I have been contemplating what “doing nothing” means. “Doing nothing” certainly goes against
my achievement drive, or my idea of bettering myself, or my idea of attaining
enlightenment. I know that “doing
nothing” doesn’t mean simply “doing nothing” like a couch potato lost in the
dream of TV. But “doing nothing”
has something to do with the relinquishment of my “I”. My “I” is completely involved with
“getting something for itself.” My
“I” likes to “do” things that helps me improve. She likes skilfull means; “means” in order to get to the
“result.” She is attached to
freedom and no-suffering. What are the means to get me where i want to be?
Dogen addresses this problem of human beings’ deeply
engrained belief in subject and object, and in getting something better. The future will be better then the Now, we think. Dogen counters this deeply engrained belief by saying things
like -“Do not have designs on becoming a
In the question and answer section of Bendowa, He tries to
explain why zazen or his teaching of shikan taza (Just Sitting), which is a
time of sitting quietly and relinquishing “doing”, is the best expression of
the wonderful means for attaining the Way. In the Bendowa, he is addressing an audience of Buddhist who use many other
skillful means like chanting, bowing, visualizations, reciting sutras. These
other schools of Buddhism challenge his view with the question:
“How can you be
certain that if you pass your time sitting idly, doing nothing in zazen,
enlightenment will result?
Though he himself uses many of these same skilful means, he
is trying to encourage and defend his position (which differentiates his
teaching from the other schools of Japanese Buddhism at the time) of the
supreme importance of zazen and a zazen that is not filled with the greed for
gain. My understanding is that the
instant we insert a goal into zazen is the instant that we have inserted the
“Such practices are
difficult to relinquish for those who are deeply attached to gain – this is
because of the depth of their greed.”
I have been observing the depth of my greed that arises
endlessly and is so part of the human consciousness. It seems to me that this is Zen practice itself. Seeing the arising of; “this is good
for me” or “I need to get that” or “What is happening now isn’t good enough”
and then not following that thought, but returning to the body/mind of this
very moment of expression. This is
a very deep and subtle level of letting go of fame and gain. It requires us to let go of the control
the “I” thinks it has, and to allow the whole dynamic functioning to work with
me and with my environment as a Whole.
When we are speaking of doing and non-doing, I think the
expression: “You turn the dharma
wheel and then the dharma wheel turns you” is a wonderful practice saying. Often in the frenzy of trying to gain
what I want through my personal power, I don’t leave any space or time or have
faith that the dharma wheel will respond.
I have little faith that the universe will respond and turn me. It may also mean that the dharma wheel
will turn me in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. Though I exert effort, I am not in control. I can head in a direction but I can’t
anticipate the result.
When we practice zazen, we are practicing forgetting the separation
of self and other and awakening to the mutuality of the whole system of the
functioning of life. Even though compared to other schools in Japanese Buddhism, Zen is often called the school of self-power, Dogen’s zazen
is not done by personal self-power.
This zazen is the life-force beyond self and others. We have relinquished the notion of self
and are sitting in the midst of no separation. It is not a personal, individual
effort to makes ourselves a better person. The sitting Dogen encourages is the sitting of
enlightenment itself not a method to gain enlightenment. It is the expression of mutuality and
no centralized self.
He writes in Answer 3 of the Bendowa:
“To call zazen
“sitting idly” is to defame the triple treasure.
It is as profound an
illusion as to declare there is no water when you are sitting in the midst of
the ocean. Fortunately, the
Buddhas are already seated firmly established in jijuyu Samadhi”.
We are constantly sitting in the sea of enlightenment just as
a drop of water is always at one with the ocean. The drop of water cannot see the ocean, but nevertheless it
is completely absorbed in Ocean.
Just as in our sitting, we do nothing but just sitting. We are completely absorbed in the life energy of the present moment. We sit without doing anything with our
consciousness, without mind or
thought. This individualized
consciousness is dropped off and we are completely absorbed in jijuyu zanmai
with no self and other, no inside and outside.
It is not achieved by this person’s effort but by letting go
or giving up our personal effort.
Non-action is just to be here- a drop of water in the ocean.
Non-action is having faith in that which cannot be
Non-action brings forth things exactly as they are, filled
with life itself.
Labels: Bendowa, doing nothing, faith, greed, no self, Right Effort, self-power, shikan taza, skilful means, total dynamic functioning, turning the dharma wheel