Dharma Talk on
Eihei Dogen Zenji's

Read Part 1 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.

Reprinted by permission from the Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter, August and September, 2005.

To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas. To be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas is to free one's body and mind and those of others. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment is continued forever."

Next we come to this part, which is really the heart of the Genjokoan. It's where Dogen expresses or delineates the path of practice: "To study the Buddha Way is to study the self." But this word "study" is not quite the right translation. I don't know what the right translation is, exactly. Maezumi Roshi said, when he translated this word as study, that it means more like "practice." It means when you do something over and over, day in and day out it saturates our body and mind. It's not like studying a book. It may be like playing the piano over and over, or like sitting zazen, day after day. It's the self becoming the self.

Then, "To study the self is to forget the self." This is what Dogen calls, "To drop body and mind." According to Buddha Dharma there is no inherent or substantial, independent self. So how can you study something that's not there? Of course, there is a self but its's a self that is not a self. So, we practice dropping small self, allowing big self to emerge.

Then, "To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas." This is to merge with things; to see the universe as our own true self. He then says, "To be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas is to free one's body and mind and those of others." As Shakymuni said when he was enlightened, "All beings in the universe have the same nature as myself." To free one's body and mind and those of others; no trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment is continued forever. He doesn't say that enlightenment doesn't remain, but that we should be careful not to get stuck there.

These five sentences reflect Master Tozan's Five Ranks. You may be familiar with Master Tozan's five positions depicting the relationship of oneness and diversity. Tozan also presented the Five Ranks as stages of practice. Dogen discouraged using the Five Ranks as a system, but absorbed and presented them in his own way. These five sentences are what we believe is Dogen's presentation of Tozan's five ranks, presented as a kind of progression for practice.

"To study the Buddha Way is to study the self" corresponds to what Tozan called the "shift"which is the first rank. If you have noticed, we have this little diagram made out of bricks in front of my (Sojun's) office which represents Tozan's five ranks using hexagrams and trigrams from the I-Ching. The first one, "Shift," means to turn from our ordinary way of living a life blindly creating karma, to a life of vow; turning or "shifting" toward way-seeking mind; awakening our aspiration for practice. We go along with our life until we one day wake up to "What is really going on here?" We want to go deeper than our usual view of things. This is the "shift," the turning from our ordinary behavior and our way of seeing things, to investigating the Dharma.

The second rank, "Willing Submission," corresponds to Dogen's, "To study the self is to forget the self." In other words, submitting yourself to practice, letting go of our resistences, letting go of our opinions, our fears, our securities, and allowing ourself to practice. That's renunciation. Letting go of self-centeredness. Instead of being centered on self, to be centered on Buddha. I like to say,"Buddha-centric" instead of "self-centric" or eccentric. It's also putting our self into the service of Buddha Dharma making an effort to express our Buddha nature, studying the Dharma, and joining the sangha.

The third rank is called "Achievement." It corresponds to Dogen's, "To forget the self is to be enlightened by the Ten Thousand Dharmas." Once we really let go of clinging, dropping body and mind, the "Ten Thousand Dharmas," the Ten Thousand things, verify our enlightenment. The universe will verify our enlightenment. Although The Ten Thousand things are one with you, they are the 10,000 things. Although you are one with the 10,000 things, you are you. This is called the rank of the "Fruition of Virtue." Here it is called, "The Ten Thousand Dharmas advance and realize the self."

The fourth sentence of Dogen is, "To be enlightened by the Ten Thousand Dharmas is to free ones body and mind and those of others." So our work is actually to benefit not only ourself but others as well. This is what Tozen calls, "Combined Virtue" or "Collective Achievement." It is characterized by the samadhi of receiving, and the samadhi of giving. Jijuyu samadhi is self-joyous, or 'self-fulfilling' samadhi. Tajuyu samadhi is 'others fulfillment' samadhi. Jijuyu means that you receive and enjoy the light of your own true nature, your essence of mind. Tajuyu means that you use what you receive to help bring others to realization. If we don't use our realization to help bring forth the light in others it will not sustain itself. So one is turning the light inward to receive, and turning to illuminate the light in others.

Dogen's fifth sentence is, "No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment is continued forever." The final rank of Tozan that corresponds is called "Integration of achievement." This is where one is no longer concerned about enlightenment or delusion. It is when one embodies enlightenment and realization totally, without the need to do anything special, but is ceaselessly working for the benefit of all beings without any special effort or even self-consciousness. There is no clinging to enlightenment or delusion. One has perfect freedom in all aspects of life. It is the culmination of "body and mind dropped."

When one first seeks the truth one separates oneself far from its environs. When one has already correctly transmitted the truth to oneself, one is one's original self at that moment.

"When one first seeks the truth one separates oneself." You could say it's like, enlightenment, which is the object, and seeking, the subject, move together at the same pace, like a shadow-play. When you move, it moves. You cannot really catch it because it stays the same distance from you. So you're chasing this thing which you are actually pushing away. At Dwight Way we had a cat named Shujo who liked to go upstairs to the zendo. One time someone wanted to take the cat out of the zendo. So, he naively started chasing and grabbing for the cat, and the far more agile cat kept a little bit ahead, enjoying the game. The cat was leading him round and round, stumbling over the cushions while the cat stayed the same distance ahead of him. It was quite a scene.

Then Dogen says, "When one has already correctly transmitted the truth to oneself, one is one's original self at that moment." What I believe Dogen is saying is, when we sit down and let it come to us, we may receive it. This is zazen, we can sit down in the midst of it, because it's always right where we are. But we must let go and be totally open. Dogen says "Let go and it fills your hands." I believe this is "dropping body and mind."

Then he says, "When riding on a boat if one watches the shore one may assume that the shore is moving. But watching the boat directly, one knows that it is the boat that moves." "Riding on a boat:" A boat is like the self, and the shore is like things outside the self. It looks to us like things are moving around outside of us and we are standing still. We always assume this. We are the center and the world is moving around us. "But watching the boat directly, one knows that it is the boat that moves." Actually it's the boat and the shore that are moving, everything is moving together. There is nothing that is an absolutely fixed point. So where is the center? Is it the shore that's moving or is it the boat that's moving?

The Sixth Patriarch came upon two monks who were arguing about the flag in the wind. Is it the flag that's moving or the wind that's moving? The ancestor approached and said, "It's neither the flag nor the wind—it's your mind that's moving." There is the well-known story of the fisherman who put a mark on the side of the boat so he would know where to come back to the next day. "If one examines the ten thousand dharmas with a deluded body and mind one will suppose that one's mind and nature are permanent [fixed]. But, if one practices intimately and returns to the true self, it will be clear that the ten thousand dharmas are without [a fixed] self.

There is a self, but this self is not a fixed self. As the Tibetan put it, there is no inherent self among the five skandhas. What we call a self is not the same from moment to moment. It's the same and not the same. Suzuki Roshi expressed it as, "Yes, but." The secret of Soto Zen is "yes, but." It seems like a self, but it's a self that's not a self. A thing is not a thing, therefore we call it a thing. When we name things they become real to us. There is a momentary, conditioned reality, but the fundamental reality is that things are not substantial. This is a real book, but it's real because it's impermanent, not because it's substantial. We tend to see things upside-down. It has a certain reality but it has no inherent existence and is empty as are all forms.

Dogen then says, "But if one practices intimately" — intimately most likely means intimate with reality — "and returns to the true self, it would be clear that the Ten Thousand dharmas are without a substantial [fixed] self." Suzuki Roshi might say to not stray from Big Mind. To posit the idea that there is a fixed self or a solo individuality, or soul, is a heretical idea in Buddhism. Dogen used the example of the Srenika heresy. Srenika was a monk in Shakyamuni's time who misinterpreted Buddhism, insisting that there is something permanent, like a soul that transmigrates from life to life. That body and mind fall away, and the soul continues to transmigrate from life to life, is not a Buddhist understanding, but sometimes gets mixed up with Buddhism. This gives us the impression of a permanent self. This leads to some big questions. If there is no self, what is it that transmigrates? And if there is no soul, and no deity, where do we find our final security?

There are the three marks of existence: 1. Impermanence, 2. No self, and, 3. (some say) "Suffering" and (some say) "Nirvana." These are the three marks of existence according to Buddhism. Impermanence, no self, and suffering/nirvana. But suffering and Nirvana go hand-in-hand. Nirvana looks more optimistic than suffering. "Oh, nirvana, good, but what is that?" When we let go of self, when self drops away, and when we realize the entire universe as our true self, that's nirvana. Is nirvana an escape from suffering or the freedom we find within suffering? Can we find our security in the midst of insecurity? How do we find our security in a world that is in continuous flux?

We naturally want to find security in something fixed, something we can hang onto. We want to hang onto this body and mind (until it gets to be too much). But, we can't do that. So we have to find our security in letting go. That is the only way. We can create stories about where we go after we die. People do. Buddhists do. I don't blame us. I always honor those stories because people need something. It's hard to just let go without any thoughts of where we will land. I neither affirm nor deny any story as right or wrong. But, if we can let go before we die, then we don't have so much of a problem. If we can feel grateful that we're already both born and dead we can live our life and be lived by life with some understanding, and enjoy it without worrying too much. Someone once said, "There is no self in the sage. Because there is no self, there is nothing which is not the self of the sage." Because we identify with the body and mind only, we limit our life but if we identify with life itself, there is less of a problem. Wherever we are, in whatever form, it's okay."The deluded person sees herself as other, the sage sees others as herself." It is said that if you do not make mental struggle, the darkness itself becomes the self illumination of the light."

To Be Continued.

© 2005 Sojun Mel Weitsman