simply look inwardly. This calls to mind his letter to a lay student, The Genjo Koan, in which he says, “To study the way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be awaken by myriad things, when one is awakened by myriad things your body and mind, as well as the bodies and minds of others will drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly. In both of these fascicles I believe Dogen is pointing us to what practice-realization looks like, and what the results of expounding this practice-realization could be.

In twelve-step programs there is an expression that basically says that in order to give something away you need to have it in the first place. This seems to be a similar call from Dogen. Study yourself, study what the mind is doing, what is this skin bag experiencing in this moment, because in order to give it up fully, you have to fully experience it. Much like Haller Roshi’s mantra of “What’s happening now? And what is it to practice with it?” Dogen instructs us to over and over again return to the ground of awakening, which is this very experience.

Dogen’s non-dualism also shows up here. Practice-realization is no different than this moment, and this moment is no different than practice-realization. If you want to see practice-realization or study practice-realization, look right here, at this spot. Don’t look outside the container of skin you have, don’t think that something else is going on. As Suzuki Roshi also says, “Just this is it.” Dogen’s precision is apparent in this one instruction. Another more modern paraphrase of this could be, “Stop thinking your way through this. Just experience what is happening, and once you are experiencing what is happening, you will realize that practice-realization is expressing itself right here right now.”

Of course this “backward step that turns the light inward” is incredibly difficult. This isn’t a study of the self that is intellectual or even something you can “know”. Can you look inward with a mind that is non-thinking? Is it even possible to stop from ‘figuring it out’ and simply look inward and let the experience of that looking deeply register something?
When I am sitting zazen, sometimes my right foot falls asleep. This sensation is disturbing, and uncomfortable. But by studying this sensation, without even naming it, but just to stop my forward motion into “oh my foot’s asleep” and step backward into a full experience and study of the sensation. This same instruction applies not just to physical sensations, but to mental sensations, and emotional sensations as well. This is the backward step. This is the turning the light inward. Grief arises, step back from the tendency to “do something” and instead just be grief. Fantasy arises, just step back from the tendency to follow it or suppress it and just experience what it is to “fantasy”.

Mar 31 2012



I wanted to share my midterm for my online Dogen class. That is if anyone actually reads this. I am going to break it into three parts, because it will make it shorter and easier to read. So that’s coming next. I got a perfect score, but really I just appreciate what I said.

In a whole other post, I will try to remember to write about what is going on. I have been having a bit of an emotional challenge lately, and I am starting to get some clarity of why and what to do about it. So hopefully I will remember that I have this blog and start to post more.