Sometimes to understand a koan or a passage from Dogen, it’s
necessary to understand the language or a phrase. The phrases often have a symbolic or metaphorical
meaning. Part of the beauty of Zen
is our tradition of poetic images.
Instead of using traditional technical language, our ancestors really
challenged each other to come up with unusual, colorful, symbolic language that
expressed their understanding, which is essentially not understood
intellectually but possibly, pointed at through images. (from the introduction to Zen Sand by Victor Hori)
I have been trying to understand what raising his eyebrows and blinking his eyes mean from the ending of Uji, Being-Time of Dogen’s Shobogenzo. This has been a detective process for me. Finding a trail of the use of this
phrase and then “getting it.” The
process led me to my first “find” in my search.
On page 405 of the Eihei Koroku, Leighton & Okamura
We hit the han and sit
Zazen according to the olden manner, and you are urged to avoid sleep and to
seek the elimination of all doubts.
Do not let yourself blink your eyes or raise your eyebrows.”
Oh, Oh, so it means to go from stillness to movement. Oh, oh, we are working with the
dichotomy of stillness and activity. The main work of all Zen, is to understand
the dicotomies as one dynamic working.
The opposites swirling around each other in one energy. One
sword cuts into one piece.
So now that we see the undermeaning, we can enter into the
koan at the end of Uji.
Once Yaoshan Weiyan at
the direction of Shitou Xiqian, went Zen Master Ma-tsu (Basso) with a question.
“I believe I have a
fair grasp of the three vehicles and the teaching of the twelve divisions (all
aspects of Buddhist doctrine) but what about the meaning of the first
patriarch’s coming from the west?
understand most doctrinal teachings in Buddhism, but what is the real meaning
the time being, I let him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes.
the time being, I don’t let him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes
the time being, my letting him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes is correct
the time being my letting him raise his eyebrows and blink his eyes is not
If we understand raising
his eyebrows and blinking his eyes to mean that Bodhidharma, Buddha or
ourselves as buddha, begin to move into the activity of the form world from
emptiness or stillness, we can see that these sentences are working with the
dualities of; affirmation and negation, form and emptiness, activity and
stillness. Throughout all of Dogen’s
teachings, he is expounding, that no matter what side of a dichotomy is being
expressed in the moment, this expression is the entire universe, is the mystery
itself without any naming or categorization. We do not pick and choose but see this moment whether we
like it or not, as realization and enlightenment itself. Nothing is left out of the mystery and,
as I say over and over, the dualities swirl around each other making the
dynamics of ‘the whole working’.
Both sides are recognized, however they arise, as the source (as
emptiness or impermanence itself).
If I am practicing and expressing activity, or if I am practicing and
expressing not-activity, both are equally an expression of the mystery of life
and equally realization.
This passage goes on to work with right and wrong which is
the ever-present frustration in human life. Am I doing this right or wrong? Our ever-arising ego-centricity wants to do everything
Right. We are attached to right. We
are often attached to emptiness or sometimes attached oppositely to our storied
form life or to both! Yet both
right and wrong, success and failure, form and emptiness, are never outside of
the ever-present expression of the mysteriously alive moment. Enlightenment is to be non-attached yet fully present.
While the seasons come
and go, and the mountains, rivers, and great earth change with time, you should
know that this is buddha raising his eyebrows and blinking his eyes – so it is
the unique body revealed in myriad things.
Keizan’s, Transmission of the Light, case 1. Shakyamuni Buddha
Each moment we experience in our lives is the expression of
Buddha raising his eyebrows and blinking his eyes. Katagiri-Roshi often said that practice was seeing and
treating everything as Buddha itself.
Buddha’s body is expressed in its myriad forms.
Dogen expresses this reality - that every form arising is
the suchness itself, so beautifully in the next poem. Nirvana
or the vermillion towers
are found nowhere
else than in the present expression.
Realization is after all an
everyday affair. (Fukanzazengi)
From Eihei Koroku, Leighton & Okamura, page 623
8 verses given to a
strain my ears, raise my head, and wait for the dawn breeze.
many times, dreamily herding an ox in the spring rain?
realizes that this intention pierces the heavens?
remain with raising eyebrows and blinking eyes.
Labels: Being-time, Dogen, duality and non-duality, Eihei Koroku, form and emptiness, Keizan's case 1, picking and choosing, raising his eyebrows and blinking his eyes, Shobogenzo, transmission of the lamp, Uji