Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cubist Enlightenment


Several years ago in the practice leaders study group, we were questioning what to study.  Ken Ford said, “Let’s study enlightenment!” We all laughed and balked.  Balked because it’s a tricky or scary question. We all should understand this thing we search for, ‘enlightenment’, but who does?  Can enlightenment be understood?  And yet, if we don’t have some understanding or framework, we can get remarkably off the track of an unselfish or non-“self”-oriented spirituality.  So, we began to study Dogen on enlightenment and we especially studied “Daigo, Great Realization” from the Shobogenzo.  Since then, I have been studying this fascicle, right side up and upside down, trying to clarify this essential question.

Dogen does not want us to have a fixed conceptual idea of enlightenment.  He does not want enlightenment to be a noun, a fixed state of mind, or worse yet, some experience that one has “once and everything is changed forever” or that you enter a vermillion tower in the sky, or that you transcend ordinary reality, never being mud-covered again.  He does not want “enlightenment” to have a solid space or a fixed time which would be counter to the desire to really taste open, boundless, timeless reality.  This reality is continuously combusting in every 6 and a half billion moments in the 24 hours.

Expounding in Dogen’s wonderfully poetic and non-linear literary style, he tries to show all the many facets of how inherent enlightenment is felt by humans.  He is like a 20th century cubist as he writes. (How irreverent to compare him to Gertrude Stein!) But his use of the combination word - practice-realization, is the beginning of trying to show enlightenment from every angle and particularly a non-dualistic point of view.

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 or satori).  This is the actual moment in life perhaps we could say the peak moments of life, when body-mind-heart are completely one.  When mind and environment are completely one.  When you have entered into non-thinking and wholeness.  This is often such a startling experience that we tend to cling to it and thus, unbeknownst to the experiencer, stumble into clinging and desire, the 2nd Noble Truth, and increase our suffering.

2.     The way is reached through no-realization (emptiness). We might call this mu-realization.  This experience is beyond conceptualization and beyond achievement.  The “enlightenment” disappears and we very naturally follow the practice of leaving no trace.  No person, no event, no path, no cessation, no enlightenment.

3.     Reflecting realization and freely utilizing realization.  We might call this u-realization or realization in form. In Daigo, Dogen calls this returning to delusion. One is able to reflect or utilize realization effortlessly in our ordinary life of the form world and the laws of cause and effect.  This is often reported as going into the briars and brambles and being covered with mud.  Dogen writes, “The Buddha ancestors freely played with mud-balls”.

4.     Losing realization and letting the practice go. In the end, enlightenment is a lot about being able to let go over and over and over and over in each moment.  Dogen writes, “Lose is enlightenment, gain is delusion.”  Living with the view of timelessness, we can relate to each moment’s arising with freshness.  In order to be fresh, one has to let go of the previous moment.  This is learning to be fresh in the flow of time.  This is learning to relax and let go completely, surrendering yourself to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.  Entrusting ourselves to the waves.

This many faceted expounding of the dharma of enlightenment, helps me let go of my previous notions and my linear sense of development.  It allows me to be free to receive this moment as it is as enlightenment.  This frees me from the burden of centralizing life around my self-centered needs and security and to be able to participate in life with a fresh wholehearted presence and with composure based on a very large, universal understanding of what’s going on. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Circle of the Way


Clouds in Water just finished a sesshin at Hokyoji Zen Community in Southeastern Minnesota.  I have been coming to this land and this place for at least 35 years. This land and place is so conducive to sesshin.  It’s simply a wondrous place to practice.  The mountains, valleys, birds, bells, grasses, tiles and pebbles are all the sounds and sights of the dharma singing and contributing to our awakening.

Reworking a quote from Dogen from Uji, Time-being:
The self that is deconstructed in time and space,
The self that’s contents is that of the ‘other’,
When practicing like this, we see that the self is the whole world.
Knowing in this way, there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses,
All things through the entire earth,
And yet each grass and each form itself, is the entire earth.
All the comings and goings are the dynamic Zenki, “the whole works.”
All is one and one is all.
All relations of forms and grasses, the whole earth and the self arise together.
Practicing with the self of the whole world in this way is the commencement of Buddhist Practice.

Buddhist practice is like a many faceted diamond.  All times and all efforts support the idea of a continuous practice.
Dogen describes this as the Circle of the Way.
The perpetuation of the Way is done through the activity and devotion of practice-realization which expresses itself through the activity of these 4 aspects.
  1. Aspiration
  2. Practice
  3. Realization
  4. Attaining the Buddha Way or Nirvana.

If you are experiencing yourself in any of these 4 ways, you are in the perpetuation of the Way.

Aspiration
a.     If you are aspiring to practice or to study, that is the Way.  Our intentions set the seeds for many blooms.  It is very important to keep your intentions strong and in the forefront of your mind.  We always hold our aspirations in our hearts.
Practice
b.     Study and practice the way.  From Shih-T’ou’s Song of the Grass Roof Hermitage : Study the Ancestors instructions, bind grasses to build a hut, and don’t give up.
Realization
c.      These are moments in our practice when we are actually manifesting oneness.  Subject and object are merged and the “I” subject is forgotten in the object of the moment and only pure activity remains. From Katagiri-Roshi: You can see yourself, your activity and your body and mind in the realm of emptiness, occupying the whole universe but this is beyond human speculations, concepts or ideas.
Attaining the Buddha Way or Nirvana
d.     Nirvana is not a place.  It is not a vermillion tower in the sky or a palace of pleasure.  Enlightenment is not an event that occurs in time.  It is a Way or a passageless passage.  We learn and can experience each moment as it arises, as Buddha, and the expression of the source of eternity.  Moment after moment, the way unfolds.  Each moment is the universe.  In this way we can find freedom and release in each moment of the Way of our lives.

From Katagiri-roshi:  When you practice this way, your practice is simultaneously touching the source of existence and blooming your particular flower right now, right here.  That is why practice is not apart from enlightenment.  Practice is enlightenment.



Friday, September 7, 2012

Now, Now, Now


Bring your whole, unified body and mind to this moment, fully knowing that this moment is impermanent.  This moment arises and disappears in 1/62nd of a finger snap.  That happens so fast we cannot catch it with consciousness, but we can notice the activity we are engaged in and completely do this one activity.  Katagiri roshi describes this as the “I” merging with the “object” so that only activity is left.  Now is the only true reality.  It is the truth-happening place.  In this way of living, we can bring the moment fully alive and let go of any sense of attainment or result.  This is practice. 

In reading about Mother Theresa, she often used the words Ek, Ek, Ek.  This is translated into One, One, One from the Hindi.  Mother Theresa herself insisted to the end that she was merely “a little pencil” in God’s hand, referring decisions to him case by case.  One by One.  Ek. Ek. Ek. One. One. One.

That reminds me of ichinen in Zen.  One thought. Or One now. Or one moment.
One doing.

In living life this way, we start to taste the freshness that the understanding of impermanence cultivates.  We understand that in each moment, the 6,400,099,980 moments in the 24 hours, the whole universe arises and perishes.  In each,  Just arising, the whole world is fresh and new.

Impermanence brings forth in our understanding, the preciousness and fragility of life.  What are we doing with our precious human birth?  Can we appreciate this one day?  As Dogen describes it, in each moment “the whole being of emptiness leaps out of itself.”  Owning our precious human birth, we can begin to live life, one day at a time and as fully as possible.  In Zen, we might say that living ‘one day at a time’ is appreciating the phrase from Dogen;  live in such a way that every moment of the twenty four hours does not pass by vainly.

From Thich Nhat Hanh “Touching the Earth.”

Gatha on Impermanence

The day has now ended.
Our lives are shorter.
Now we look carefully.
What have we done?

Noble Sangha, with all our heart,
Let us be diligent,
Engaging in the practice.
Let us live deeply,
Free from afflictions,
Aware of impermanence
So that life does not
Drift away without meaning.


And the Evening Message from the closing of the Zendo at night:
I beg to urge you everyone,
Life and death is a great matter.
All things pass quickly away.
Awaken, Awaken, Take heed.
Make use of this precious life.