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Talk on Zenki "Total Dynamic Working"

from Dogenís Shobogenzo, given by Sojun Mel Weitsman
November 8, 1997
Chapel Hill Zen Center

In his fascicle, Zenki, Dogen quoted Zen master Engo, "Life is the manifestation of total dynamism: death is the total manifestation of total dynamism." which comes from a poem that Dogen quotes at greater length in Shinjin Gakudo. "Life is the manifestation of the total dynamism: Death is the manifestation of total dynamism: filling to the full the total immensity of space the unbarred mind, always bright, clear." Dogen said that you should clarify and penetrate this utterance in practice. "What you must penetrate is this: although the principle of Ďlife is the manifestation of total dynamismí covers all the world and all space, without concern for beginnings or endings, not only does it not hinder any Ďlife as the manifestation of total dynamism,í it does not even hinder any Ďdeath as manifestation of total dynamism.í When Ďdeath is the manifestation of the total dynamism,í it covers all the world and all space, not only does it not impede any Ďdeath as the manifestation of the total dynamism,íit does not impede any Ďlife as the manifestation of total dynamism.í"
Engo says that at the time of lifeís total manifestation beyond the duality of birth and death, life does not hinder deathís total manifestation; and vice versa. (I think of Dogen using the terms birth and death rather than life and death because life includes both birth and death.) Birth and death are the two aspects of life. We tend to think of death as the antithesis of life. But in this case letís say death is the antithesis of birth. So life in this case is the totality or the zenki or the Buddha Nature; and birth and death are its night and day.

So, "At the time of lifeís total manifestation beyond the duality of birth and death, birth does not hinder deathís total manifestation and death does not hinder Birthís total manifestation. Birthsís total manifestation and deathís total manifestation, though equally encompassing all dharmas, all things, do not hinder each other. That is, each stage of time is total and yet does not impede on any other." Thatís an interesting statement, that each stage of time, each moment of time, which includes everything, all phenomenal manifestations in that moment, do not impede any other manifestation. What Dogen seems to be saying is, life does not impede life, death does not impede death, death does not impede life and life does not impede death. So he has the four aspects of birth and death covered. Itís very typical of Dogen to cover all the possibilities.

[An exchange with some one: "Sounds like in the moment when you make what you consider an embarrassing mistake, that does not impede the next moment when you can be completely clear again."] Answer: Thereís always the possibility of recovery on each moment. But, it means that each momentís activity is independent, and, at the same time, includes everything. It covers the whole universe. In zazen, when we narrow our activity to focus on one activity totally, everything is included, moment to moment. That is what Dogen is saying hereĖthe last moment does not impede the next momentís activity. There is a saying that the whole universe appears on each moment with all its phenomena. To us it seems continuous (and there is a continuity in things); but it is a continuity of discrete moments, like a movie. When you watch a movie, it seems continuous, but it is actually a series of independent frames, and each frame is a little bit different from the next frame. The moments of life are the also like this, but they happen so quickly that we see it without any gaps, like a movie; and, on each one of those discrete moments, the whole universe appears in its entirety springs up newĖbrand new. The previous moment is gone, and these moments do not impede each other.

So we say "Life goes on." Nothing is impeded. Life does not impede life; death does not impede death; life does not impede death and death does not impede life. "Within birth there are multitudinous dharmas manifesting their total dynamic working; and within death there are multitudinous dharmas manifesting their total dynamic working. And the manifestation of their total dynamic working exists within what is neither birth nor death. "In the manifestation of the total dynamic working there is birth and there is death." According to this statement, the manifestation of their total dynamic working exists within what is neither birth nor death. Our tendency is to fall into one side or the other, and it is pretty hard to help that. But our actual existence falls somewhere in between. Suzuki Roshi used to say the secret of Soto Zen is "yes, but not quite." In this case, are we really born, or are we dead? Yes, we are manifesting as "birth," and this birth is not impeded by death; it is included in death. But we are also manifesting as death. And this death is not impeded by birth but is included in birth. So our birth includes our death, and our death includes our birth. One moment of birth is one moment of death. One moment of death is one moment of birth.

In order to live we have to take life. We have to kill something, so to speak, and, at the same time, we are nourishment for other life forms. But life itself is not killed. The various manifestations of life nourish each other within a constant transformative process, and we canít say that something actually exists independently. There is an existence for this moment, and we call this existence "life." And we name the various life forms. There is a continuity, but the existence of each one of us together with everything else is continuously changing and transforming.

Is the baby that had your name the same person as the adult that you now claim to be? Well, yes and no. The baby is not there, but there is some action-influence of the baby which is a cause for this present manifestation of today. There is something that is the same and something that is different. The baby is no longer present, but at one time we said, "Look at the baby. Isnít she cute?" What happened to her? She didnít die, and she didnít become you, because you are this person right now. There are many influences and causes that have produced and shaped the person of this moment. The baby is one of them. We say that this is my body, but the fact is that itís not my body. This body belongs to the universe. It does not belong to me and there is nothing that I can do about it. Regardless of what I may want, it just keeps changing. I may choose to cooperate with those changes or I may resist them, or whatever it is that we do. We either have a struggle or we go along with it. Earlier, Dogen says that itís a Buddhist fact of life that there is no birth or death in a true sense, because only what is born can die. So instead of talking about being born and dying, although we use these terms because they are convenient, a deeper understanding is that there are just continuous, interdependent transformations going on, and it is only our perception of "self," born through desire, clinging, and attachment, that is born and dies. We call the beginning of our present life "birth," and the end of our present life "death" because of our partial understanding, and we are partial to our understanding and partial to our birth.

When were we born? In the East they say that you are one year old when you are born. Thatís the way they count it. Thatís interesting. There is a life in the womb, a life which we are not aware of or donít remember. So, who are we actually? I donít like speculating about who we were before birth and who we will be after death. I have no attachment to any theories. As I said before, I donít disregard or disapprove of any theory; and I donít believe in any theory. I just try to keep an open mind. My feeling is that, if you live your life totally and honestly doing the best you can, making a sincere effort to follow your way-seeking mind together with faith in the Dharma, you will not get lost. If we donít trust that, what can we trust? We do our best and trust. I like knowing. I sometimes think that I want to know what is going to happen to me, but as it turns out, what I think is going to happen rarely does.

One of the things about our life thatís so wonderful is that we canít know our future. If we did, our life would lose its spontaneity. For example, you can tape a football game on your TV so you can see it later, but, if you find out the score before seeing the game on the tape, it loses its meaning. We have to trust this moment. We really have to trust our life on this moment and trust the life which is lived through me; the life that I offer myself up to. As Dogen says, "Just throw yourself into the house of Buddha."

We may, or may not, have asked to be born into this world. I canít say. Maybe we did ask in some way. Various causes and conditions interact with our karma and move things in a certain direction, and thatís asking, in a sense. But we donít know what came before our "birth," and we donít know what will come after our "death." All we know is "this," and "this" is a wonderful challengeĖto be able to deal with "just this" without knowing what you are going to getĖwhat the result is going to be.

Because we want certainty; because we want to know, we make up all kinds of wonderful stories, like Buddhaís past lives as presented in the Jataka Tales (which shouldnít be taken literally). Thatís my feeling. Unless you know for certain, itís just speculation. It is said that Buddha saw into all his past lives. Yes, maybe so. But a greater challenge is, without knowing that, without knowing the past, without knowing the future, how are you going to handle this moment? Without that certainty, just standing up where you are, or sitting up straight, without knowing, is a greater challenge. Isnít that really where we all are?

I think we can rely on faith in our good karma. I sometimes think of our life as like a ship. As Zen students, itís like weíre down in the boiler room shoveling coal and trusting that the ship is on course even though we donít know so much about what is going on up on deck. We are just doing our work, driving the ship and riding the ship. Once in a while we go up on deck to refresh ourselves and see where we are going. But in the vast ocean the water all looks the same. We want to peek. Are we doing ok? Will it be ok? Itís necessary to have faith that, if we stay the course, things work. But if we are attached to some result or goal, the curtain gets drawn, and we lose our place in the moment.

We canít see the future. We can only do the work of the present. The important thing is to have faith in our true Nature, which is always supporting us. So whatever our reward, it really comes through the work at hand. When you feel that way in your practice, you can have confidence in where you are going. You know that you are on the path and it feels like you are in the groove. Thereís an old Zen saying, "to be on the road but not in the groove"Ėyou have to be on the road and also in the groove, then it feels right. Itís intuitive, a gut feeling. Zen practice is intuition, directly touchingĖdirectly knowing without the intermediary of thinking. We think a lot and thinking is important, of course; but intuition is before thinking, beyond the discriminating mind. The path of practice begins where you are and ends where you are. Whatís the use going off looking here and there when actually this is the place to be. Itís the hardest place to be. Zazen is difficult because we are restless beings, and to actually be able to settle on this moment in this place is rare and unusual. [End of Part One] Talk transcribed by James Welsh.

© Copyright Sojun Mel Weitsman, 2002

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