actual reality

The baby cardinals have trouble staying on the feeder.  They don’t cling like the baby woodpeckers or nuthatches.  Mostly they careen against the column of mesh, knocking themselves off in a shower of sunflower seeds which lie on the ground for the mourning doves and sparrows.  Eventually, they manage to crash and cling to the rim on the rebound.  It takes practice.

Dogen said, To study the Buddha Way is to study the self.  He used the Japanese word narau for “study” and its root means “to get accustomed to,” “to become familiar with,” “to get used to,” or “to become intimate with.”

Shohaku Okumura in To Study the Self (in The Art of Just Sitting edited by John Daido Loori) explains:

In the Chinese character for narau, the upper part of the kanji means “bird’s wings.”  The lower part of the kanji refers to “self.”  This study is like a baby bird studying or learning how to fly with its parents.  By nature,  a baby bird has the ability to fly, but a baby bird does not know how to fly.  So the baby watches its parents and learns how to fly.  It tries again and again, and finally it can fly like its parents.  This is the original meaning of “to study” here.  This is not simply intellectual study.

Okumura points out that accumulation of intellectual knowledge keeps us from flying, by which he means, we cannot live out our true meaning weighted down by perceptions and ignorance.  (Ironic how knowledge can also lend itself to entrenching ignorance.)  To see actual reality we must become who we actually are (actualize ourselves).  And studying the self is as essential for us to become human as is flying to a baby bird is to become a bird (except for those cute penguins and ostriches). 

11 thoughts on “actual reality

  1. I love this fleshing out, this deeper description of “to study the self”, it makes so much sense. And I’ve been enjoying the bird ensos and the stories that go with them.

    • ZDS, I thought you might enjoy the theme with all the time you’ve been spending outdoors! Sorry to hear of your ankle. I hope it is healing well and you can enjoy the Canada Day festivities!

  2. We oxen people study the self a little differently than bird people do. First we eat some whole grain stuff, preferably with a good farmhouse butter. Then we loll around on the grass for a while. Then we shit. The studying part comes in when we smell the shit. It’s almost always stinky. Then we eat some more whole grain stuff and repeat the cycle. Never ending study – always stinky!

    • You will laugh at this: The “hummingbird enso” was first a “sparrow or linnet enso” but I really had trouble with the shitty brown. Generally, the enso stank! And so does my huge ego because I covered it with the viridian… which apparently does not come from same the root as “veracity.” I shall go eat some grain and do a few lolling prostrations! 😈

  3. I just love your enso’s. Someone recently asked me to explain what an enso is, and I was pretty lame. Maybe it’s like someone said in reference to a yacht: If you have to ask what it costs, you can’t afford one. Anyway, keep inspiring me.

  4. What a treat! Beautiful ensos with colours that take me in a whole different direction, and Okumura and his teacher Uchiyama – two of my all time favourite zen dudes!

  5. When I talk about Buddhism sometimes with my clients, I explain the idea of Buddha nature to them, and the response is often, “Well if our nature is fundamentally open and good, why aren’t we living that way?” I say, “Well, our nature is there but we have to cultivate it, like a seed in the ground, it’s nature to become a flower will only become realized if it’s nurtured with various factors.” Thanks for sharing the image and analogy of the baby bird, which is a wonderful way to say it, clear and easy to understand. Your enso’s are beautiful, naked and beautiful 🙂

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