painting the rice cake

Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye edited by Kaz Tanahashi: The Moon (tsuki)

The pronunciation means “moon”; the ideograph can mean “entire” (tsu) and “function” (ki) (Glossary, p 1071).  Dogen points out our tendency to get caught in absolutes and to be blind to the 10, 000 dharmas (the moon) contained in the smallest drop of dew.  And we do love our assumptions about how things should be: full moon, half-moon, moon rising, moon setting.

He writes of Nagarjuna who was teaching to an assembly and challenged that “even if (he spoke) of buddha nature, no one (could) see it.”  Nagarjuna responded that in order to see buddha nature, we have to let go of our pride.  He “manifested a body of complete freedom in the shape of a full moon” but no one in the assembly understood what was happening; an understandable reaction when we’re caught in our own translation code of the world.  One among the crowd, Kanadeva, explained that “the samadhi of no-form has taken the shape of a full moon.  Buddha nature is vast, empty, and clear.”

That moon of buddha nature cannot be capture in a single circle.  It cannot be contained in the lines of the brush.  

Know that when you paint the manifestation of a full moon, do it on a dharma seat.

Otherwise it will have no shape of moon, of the moon’s full being or thusness.  Otherwise, “you are not embodying the expression and painting the expounding of dharma, but merely creating a piece of painted rice cake.”

It is only by letting go of our preconceptions of something is, letting go of our pride, that we can truly paint – manifest – reality.

Never paint what cannot be painted.  Paint straightforwardly what needs to be painted.

the teaching of whole-hearted sitting

Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye edited by Kaz Tanahashi: teaching styles

“Wind” can refer to teaching styles and Dogen describes his own journey in search of a teacher.  

After the aspiration for enlightenment arose, I began to search for dharma, visiting teachers at various places in our country….  Later I went to Great Song China, visited masters on both sides of the Zhe River, and heard the teachings of the Five Schools.  Finally, I became a student of Zen Master Rujing of Taibai Peak and completed my life’s quest of the great matter.

It’s no easy journey, this finding of a teacher who can rouse the fires or stoke the coals of an aspiration for enlightenment.  We get caught up – student and teacher alike – in our craving not just for the teachings but for what the teachings will bring us.  We may wish that “the wind of the ancient sages be heard,” but we may wish for the sound to arise from our small heart.

There may be true students who are not concerned with fame and gain who allow their aspiration for enlightenment to guide them and earnestly desire to practice the buddha way.  They may be misguided by incapable teachers and obstructed from the correct understanding; intoxicated in confusion, they may sink into the realm of delusion for a long time.  How can they nourish the correct seed of prajna and encounter the time of attaining the way?

It’s a good question for our time of tangled lineages and multiplicity of sketchy teachers.  Dogen advises:

From the first time you meet a master, without depending on incense offering, bowing, chanting buddha names, repentance, or reading scriptures, just wholeheartedly sit, and thus drop away body and mind.

I would add that in the search of a teacher we take care of who we think is a master.  There is a difference between someone who is a master of befriending her own delusions and one who is  a master of befriending ours.

the buddha nature of falling skies

Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye edited by Kaz Tanahashi: Treeness

Zahozhou was asked by a monk, “Does the cypress tree have buddha nature?”

Zhazhou answered, “It does.”

The monk said, “When does it become buddha?”

Zhazhou said, “When the sky falls to the ground.”

The monk said, “When does that happen?”

Zhazhou said: “When the cypress tree becomes buddha.”

This gives me a new appreciation of feeling like the sky is falling.  And since I  know the sky falls constantly, it must mean there is buddha nature constantly manifesting even in my fear-drenched world.  However, I don’t think that’s the real connection between the sky falling and the cypress tree becoming a buddha.

The resolution is in synchronous nature of Zhaozhou’s words: “When the sky falls to the ground” and “When the cypress tree become buddha.”

transmission of fetching water

Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye edited by Kaz Tanahashi: Miracles

Layman Pang said “Miracles are nothing other than fetching water and carrying firewood.”

Dogen, writing on miracles, points out that we conflate the extraordinary with the ordinary.  Miracles happen “three thousand times in the morning and eight hundred times in the evening.”  We can only attain the way through the power of miracles.  But the miracle is not what we tend to think it is.  At one level, it is the everyday-ness of getting on with life, meeting each moment and responding to what is required.  At a deeper level, it is the thread of our history, the true transmission from time immemorial.

(F)etching water is a great miracle.  The custom of fetching water and carrying firewood has not declined, as people have not ignored it.  It has come down from ancient times to today, and it has been transmitted from there to here.  Thus, miracles have not declined even for a moment.  Such are great miracles, which are no small matter.

I’m always amazed when I think of my practice as something new, something I have to “do” because I’ve been “doing” it for some years now.  The real miracle is that living a life of practice has not been ignored, it has come down to us from ancient times, silently and without fanfare.

practice like a mountain

A week of playing with Dogen, the breath, and the brush.

Starting with the daunting 1171-page Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, edited by Kaz Tanahashi (Shambhala Pub 2010).  Dogen used the image of the mountain powerfully through his writings and the most familiar to us is likely the Mountains and Waters Sutra (pp. 154-164).  Another use of mountains is in an undated fascicle:

An ancient buddha said, “Mountains, rivers, and earth are born at the same moment with each person.  All buddhas of the past, present, and future are practicing together with each person.”

If we look at mountains, rivers, and earth when a person is born, this person’s birth does not seem to be bringing forth additional mountains, rivers, and earth on top of the existing ones.  Yet, the ancient buddha’s words should not be a mistake.  How should we understand this?

Dogen tends to remind me not to take things literally.  Or maybe it’s a reminder to not stop at the literal.  He goes on to say that we have no way of knowing our own beginning or ending – or anyone else’s.  Similarly, we don’t know the beginnings or endings of “mountains, rivers, and the earth.”  And here’s the hook: this not-knowing doesn’t keep us from “see(ing) the place and walk(ing) there.”  And so it is with practice, with living and with dying.

groping the elephant

Eminent students [of the Dharma], long accustomed to groping for the elephant, pray do not doubt the true dragon.*

I like my misconceptions.  Actually, it’s more accurate to say I don’t dislike them enough.  In fact, they are so weakly challenged for their right of passage through my inner world that they tend to leave quite a mess behind.  None of this genteel “guests” in the Guesthouse à la Rumi.  And yet, strangely, I like them for the momentary respite they give me from reality.

Then on Monday, Barry at Ox Herding wrote a lovely post on reality to which I commented that “if reality is not optional, then suffering is inevitable.”  So there you have it.  Grope on that elephant all you want; reality will win out when you sit atop it and the tree trunks start moving.

*Maezumi, Hakuyu Taizan, Commentary on Fukanzazengi.  In Loori, John Daido (ed.), The Art of Just Sitting: Essential writings on the zen practice of shikantaza.

PS: Barry has graciously offered his new book The Path of Zen to everyone.  It’s simply beautiful… and very real!  Please click here to obtain a copy.  A deep bow of gratitude for all your teachings, Barry!

Edit: “if reality is optional, then suffering is inevitable.”  Not surprising I’m always confused!

buddha, ltd

Do not try to become a buddha.  How could being a buddha be limited to sitting or not sitting?*

It’s difficult not to feel the pressure of time multiplied by dreams of what was to be.  These days I hear a little voice, more frequently than is comfortable, whispering, “It’s too late.”  Too late for this dream to be realized, too late for that wish to be fulfilled.  It’s not the frantic rabbity sense of “too late” but more a slothful, sluggish drag-my-butt sense of a compressed future.  I can be quite rational about this urgency (or lack thereof) when it relates to the to-do list of career or social eddies.  However, in matters of practice, it is a turbo-charged driveness that isn’t always useful.

And then I’m reminded that buddha or buddha-limited, sitting up-straight is the only option.  In fact, not just sitting up-straight but being upright is non-negotiable.

I think I’ll start a new organization: buddha, limited.  Anyone want to join as CEO?

*Dogen, Recommending Zazen to All People.  In Tanahashi, Kazuaki (ed.), Enlightenment Unfolds: The essential teachings of Zen Master Dogen.