Dogen - Being Familiar With The Entire Body

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Sunday talk.
Practice, realization, expression; Dogen's letters to nun Ryugen

AI Summary: 



Having yet to see and listen to, to remember and accept, I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagata's words. Good morning. So wonderful to be sitting together in the Green Gulch Zen Do on a beautiful spring morning. So, before I begin my Dharma talk today, I thought I should confess to you all a personal


problem I have, which is my own greed that I actually, most of the time when I give a Dharma talk, and today as well, there's much more that I want to talk about than I can possibly say in the allotted time. So, we'll see how far I get. But actually the truth of the Dharma is that even if I were to talk all day and all night till tomorrow morning, these words could not possibly come close to reaching the wonder of just sitting here together on a spring day in the Green Gulch Zen Do. And even if someone much more eloquent than I were to try to do so, the wonder of just being here


is beyond any words I can say. So, having said that, I want to talk about, well I want to start with a teaching from my man Dogen, who founded this branch of Zen in the 13th century of Japan, Japanese monk. And, this is from a writing called Dogen's Extensive Record, which I just finished three and a half years worth of translating, and so it's massive, and the book won't be out for more than a year, and it's going to be about 700 pages, and if I was smart I'd be talking about one of the books of mine that's for sale in the bookstore, but anyway. Most


of this writing is from Dogen's later years at a heiji when he was training his monks, but the writing I want to mention a little bit today and talk about is about the oneness of enlightenment, practice, and expression. And it's from his earlier teaching in Kyoto, and it's actually from a hogo, or dharma word, which were letters to students. So, this is a letter that he wrote to one of his Zen students. So, he starts, with the whole body, just as it is, who would get stuck in any place? Were the entire body familiar? How could we find our way back to a source? Already beyond the single phrase, how could we be troubled by different vehicles? When you open your hand, it is just right. When your body is


activated, it immediately appears. So, the tradition of meditation that we do here, we call this meditation zazen, or sitting meditation, but actually it's about just being here. It's about being present in this life, in this body, in this mind, and becoming very familiar with how it is to be this person. With the entire body familiar, how could we find our way back to a source? So, this practice is about accepting our reality just as it is, right now. And actually, the main teaching that we give here is, in other systems of Buddhist meditation and thought, considered the highest, most advanced, most developed kind of meditation. And we just kind of dive in at the top. So, it may seem so simple that


it's difficult, or it may seem puzzling, or anyway, it's just about being familiar with the entire body. This body on our cushion, this body in this zendo, this body of Green Gulch, the waves on Muir Beach, beyond any single phrase, how could we be troubled by different vehicles? Open your hand, and it's just right. Activate your body, and it immediately appears. A little further along he says, truly, the point of the singular transmission between Buddha ancestors, the essential meaning of the direct understanding beyond words, does not adhere to the situation of the koans, the old teaching stories, of the previous wise ones, or their entryways to enlightenment. It does not exist within the commentaries


and assessments with words and phrases, and the exchange of question and answer, and the understandings with intellectual views, and mental calculations of thought, in conversations about mysteries and wonders, or in explanations of mind and nature. So, the emphasis in this teaching is, even though there may be many wonderful words and phrases and understandings expressed, the emphasis in our practice and teaching and expression is just, how do we take care of this situation today? How do we take care of our everyday activities? How do we allow this practice, realization, expression to find its voice, and its body, and its mind, and its love in our everyday, ordinary world?


So, he says, only when one releases the handles from all these teachings, without retaining what has been glimpsed, is it perfectly complete, right here, and fills the eyes. Behind the head, the path of genuine intimacy opens wide in front of the face, not knowing is a good friend. So, we may have all kinds of wonderful understandings, but our best friend is just not knowing. Our best friend is this openness of not knowing how to proceed, not knowing exactly what the world is, not knowing who we are even. So, many of you may have come here for some understanding, and of course, being smart monkeys, we like understanding, and we want to understand, and that's okay. But, actually,


the practice and expression of enlightenment, the enlightenment of practice and expression is right here, before, and after, and outside of whatever we think we understand, as good as those understandings might be. Dogen says this even more strongly in a different dharma word, in a letter to one of his nun disciples, Ryonen. So, just in case any of you are misleaded, you should know that Dogen also had many women disciples, and Ryonen particularly, he praised, he said her practice was quite wonderful, and he ends one of the letters we have to her, though, saying, without begrudging any effort in nurturing the way, for you, I will demonstrate the precise meaning of the ultimate truth of Buddha. It is, if you do not hold on to a single phrase, or half a verse, a bit of talk, or a small


expression, in this lump of red flesh, you will have some accord with clear, cool ground. If you hold on to a single word, or half a phrase, of the Buddha ancestor's sayings, or the teaching stories from the ancestral gate, they will become dangerous poisons. If you want to understand this mountain monk's activity, do not remember these comments, truly avoid being caught up in thinking. So, Dogen is saying, don't remember what I'm saying. It's kind of funny, and sometimes, kind of as a game, I will ask a Zen student who I've heard has gone to a Dharma talk, oh, what did the teacher talk about? And many times


they will say, oh, I don't remember. Even very good Zen students will say that, or they maybe will remember something about what the topic was, and they won't remember anything else. So, I tried it as I drove in this morning, and there was a very good Zen student at the bottom of the driveway, and I asked her, and she remembered very well the Dharma talk from last week, and could tell me a lot about it, and that was wonderful, too. So, it's okay if you remember. But, actually, Dogen has given you a problem, and now I have, too, because if you remember that you don't need to remember these words, then you're remembering these words. And if you don't remember that you don't need to remember these words, then you might remember them and make them into a poison. So, I'm sorry, but you have a problem now.


But the point of this Dharma talk, or any Dharma talk, much better Dharma talks than this, is not the words themselves. It's your listening and sharing and hearing, and it's okay if you remember them. Zen students don't need to be stupid. Sometimes it helps, but it's not a requirement. So, I remember, almost 25 years ago, a practice discussion I had with our current abbess, Linda Cutts, which was very helpful to me, and I remembered it. She said to me, you don't need to remember the teachings, you don't need to remember your insights in Zazen, the teachings that come from your own Zazen. She said, when you're informed by the teaching, it is in your form. It is in form. And when


you need it, it will be there. So, to be informed by this Dharma talk, you or any Dharma talk, or Dogen's wonderful words, is to allow this practice expression into your body and mind. It's not just about your thinking. And if you remember some of it, that's fine, and if you don't remember some of it, that's fine too. But when it's needed, this Dharma is here. So, Dogen says, again in the first letter, when within this true Dharma, there is practice, teaching, and enlightenment. This practice is the effort of our Zazen. So, it does take some effort just to get to


the meditation hall, just to get to your cushion, to sit upright, keep your eyes open, to breathe, to return to being present and upright in this body and mind. This practice is the effort of Zazen. And he says, it is customary that such practice is not abandoned even after reaching Buddhahood, so that it is still practiced by Buddha. So, even after he became the Buddha 2,500 years ago in Northern India, the Buddha continued to do this meditation practice. In fact, when he became enlightened, that was not the end of Buddhism. That was just the beginning. So, Dogen goes on to say, teaching and enlightenment should be examined in the same way. This Zazen was transmitted from Buddha to Buddha, directly


pointed out by ancestors, and only transmitted by legitimate successors. Even when others hear of its name, it is not the same as the Zazen of Buddha ancestors. This is because the principle of Zazen in other schools is to wait for enlightenment. So, I think we easily tend to think that this practice eventually may be, if I wait long enough, I'll be enlightened. If I put enough hours into sitting on this cushion, or enough lifetimes, someday, somewhere, when you least expect it, there it'll be, the big E. So, he says, the principle of Zazen in other schools is to wait for enlightenment. So, in many branches of Buddhism, you may hear about practicing and eventually reaching enlightenment, but here Dogen criticizes that.


He says, for example, some practice like having crossed over a great ocean on a raft, thinking that upon crossing the ocean, one should discard the raft. That's very sensible, right? Maybe some of you have heard this simile of the raft, that we don't take, once we reach the other shore, we don't need the raft anymore. But actually, Dogen says, oh no, please carry the raft with you as you trudge up into the mountains. The Zazen of our Buddha ancestors is not like this, but is simply Buddha's practice. So, this practice we do is not practice to get something, some so-called enlightenment, somewhere else, some other time, some other state of mind. This isn't practice to get higher. This isn't practice to reach some other state of consciousness or being. This is actually the practice of our enlightenment and realization


right now. And enlightenment and realization naturally leads to practice. So, there's no enlightenment that is not actually practice. Then it would just be some idea of enlightenment. It wouldn't be the actual enlightenment. So, each of you is practicing your realization right now. Each of you is realizing your practice right now. This is simply Buddha's practice. Now, in many schools of Buddhism, I would say, there are wonderful techniques and there's a whole meditation technology, which is helpful to know. It's helpful to know how to follow your breath or count breaths or settle your mind, even to recite mantras in Zazen or to


sit in the middle of the ancient stories. And I would say it's fine to do that. That's also Buddha's practice. So, if you'd like to do some of those particular techniques, you can do them as Buddha's practice. They're all part of Buddha's practice. But it's not about practicing something in order to get something else. I know this is really counterintuitive. We all come to practice because we have some problem. We all want to feel better. We all want stress reduction or to feel some sense of how to deal with loss or with confusion or frustration or greed or rage or whatever. And, of course, meditation helps those things. But it's not that we meditate in order to do that. Just your thought of practicing. Already is Buddha's practice. Dogen says, we could say that the situation of Buddha's


house is the oneness in which the essence, practice and expounding are one and the same. The essence is enlightenment. Expounding is the teaching. And practice is cultivation. Even up to now, these have all been studied together. We should know that practice is the practice of enlightenment and expounding. So this Chinese character that I'm calling expounding here, also means just to express. So in some sense, as a Dharma teacher sitting up here, I am officially, institutionally expounding the Dharma. But actually, it's the same character for expounding and expressing. And each of you right now is expressing your practice realization in the way you're sitting, in the way you're thinking, in your breathing. You are expressing the practice realization right now. You are always doing this. So it's


not that it's automatic, but yes, you right now are expressing your practice realization. And the enlightenment of your practice is being expressed. This is actually the way it is. This is the reality of all things. So he says that the practice is the practice of enlightenment and expounding or expressing. And expounding is to expound the enlightenment of the practice. And the enlightenment is the enlightenment of expressing and practice. So again, there's no enlightenment that's not expressed. So elsewhere, in another letter, Dogen says that deluded people have delusions about enlightenment. Enlightened people are enlightened about their delusions. So this enlightenment that you are expressing right now, that is the enlightenment of your practice right now, is not some idea about enlightenment


that you might have. And actually, if you have ideas about enlightenment, you should realize and practice and express your ideas about enlightenment. But that's not the enlightenment that you're expressing and practicing. This is very natural that we have these ideas. It's okay to be a human being. In fact, here we are. So Dogen says if practice is not the practice of expressing and is not the practice of enlightenment, how can we say that it is the practice of Buddhadharma? If our expression is not the expression of practice and is not the expression of enlightenment, it is difficult to call it true expression. And if enlightenment is not the enlightenment that's practiced and is not the enlightenment that's expressed, how can we name it the enlightenment of the Buddhadharma? Just know that the Buddhadharma


is one, in the beginning, middle, and end. It is good in the beginning, middle, and end. And it is nothing in the beginning, middle, and end. And it is empty in the beginning, middle, and end. So this sense of our expression as the expression of our practice realization, it's always going on, but also it's not just, it doesn't mean just passive acceptance of whatever is happening. We actually do have to express it. We actually do express it. This is the practice realization. This is the Buddha that you are expressing right now. How you are listening. How your back is. Your posture as you're sitting there. Your eyes closed or open. That is your expression right now. And actually it's up to us to express it. So there is responsibility. There is this responsibility to express our practice and


our awakening and realization right now. Dogen says that this single matter never comes from the forceful activity of people, but from the beginning is the expression and activity of Dharma, of reality, of truth. So when he says this single matter, that refers to a line in the Lotus Sutra which says that the single matter of Buddha's appearing in the world, and we could say the single matter of Buddha's practice and Buddha's expression appearing in the world, is simply to help suffering beings, to be aware of the suffering of beings, and to help suffering beings into their own path towards awakening, which means into their own path to helping others, into their own path to helping others. This is the point of all of this. So this practice enlightenment expression begins with our awareness


of suffering, this first noble truth that things are not the way we think they should be. So again and again we have to come back to recognizing the pain of the world and of ourselves and of our friends, hearing that, listening to it, realizing it. This is the starting point of this practice expression realization. And when we are aware of it then we naturally respond. So in Buddhism the name of the Bodhisattva of Compassion is the one who hears the sounds and cries of the world, the one who hears the suffering of the world. In Buddhism compassion just means to listen, first of all. To listen to the suffering of


our own pain, our own weariness, our own confusion, our own frustrations, and then to see that and hear that in our friends and family and the people we come in close contact with, and first just to listen. And then also to hear it in the world around us, to be open to this truth of the sadness and cruelty of the world. So out of this comes our responsibility. We don't know what to do, we don't know how to fix the world, and maybe that's not even the point. But just from listening we can have a sense of this possibility of compassion. So I would say that this practice realization expression is a passionate practice. You may


look at people sitting in the Zen Dojo and think they are being very stoic, but actually to keep doing this practice, period after period, day after day, year after year, it's a very passionate practice. It's passionate because it's compassionate. We are willing to be with our own passions and the passions of others, and this being together with the suffering and passion and confusion of others is what we call compassion. And when we are willing to be with this suffering, when we are willing to listen to each other, and we know how wonderful it feels to actually be heard, but when we are willing to actually also hear others, then this is the response of compassion in Buddhism. So I heard my mouth getting dry, and I took a couple of sips of water. And I realized


so again, it's not just passive expression. It's not just that automatically we have this practice realization expression. We have a responsibility. But Dogen says, this single matter never comes from the forceful activity of people. So our responsibility is not based on our ideas of how things should be. He says, it comes from the beginning. It is the beginning is the expression and activity of Dharma, of the teaching of the truth. So when we are realizing and practicing and expressing this, naturally we have some response. And sometimes it means just being with and listening to the sounds of the birds and then the cries of our friends. And then there's some way to respond. He goes on, we already know that there is teaching, practice and enlightenment within Buddhadharma.


A single moment in a cultivated field always includes many times. Actually, literally, we translated it that way, but literally he says, a single moment in a cultivated field does never not include every time. So just to be present. We are meeting our own past and the past of our world and our friends and our future. So we are open to the process of our response and our expression and our realization and our practice of this practice realization expression. And it has an effect in the future and in the present and in the past and we don't understand that. But still, even if you don't understand it, this is actually our responsibility. So he ends this letter, the expression is already thus. It is already just this. We


are already expressing ourselves and our practice and our realization right now. The practice is also just this. The practice is also right here. And enlightenment is also thus. This is the way it is. There is no other enlightenment somewhere else, over in India or Japan or Tibet. Just sitting on a sunny spring morning in the Green Gold Sendo. So then he says, as such we cannot control whether or not we ourselves can control the teaching, practice and enlightenment. He doesn't just say we can't control it. We can't control whether or not we can control it. Maybe, there are times when it is almost like your practice realization expression


is controlling, taking care of all of the suffering of the world. This might be, we don't know. This is the level of this practice. So this is the raft we carry as we walk in the mountains. Please take care of it. He ends by saying, wherever these have penetrated, how could there not be Buddhadharma? So again, there is always some expounding, some expression that you are doing in all of your movements, as you bend your head, as you rub your face, as you yawn, as you listen to the birds sing. There is this expression. So Zen students, what they do is to be passionate


about expressing their practice realization, whether or not they know it. So again, this practice realization expression is about responding to suffering, responding to the pain of the world. It also is about enjoying the wonders of the world and the enjoyment of the world. So we don't have to be gloomy and depressed. But if that's what you are, please express that with realization and practice. So, this responding to the sources of suffering in the world, we could say is just our enlightenment practice expression. We could also see it in terms of Zazen and precepts. So our practice here is just to come and sit upright and study our delusions, become enlightened about our


delusions, realize how it is to be this person right here. But then, of course, we get up from the cushion, the bell rings, and we go out and take care of our lives and relate to the people around us. And that's also our practice realization expression. So the precepts are about how we do that. The precepts are guidelines to how do we express our Zazen mind, our expression of realization practice in our everyday activity, in the way we meet with our friends and family, in the way we are open to listening to them, in the way we try to express our own truth to each other. This is the single matter. So, I would say that this happens in three realms. This happens just sitting on our cushion.


It happens in our personal relationships, in our work life, in our family life, with our friends. And it also happens in relationship to the world around us, to our society. So just like we don't practice for some future enlightenment, but we practice as the expression of our enlightenment right now, we don't wait for some future enlightenment to express the practice and enlightenment that we see right now. So we must respond in some way. We have some responsibility to say something as we meet and listen to the world around us and to our friends and to our own pain and gladness too. So I feel some responsibility speaking here this morning to say something about what's going on in our society. So it


seems to me anyway very clear that in our society there's just massive and shameless corruption in our national government and in many of our national institutions. There's so many examples of this and I'm not going to go into particulars more than I could start to mention, but just a couple, just a few little examples is our national government's new policy of strongly promoting the production of quote-unquote usable nuclear weapons and trying to really make it more likely and more possible for us to have nuclear wars, but with these so-called usable smaller nuclear weapons, which of course is in violation of international law and treaties and will promote more nuclear weapons for more countries. At the same time, our educational system and our health care systems are collapsing. So many good teachers being laid off all around us. Health care, basic health insurance costs


skyrocketing. So again, I confess that I personally struggle with how to talk about this and I do feel like I have to talk about it when I'm sitting up here in the dharma seat, that I would be, for me, I would be violating the precepts by not mentioning these things. To me, it's not at all about politics. It's not about a particular political party or particular politicians. We're all part of this. We're all part of what our government does. We're all part of what our society is. But I think that our expression of our practice realization right now, as Dogen talks about it, our responding to the conditions of suffering, our not knowing the answers, has something to offer. So when we respond from this realization practice, it's not about our opinions. Of


course, we all have opinions and it's not that we have to have the same opinions, but how do we respond to what's going on in the world around us from our own sense of whatever it is that we realize in our practice and whatever it is that we practice as our realization right now. So, mostly I just want to encourage you all to try and become more aware, to be willing to face and listen to the sufferings of the world and our society around us, to not turn away, as much as you can. Sometimes we need to take a break when there is so much danger and cruelty and recklessness going on, but as much as you can to try and become aware of what's going on. And then to express something when you have something to express, to share


information with friends, to respond as best you can. There's lots of ways of responding and there's not one right way to respond. So just sitting, thinking good thoughts for people in Iraq, people in Washington, Israelis and Palestinians, that might be a very effective way of responding. And there may be other ways too. So, how can you respond to the suffering of our world and of our society? I don't have the answer. If we had answers, there wouldn't be these problems. But also, I feel like I should encourage you because right now in our society there is a great deal of fear. And maybe you came to Green Gulch on a Sunday morning to get away from that, so I'm sorry. I feel like I have to include that in what I say this morning. So when we are practicing awareness of our fears, we can respond to


them in the middle of our fear. And there are so many fears in maybe our government and the world around us is encouraging that. And there are fears for our own livelihood and our economy and there are fears of terrorists or maybe you're afraid of your own government. Anyway, whatever those fears are, we have to face them. That's the first point. So our zazen in a way is just about facing our fears, about being willing to sit upright in the middle of the situation we're in. Again, it doesn't mean fixing it, but we can actually be willing to admit and acknowledge and confess our fears. It's possible. It's okay. This is actually the expression of your practice realization right now. And then our practice is to look at that and see what's going on and consider how we can express and share our truth with others and also listen to others and also not get stuck on any one particular


opinion, but hear what's going on and try and respond. So whether that means listening to the radio or reading things on the internet or going to demonstrations or writing letters to the editor or... Anyway, we each have our own way of responding. There's no one right way. But this true practice realization expression is not something that I can do just by myself on my cushion. In this way of enlightening practice, of awakening practice in the Bodhisattva way that Dogen teaches, we have to awaken together. Our practice realization expression is something we do together. So each of you, if you're sitting in a period of zazen in the zendo and you move a little bit, you might notice that other people might


move too. And maybe that's okay, but how we are and how we express our awareness and our practice and how we practice our awareness and expression is totally interconnected. We don't do this just for ourselves. So in the same way, we have to express our practice realization for the society around us in whatever way we can. So, you know, my faith is that actually this practice, this teaching of the Buddha and of Dogen and of Sukhi Roshi is relevant to our world. It's not just about taking care of me or even taking care of me and my zen friends, but actually that this has something to give. This practice and this awareness and this way of expression has something to


give to society around us. I really believe that. And that we can respond and be helpful in the world around us with all the problems, thanks to and with the help of this practice. And again, it may not fix everything. It's very dangerous times, but still, what is our choice? We can either try and dig a hole and hide and fear or we can say our truth and listen to others and share this and come back to the cushion and say, how does that feel? And, you know, I think it does have great power that actually if we're speaking our truth, not from some opinion that we're stuck on, but from our continuing exploration of our practice realization, that it has tremendous power and that we don't have to feel overwhelmed.


We don't have to feel despair at what's going on in the world around us. That our willingness to be ourselves and be present in our fear and continue to express our practice realization for the world around us, actually it has tremendous power. It actually does make a difference. Whether it'll stop nuclear war, I don't know. Maybe we will have nuclear war. I don't know. But I believe that our responsibility to our practice and to our expression and to our awakening, to our realization, means that we can do this. And actually, it's more fun that way. So don't be afraid to be afraid. Courage is not about not having fear. It's about being willing to just sit upright as the person you are. It's okay to be this person right


here. It's okay to be in this situation. It's okay that here we are in a world that's very dangerous. Not only is it okay, but it's a wonderful opportunity for you all to express your practice realization in a way that can make a big difference. So I want to close again by reading the conclusion of Dogen's letter to this wonderful nun practitioner Ryonan, one of his fine disciples. He says, without begrudging any effort in nurturing the way, for you I will demonstrate the precise meaning of this teaching of Buddha. Actually he said of Bodhidharma coming from the West, which is kind of Zen slang for that. That is, if you do not hold on to a single phrase or half a verse, a bit of talk or small expression,


in this lump of red flesh you will have some accord with a clear, cool ground. If you hold on to a single word or half a phrase of the Buddha ancestors' sayings or of the koans from the ancestral gate, they may become dangerous poisons. If you want to understand this mountain monk's activity, do not remember these comments. Truly avoid being caught up in your thinking. So thank you all very much. I look forward to hearing your responses and discussion.