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Dogen opens his teaching of Genjokoan by saying, "When all dharmas are Buddha dharma, there are enlightenment and delusion, practice, birth and death, buddhas, and creatures. And when the ten thousand dharmas are without self, there are no delusion, no enlightenment, no buddhas, no creatures, and no death. The Buddha way transcends being and nonbeing. Therefore, there are birth and death, delusion and enlightenment, creatures, and buddhas. Nevertheless, flowers fall with our attachment, and weeds spring up with our aversion."

First, I want to clarify the word, dharmas It is sometimes translated as "things," but dharma has many meanings. The two meanings that we use are Dharma with a capital "D," and dharma with a small "d." Dharma with a capital "D" means Buddhaís teaching, or the law of reality. Reality works according to strict laws which we may or may not recognize. Sometimes we recognize them and sometimes we donít. Because of our limited, dualistic understanding, they may appear as a mystery to us. What is pertinent to Buddhism is the law of cause and effect, and that which pertains to the fundamental totality. Small "d" dharmas are all of the particulars of the phenomenal world. Every thing, in the broadest sense, is a dharma.

Dogen's Genjokoan

Sojun Mel Weitsman
Abbot of the
Berkeley Zen Center

Talk given to the Chapel Hill Zen Center, November, 1993

The Abhidharma Schools and the Yogacara school, categorized lists of dharmas for their own study purposes. For instance, the constituents of mentality are all dharmas, and the constituents of the body of form are dharmas. All individual things are dharmas, so Dharma is the Dharma of the dharmas. It is the teaching of the law concerning the dharmas or phenomena. This is the world of phenomena, the world of duality, the realm of cause and effect, and all dharmas are continually interacting with one another in this world of constant transformations. Buddha teaches how the parts fit together with the whole, like a box and itís lid.

Dogen begins, "When all dharmas or all things are Buddha Dharma." The word "when" means, at the time when you realize all dharmas are Dharma. When we have some enlightenment or insight and realize that all dharmas are Buddha Dharma, we realize there is enlightenment and delusion, practice, birth and death, buddhas and creatures. So these four sentences point out four different ways to look at reality. The first three go together as an expression from three different viewing points and then the fourth sentence is like a summation. The first sentence talks about dharma from the point of view of just seeing things in the phenomenal realm; in other words, dharmas as dharmas. The second sentence, "When the ten thousand dharmas are without self," points out the side of the no-self of dharmas, or emptiness. The first sentence expresses the side of form as form, whereas the second sentence is to see from the side of emptiness as emptiness. "When the ten thousand dharmas are without self, there are no delusion, no enlightenment, no buddhas, no creatures, no life, no death." This is like the Heart Sutra in the sense that the Heart Sutra is the sutra of mu. Mu means "no." Do you know, Joshuís famous koan "A monk asked, ĎDoes the dog have Buddha nature?í Joshu said "Wu (Mu)" "No." This is from the side of mu delusion, mu enlightenment, mu buddhas, mu creatures, mu birth, mu death. When you have the koan of mu, everything is mu. You are investigating existence from the point of view of mu or "no," i.e. from the absolute side. Next he says that the Buddha way transcends being and nonbeing. Therefore, there are birth and death, delusion and enlightenment, creatures, and buddhas. So the third sentence is from the point of view that form is emptiness and emptiness is form; Mu is U (form), the point of view of synthesis. The Buddha way goes beyond being and nonbeing, affirmation and negation.

Dogen continues, "Therefore, there are birth and death, delusion and enlightenment, creatures, and buddhas." It is emptiness that gives rise to form and all forms are the forms of emptiness The Buddha way transcends form and no form. Therefore, there is form, and there is no form. Then he says, "Nevertheless, flowers fall with our attachment, and weeds spring up with our aversion." The last sentence is very interesting, as it relates directly to practice. "Flowers fall with our attachment, and weeds spring up with our aversion." If we look at the two sides of our life, the two very strong aspects that we are dealing with continuously are attachment or grasping, and dislike and aversion. Attachment belongs to both of them, actually. Aversion is a kind of attachment, and grasping is a kind of attachment. We usually think of grasping as attachment or holding on to something that we want to keep or preserve, and that not wanting is the opposite of attachment. But we may become attached to what we donít want through our aversion. We are continually making discriminating choices. One of the basic aspects of Zen that we have to face is non-attachment; non-attachment to grasping, and nonattachment to aversion. This is the Genjo Koan of our life. The Genjokoan is the koan that comes up continuously, moment by moment, with grasping and aversion. So every moment we have to make a choice. "Do I go this way, or do I go that way?" "Do I choose this, or do I choose that?" "Do I like this, or do I like that?" Do I not like this, or do I not like that?" So like and dislike are coming up continuously, and we are choosing one thing over another on the basis of like and dislike, wanting and not wanting.

In the Four Noble Truths, Buddha teaches that suffering is the lot of human beings due to our inordinate desire. The second truth is that inordinate desire creates grasping and aversion. How do we get beyond grasping and aversion, in order to be free of desire? When you study Buddhism, some books say that you need to get rid of desire, because desire is a hindrance. But strictly speaking, desire is not good or bad. Desire is just desire, and impossible to get rid of. You may try to get rid of desire, but you canít do it. Maybe you can, but if you do, thereís not much life left. So desire is an important aspect in our life because it motivates us. Itís hard to be motivated without desire. So the problem is not so much to get rid of desire but what to do with it? Desire is like a fire. It can either destroy us if not regulated or light our way. "Fire seeks fire. Buddha seeks Buddha." Itís the vital activity of our life. The vitality of our life is bound up with desire. When people say, "Get rid of desire," it doesnít mean to put it under the cushion or sit on it. Itís more a question of how do we direct it? Where does it fit? What direction does it go in so that we can find true satisfaction and freedom? Buddha said that we should direct our desire toward freeing our-self and freeing others, and follow the various Dharma pathways. If we want to deal with desire, direct it toward practice. That way you donít hurt anyone, and you donít hurt yourself, and you motivate yourself in the right direction, and desire, fulfilling its proper function, becomes a blessing.

All around us we see desire misdirected and confused, leaderless, and pointless. When desire has no place to go, it turns on itself and becomes destructive. When it becomes destructive and when people donít know what to do, they say you should get rid of it. But we just need to know where to direct it, and how to manage it. Itís difficult. There are a lot of channels Ė a lot of ways it can go.. If we donít have the right outlet, then it tends to overload certain channels, and then we become obsessed in certain ways. Buddha and Dogen both taught to direct our desire to something that will give us true satisfaction, which wonít overload us or become obsessive.

We can look at these three sentences from the point of view of the ocean and waves. The ocean is like a metaphor for Dharmakaya, emptiness, Buddha nature, or the absolute. The waves are an expression of phenomenal life, the way things arise out of emptiness. Each one of us is a wave on the ocean of emptiness, and we roll with all the other waves, and we live out our wave lives, our wave lengths, on the ground of the great ocean. So itís hard for us to see where we come from when we are all just waves. Itís like not being able to see the forest for the trees. We canít see the ocean for the waves. We get lost, when we lose sight of the great -ocean and forget that the waves are all members of the ocean people family. They are interdependent with each other and with the ocean. So when a wave thinks, "I am a wave forever," or "I am a permanent wave," it gets lost, just like us when we attach to our individuality, we get lost. So it is important to realize that waves as an expression of the ocean. Sometimes the ocean is very calm, like zazen. In zazen, the waves subside. Even though there are waves, they are on the surface, but our awareness goes all the way down to the bottom of the ocean floor. Dogen expresses it as "a fish lazily swimming by at the bottom of the ocean." In zazen, consciousness deepens, and we settle on the endless bottom. The waves are still there, but they no longer bother us. Itís like swimming on the surface while walking on the bottom.

When we sit, we are often concerned about the waves in our mind. When I began practicing zazen, all the time I was sitting, my mind was wondering, "Is it worth it?" This is the most common comment on zazen, other than, "My legs hurt." "My mind is always racing. Iím making up lists while Iím sitting, and thinking about this and that, and I canít help it. Maybe I shouldnít sit zazen." The main thing is not to worry about the waves. The waves will always be there. The nature of the ocean is to have waves. If you think that you can always keep the waves still, then you have a big problem. Sometimes in Buddhist books we read, "Stop the movement of the mind," Ėeven Dogen says that Ė "Stop the movement of the mind," which is very idealistic. Thatís right, "Stop the movement of the mind." But stopping the movement of the mind does not mean that you donít have thoughts. Thoughts come up by themselves. It is simply the nature of the mind to create thoughts. We call it bubbling. Thoughts are bubbling up. Some teachers call it "mind excretions." The mind is relieving itself. When there is nothing to think about, the mind relieves itself of its accumulation of mental gases. So donít worry about it. Let the mind do its thing. Donít try to suppress thoughts.

As thoughts continue to bubble up in the mind, our consciousness tends to get caught up in the thoughts, and it is led astray by the thoughts. So when you recognize that, just let go of the thought. You can say, "Oh, excuse me, I have to go now" and you just come back. Come back to posture, come back to breathing, over and over again. Just let go and come back. This way, you keep directing desire toward maintaining the bodyís posture and breathing, over and over again. As soon as we realize that we are building something on the foundation of a dream, or creating a fantasy on the foundation of some wandering thought, then we let go and come back. Sometimes we build a wonderful sand -castle, and itís fascinating, and we donít want to let go of it. Well, thatís okay. Everybody does that. But you should still make the effort. We think we are supposed to have a perfect zazen with no thoughts, sitting up straight, not falling asleep, no pain. This is not the goal of zazen. The goal of zazen is, when you wander off, to come back. If you are continually falling off, you are continually coming back, over and over, a thousand times. So it is intention that matters the most.. "I really want to do this. I really make an effort to do this." It is in this effort that your realization lies Ė not in your idea of perfection. When your effort is wholehearted, realization is there, and thatís perfect. Perfect isnít necessarily what we think it is, and enlightenment doesnít match our idea. This is sometimes called the practice of recollection.

Dogen says, "Flowers fall with our attachment, and weeds spring up with our aversion." In zazen, we are continually confronted with aversion and attachment. We want something nice Ėwe all want something pleasant, something that feels good, a wonderful state of mind. Sometimes when we have a wonderful state of mind with no pain, we think, "This is it! This is great! This is all worth it! This is why Iím here." But as soon as we grasp onto that thought, it starts to change. Itís changing anyway, whether we think that or not. We hold something and then it starts to crumble Ė starts to change. Then we say, "But wait a minute! Donít go away!" And it continues to change, then it starts to get painful and we are not happy Ė we want to hold onto that state of mind. But as soon as we hold onto it, we start to suffer. Try to be aware when you have a good feeling like that and just enjoy it. When it starts to change, just let it go. We have to accept change right away. If you are going to sit sesshin, you have to accept the changes immediately, without hanging onto the past momentís feeling Ė just accept everything as it changes, as it is. When you do that, you can sit comfortably and imperturbably, because you are open to everything. This is called samadhi.

When you are not open to everything, you suffer. Dogen said, "Flowers fall with our attachment." We want something so bad, and yet the flower falls, and weeds spring up. It is difficult. It is hard to be open to what you would ordinarily be averse to. It is counterintuitive. When we have pain or discomfort, we usually want to change it. As Suzuki Roshi said, "We are continually changing our equipment, moving around, trying to get comfortable." As soon as we get comfortable, it changes, and it becomes uncomfortable. This is how things are. The way to be comfortable, to have true comfort, is not through trying to control the world around us, but to adjust ourselves, to open ourselves from the inside. When we open ourselves from the inside, absolute and relative are transcended, subject and object are no longer a duality, and we can accept various states of body-mind without being a victim. When aversion arises, take a stand and face it, open yourself to it, be one with it. The usual reaction is to run the other way.

Opening ourselves to what is painful is how we deal with the pain in our legs and with the pain in our mind. Actually, if we stop saying, "good feelings" and "bad feelings," itís much easier. There are no good feelings and bad feelings, there are just feelings. There is no good state of mind or bad state of mind, there is "just this" state of mind. This state of mind is continually changing. There is no special state of mind which is the Zen state of mind to preserve. In zazen, if you are open and alert, quick to accept what arises, you still have pain, you still have difficulty; but itís different Ė this pain and difficulty is not the same as suffering. Freedom from suffering doesnít mean to get rid of all pain. In Buddhist teaching, sometimes the phrase, "free from all suffering" is used. But it doesnít mean free from all pain, because pain is a part of life. Through our pain we understand life.. There is no way that we can understand life without pain. So we need to come to terms with it and accept it as a part of life, but we donít have to be a victim. This is to have freedom.

Within zazen, within the restriction of the posture, how do we find our freedom, how can we be at ease with it? As soon as we start to waver, we waver more and more, and pretty soon we lose if. So when we sit, settled in our body and mind, sitting very still, but not rigidly, there is no need to fidget as if you were defending yourself. Just sit with good posture, good structure, very open and at ease. All the bones are aligned without being attached to each other. When we sit with single-minded effort, all the bones will line up in a harmonious way. So thatís why good posture is important. Donít leave anything out. Zazen is body, mind and breath in the dynamic, harmonious activity of sitting still while completely open, and at ease.

Do you have any questions?

Q. When you talk about attachment, I find it confusing because I think in terms of getting close to people, If I get really close to somebody, I think of that as being attached to them. I mean I care about them, I have a history with them.

A. We say, "The attachment of non-attachment." I have a close relationship to you, or to something, but itís not necessarily attachment. You can say attachment, itís just a word, but although I have a close relationship to you, you are moving and I am moving and changing, and itís like when you have a close attachment to your spouse, you have a certain configuration when you get married, and then 10 years later, everything has changed, and you wonder what happened, how did I do this? And then you have to realign the configuration. You canít be attached. Although your marriage is based on what you did in the beginning, you have to realign it to the reality of the moment, so you canít be attached to old things. Attachment can mean getting stuck in your relationship, or wanting something so much that you canít let go of it. So a reasonable relationship is desirable, but attachment is too much, too dependent, actually; through too much dependence, we have suffering on both sides. Actually we have to renew our relationships moment by moment as well as periodically.

Q. Action, without attachment to the fruit of action, is that transcendence of duality?

A. Yes. Activity without attachment to the result is what we might call pure activity, because our activity at the moment is satisfying enough. In other words, we have a goal and we feel that if we arrive at the goal, weíll have satisfaction. Itís all right to have a goal. But if we are attached to the result, we are easily disappointed, because there is always further to go. So in each step of the way we should find complete satisfaction, even though there may be a goal. I would say thatís non-dualistic activity. When you are in the kitchen cooking, you want to get the food out, and thatís the goal. But we should be experiencing the enjoyment of cutting the vegetables and washing them. Each momentís activity is a satisfactory moment. This way each step contains the whole meal. Thatís the attitude of the cook in the kitchen, enjoying each step. We complete each step rather than leaving a big mess because you are so focused on the goal that you neglect the present moment. We cook and clean up as we go, and by the time we are finished, we have the product, and the kitchen is clean, everything is put away, and we have lived our life fully, moment by moment each step of the way, and of course we have the meal. But think of how much of your life energy and time went into preparing the meal, compared to how much time you spent eating it. And in the end, where did it go?

Q. Is that another way of saying, "Following the Dharma for the sake of the Dharma?

A. Yes, itís just doing the cooking for the sake of the cooking and enjoying the eating as the eating; doing each activity for its own sake. Although there is before and after, we are not attached to before and after. We donít have to sacrifice our life now in order to reach some goal in the future. This is the same as not starting from delusion in order to finally reach enlightenment. Practice and enlightenment arise together. Thoroughness of practice on each moment is the goal.

Q. Like Blake said, "Do good in minute particulars."

A. Yes. Do something small, but satisfying. A lot of people really lead miserable lives because they want something big to happen, but something small can be large if we find our satisfaction moment by moment. Thatís the way we need to sit zazen Ė moment by moment. You cannot think ahead. If you think, "How can I do this for two and a half days, or seven days, or something like that, youíre already lost. All you have to think is, "How can I do this right now, on this moment, moment after moment after moment." So then we live our life moment by moment, in one big moment.

Edited by SMW August 4, 2006
Transcribed by Patti Fogg, 2005

© Copyright Sojun Mel Weitsman, 2007

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