Friday, March 30, 2012

Dropping off body and mind


“To be verified by all things is to let the body and mind of the self and the body and mind of others drop off.” – Genjokoan, Dogen

“Dropping off body and mind” is a key phrase in Dogen Zenji’s teaching.  This is an expression that was originally used by Dogen’s teacher, Tiantong Rujing in Chinese or Tendo Nyojo in Japanese.  Dogen in his autobiography Hokyoku (Record of the Hokyo Era) gives an account of Rujing’s exposition of this phrase.

My summary of Dogen’s writing on three encounters with Rujing about “dropping off body and mind” is:


1.     Practice (sanzen) is dropping off body and mind.  Dropping off body and mind is zazen.  This is an elucidation of practice/enlightenment.  Through the simplicity and surrender in doing zazen, we surrender body and mind and merge with universal functioning.  By being 100% mindful, merging the “I” subject with the activity of the moment, we are also dropping off body and mind.
2.     Dropping off is being freed from the 3 poisons, 5 desires and 6 coverings.  Dogen was questioning if the old teachings were still important in Zen.  Rujing answered in the affirmative that we must include the old sacred teachings as they are the teachings of the Buddha.  Dropping off means to drop off:
a.     The three poisons of attachment, hatred, and ignorance
b.     The 5 desires which come out of attachment to the 5 sense objects.
c.      The 6 coverings which are the 5 hindrances plus ignorance: sensual desire or greed, hatred, sleepiness and dullness, restlessness and distraction, doubt.  To drop off ignorance is the essential practice of the buddhas and ancestors.
d.     Sitting itself is the practice of the buddhas.  It is the only method of being free of the 5 desires and the 6 coverings.
3.     Buddhas and Ancestors do not forget or abandon living beings in their zazen; they offer a heart of compassion to all.  The zazen of buddhas and ancestors places primary importance on great compassion and the vow to save all living beings.  In doing so, we free ourselves from the three sicknesses:  attachment, mistaken views and arrogance.
4.     Affirming the dropping off body and mind of the buddhas and ancestors is the flexible mind.  This is called the mind-seal of the Buddhas and ancestors.  This flexible, pliant mind is a mind that is concentrated but fluid.  It doesn’t snag on anything.  It doesn’t grab or reject.  It meets every phenomena as buddha.  The ancestors have called this fluid mind, like a pearl rolling in a bowl.

If you are interested in reading more about this or the primary sources, please read Shohaku Okamura’s book, “Realizing Genjokoan”  pages 81-97.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A continuous line of immediacy


Dogen is like a twentieth century cubist.  He tries to show the “whole” by showing every possible angle.  He tries to show the “whole” by contradicting all the views.  If we hold on to one view or understand realization through our perceptions, that is not realization.  He writes in the Fukanzazengi, “realization can not be understood by discriminative thinking….Is it not a standard prior to knowledge and views?”  Realization cannot be understood by holding onto a certain view.  In fact, it is by letting go of our names, concepts and opinions and by letting go of our thoughts themselves, that realization is manifested.

The second sentence in Daigo, Great Realization by Dogen in the Shobogenzo is an example of the cubist Dogen.  It is also an example of Dogen’s brilliance in expressing the prism-like facets of the diamond of enlightenment.  It’s not limited by one thing or view.

The second sentence:
“Therefore the great realization is manifested; the Way is reached through no-realization; reflecting realization and freely utilize the realization, losing realization and letting the practice go.”  (From Shohaku Okumara’s draft translation of 2008)

The different facets of enlightenment are seen from a Cubist view as different angles of the same thing and expressed by Dogen thus:
  1.     .     The Great realization is manifested (kensho).  This is the present moment when we have a deep insight into the true nature of reality: impermanence, no separate self-entity and inter-being.
  2.      .    The way is reached through no-realization (emptiness). This understanding goes beyond conceptualization and disappears in the practice of leaving no trace.  Realization does not become a “thing” or a “thing” that can have an opposite like delusion.  It is completely vast and includes everything.  Even though it is completely vast it does not “move a speck of dust or destroy a single form”. (Jijuyu Zanmai)
  3.   .  Reflecting realization and freely utilizing realization. This facet of enlightenment is called returning to delusion or re-entering the marketplace as in the ox-herding pictures.  Realization is reflected in every phenomena or form like the moon in a dewdrop. Each form lives in total equality with each other.  A mature practitioner can freely utilize their understanding in their ordinary lives.  Life is actually not ordinary anymore, as we can see that each form reflects the whole.  Understanding this phrase, freely utilize, we can conduct our lives with non-reactivity, non-grasping and deep awareness.
  4.    .  Losing realization and letting the practice go.  Kaz Tanahasi translates this as “enlightenment disappears in the practice of letting go.”  This is the releasing of our sense of enlightenment as time-bound.  If we release our “kensho”, then we are birthed anew in every moment with no looking back.  We can be completely fresh, each moment, in the flow of time.


Dogen’s many-angled exposition helps us not hold on to anything about our ideas of enlightenment.  This is how we can begin to understand realization as Nashijima and Cross translated it: “a continuous line of immediacy”.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Poem for Fying Fish's Shuso Ceremony

Poem for Flying Fish’s Shuso (head monk) ceremony

Diving into deep chasms
Peering into dark caves
No shadow left unilluminated
You proceed with the great open body
Unafraid
Into the unknown.

Tying the mind to vastness
Together, we wrangle all our wild stories.
Without momentum, the wheel    slowly          stops.

Stopping and resting
We notice
Birds fly like birds
Fish swim like fish