Talks on the Fukanzazengi by
Eihei Dogen Zenji:

Universal Guidelines
for the Practice
of Zazen

Part III

Once Zenkei Blanche Hartman was talking about the traditional art of archery, or Kyodo, practiced in Japan. She said, " archery as in zazen, the training is in the form: the careful attention to body, breath and mind; She said, [archery practice begins first by] sitting and gathering the mind, then standing carefully, putting the bow in position, placing an arrow on it, placing the hand just so, raising the bow and lowering it as the string is drawn." She said, "In all of this, the attention is on the form of body, breath and mind. There is no concern about hitting the target. Again and again [the practice is] perfecting this form... of standing with the bow fully drawn and breathing and allowing [the bow] to release on its own with the understanding that if body, breath, mind, bow, arrow, target are all in perfect harmony, the arrow will find its mark." This is such a wonderful analogy for zazen practice.

Then she told a story about the Zen teacher Kobun Chino who was also a master of Kyodo. The story took place at Esalen Institute which is above and overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the Big Sur area of California. Kobun Chino was at Esalen with his archery teacher who was visiting from Japan to demonstrate Zen archery. First, the teacher "demonstrated a shot ... and then handed the bow and arrow to Kobun and invited him to demonstrate his skill. So Kobun took an arrow and the bow and, Zenkei said, with complete concentration ... attention and care, he drew the bow and released the arrow... into the ocean! When it hit the water he said, 'Bull's eye!'" Again, this is such a good example for how in Zen practice, our attention is 100% with our effort without looking forward to or anticipating a result. We can think of zazen as the practice of bringing caring attention to our posture, presence, and breath, and then release ....

Even though I had heard this idea for years, it took a long time for it to penetrate. In zazen, our effort is with being upright, open and present, and that's it. But most of us begin practice with a purpose in mind. When practice itself becomes a commitment to purposelessness — to nondoing — it shifts from something we do to benefit ourselves to religious practice, a commitment to something wider than for our own self-interest.

Yesterday I talked about "turning your light inwardly to illuminate your self." The "Fukanzazengi" continues, "If you want to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay." This refers to statement by Yunju Daoying or Ungo Doyo, a disciple of Tozan Ryokai or Dongshan. One day Ungo addressed his assembly, saying, "If you want to attain such a thing, you must be such a person. Since you are such a person, why trouble about such a thing? The Antai-ji version is, "If you want to get in touch with things as they are, you — right here and now — have to start being yourself, as you are."

The Japanese word immo that is translated here as "such," is often translated as "suchness" or "thusness," as"being-as-it-is," "all-inclusive reality, " and the "fundamental nature of reality." Tanahashi defined, "the mind of suchness," as the mind of reality itself, which is unlimited. Taigen Leighton talked about the experience of suchness as "the direct apprehension of the immediate present reality" or "the clear perception of reality." But, like emptiness, he cautions that its important to remember that suchness is not a thing but "a way things are experienced." The nature of reality, both from the perspective of suchness and from the perspective of emptiness is "empty of any substantial existence," because each thing, each being, each event is the result of the co-dependent arising of many causes and conditions."

The Japanese word immo was originally a Chinese colloquial expression meaning "this," "that" or "in this way." But Dogen used it to mean "suchness" or "thusness" which is tathata in Sanskrit. The idea of suchness was important enough to Dogen that later, he wrote a text on suchness called Immo which begins with this statement by Ungo, translated by Kim,"If one wants to attain the essence of thusness, one must become a person of thusness. But one is already a person of thusness; so why should one be anxious about the essence of thusness?" and Ungo continued, "It is said that to think of attaining the essence of thusness is always to be the person of thusness...." Tanahashi's version of this last sentence is, " who aspires to experience thusness is immediately a person of thusness. If so, why be worried about thusness?"

So, Dogen emphasized that one's thought or aspiration to experience thusness is itself evidence that one is already a person of thusness, which seems to imply that even just the interest in or aspiration to realize thusness is itself verification of the reality of thusness. Again, this reminds me of the idea that it is not even we who practices zazen, but the Buddha we already are who practices.

Going back to the "Fukanzazengi," next: For sanzen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. The word "sanzen" is another word for Dokusan — the private meeting between teacher and student. The first character "san" means to practice or examine carefully, and sanzen literally means "penetrating zen." But in this passage Dogen used sanzen to mean zazen. By doing this, he equated the importance of zazen with meeting a teacher face-to-face, implying, I think, that zazen is our teacher.

Next, Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. Do not think good or bad. Do not administer pros and cons. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thoughts and views. Carl Bielefeldt said that this passage should be viewed more as a "comment on the true meaning of suspending worldly affairs which is that worldliness is within, and what must be relinquished... is not merely ... ties" to the external world but [to] "the internal mechanisms that lead us to... believe in such a world." So, renunciation in Zen is not just letting go of our worldly entanglements, what's emphasized most is letting go of our attachments to and entanglements with, our views and beliefs.

This section ends with, Have no designs on [or plans for] becoming a buddha. Sanzen has nothing whatever to do with sitting or lying down. I am coming to realize that even though Zen stories are often about historical people and situations, the stories themselves are fluid in that slight differences in wording can produce different nuances that are used to make different points, so there is no "true story." And Dogen is well known for rewording Zen stories to illustrate whatever point he wanted to make.

"Have no designs on becoming a buddha" refers to a story Dogen used in his text, "Zazenshin," between Huai-rang who was a disciple of the 6th Ancestor, Hui-neng, and Huai-rang's disciple Ma-Tsu or Baso. Dogen introduced the story saying that it took place after Ma-Tsu had "intimately received the mind seal" or after he had received Dharma Transmission from Huai-rang, which indicates that Ma-Tsu was a mature practitioner who had an established relationship with Huai-rang when the story took place. However, in the traditional version of this story, Ma-Tsu was a newer monk and a different point was made. Dogen's presentation of Ma-Tsu as a mature practitioner illustrated his view of the inseparability of practice and enlightenment.

The story begins with Ma-Tsu, who had been practicing in Huai-rang's community for some time, meditating very seriously and intensely, when one day Huai-rang came to Ma-Tsu's hermitage while he was sitting zazen, and asked him, "What do you seek by doing zazen?" Ma-Tsu replied, "I'm seeking to become a buddha [or I'm trying to wake up]." (Why else would he be meditating all day?) So Huai-rang picked up a tile that had fallen off the roof and began rubbing it, which was meant to imitate Ma-Tsu's activity of cultivating his practice. The character that is translated as polish also means effort and in a Buddhist context, it refers to practice. After awhile, Ma-Tsu asked, "Master, what are you doing?" Huai-jang replied, "I'm polishing this tile to make it into a mirror." The mirror represents enlightenment, or the still, reflective quality of mind that reflects things just as they are when it is no longer distorted by delusion.

Ma-Tsu then asked, "How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?" Huai-rang came back quickly with, "How can you make a Buddha by sitting in meditation?" Ma-Tsu asked, "Then, what shall I do?"[I.e. if I don't meditate, how do I practice and awaken?] Huai-rang's next response seems like a non sequitur, "When you are driving a cart, if the cart doesn't go, should you beat the cart or beat the ox?"Ma-Tsu didn't reply and Huai-rang continued, "Are you practicing sitting meditation, or are you practicing sitting Buddhahood? If you are practicing sitting meditation, meditation is not sitting or lying down. If you are practicing sitting Buddhahood, 'Buddha' is not a fixed form.... If you keep the Buddha seated, this is killing the Buddha, if you cling to the form of sitting, you're not reaching its principle." At this point, Ma-Tsu had realization and continued practicing with Huai-rang for ten more years, continuing to deepen his practice.

The common understanding of this story was that crossing your legs and sitting still, taking the posture of a buddha, doesn't make you into a buddha anymore than polishing a tile will make it into a mirror. A buddha, or awakened mind has no fixed form and clinging to a form is aa hindrance to liberation. Enlightenment is waking up to vast, limitless reality, not just holding still. It isn't developed gradually over time by refining zazen practice, nor is our practice limited to what happens when we cross our legs. If you leave your practice behind when you stand up after zazen, you are dividing your experience into practice and non-practice.

Katagiri Roshi wrote about this exchange in Each Moment is the Universe. To Huai-jang's statement, "Buddha is not a fixed form or no solid form," Katagiri commented, "Dogen says that 'no solid form' is Buddha.... Your basic nature is no solid form." Dogen's comment, "no solid form is buddha" characterizes the nature of reality. Katagiri said, "When no solid form appears in your manifest the form of gassho and also something more — emptiness. At that time you cannot avoid Buddha and you manifest ...gassho as it really is." He said, "If one person manifests the whole universe, one person saves all sentient beings." "If you believe that saving all sentient beings is a ridiculous idea, your life is already rigid.... there is no space to be flexible, no space to manifest the unknown world through the form of your zazen...." He said, "We have to manifest the unknown world simultaneously with the known world.

To the phrase, "If you keep the Buddha seated, this is killing the Buddha, if you cling to the form of sitting, you're not reaching its principle," Katagiri Roshi commented saying that the phrase "killing the Buddha" was a favorite of Zen masters in China, but he said that this doesn't mean to really kill something. "It means total actualization and manifestation with no gap, no space to let something extra get in." He said, "If you sit zazen, you are melted into zazen." When I hear this, it reminds me of the way we make candles by taking the trimmings from many candles and melting them together to make a new candle so that the individual left-overs disappear. "If you sit zazen, you are melted into zazen," so that the activity of zazen and you become one. See if you can melt yourself into zazen, so there's no difference between you and zazen, no gap for anything extra to enter."

At the end of this exchange, Huai-rang said, "if you cling to the form of sitting or zazen posture, you're not reaching its principle." Katagiri Roshi said that people think that not clinging to the form of sitting "means that you don't need to be concerned about the form or posture of zazen, because you cannot attain enlightenment that way. But this is a misunderstanding." Dogen meant that "we have to abandon our usual understanding of the zazen posture and touch the heart of zazen." Katagiri continued, "the zazen posture is really painful, creating lots of stiffness, just like climbing a mountain. But you love something that is at the heart of your life. In order to climb the mountain that is called life, you have to carry a form. It bothers you, but you do it anyway. Then you touch the heart of form..."

Katagiri Roshi went on, "Detachment doesn't mean you should ignore form; it means you have to attach to form through and through. A form may bother you but you need form because you love truth, you love peace, you love life itself." By joining ourselves to a form, or melting ourselves into a form like gassho, floor bows, or offering the Buddha tray, it's no longer "me" doing a particular movement. We come to actually move as the form, and the form and "me" are the same.

Going back to polishing the tile, the exchange between Huai-rang and Ma-Tsu criticized systematic or methodical practice which is used in some Buddhist traditions in which practice and insight are developed in stages. Instead, this story supports the idea of sudden enlightenment — that enlightenment occurs instantaneously by experiencing reality directly. Going back to the beginning of the exchange, according to Dogen, "What do you seek by doing zazen?" is expressed more accurately when it is read as a statement, "Zazen is that seeking which is the Absolute." which expresses Dogen's view of the seamless unity of zazen practice and realization. The foundation of Soto Zen is that we are already Buddha, and it is actually the Buddha we are that enables us to practice in the first place. For Dogen, practice was a manifestation of ultimate reality — boundless reality — working through us. In his teaching, Dogen tended to use the terms "manifestation," "actualization," "authentication," and "verification" which connote an activity rather than a destination. Okumura Roshi refers to allowing zazen to do zazen through us.

When Huai-rang asked, "What do you seek by doing zazen?" Dogen reworded Ma-Tsu's response, "I seek to become a buddha" to "Seeking is buddha-actualization" and he commented saying, "...zazen is always that 'buddha-actualization' which is one with 'seeking;' zazen is always that 'seeking' which is none other than 'buddha-actualization'..." The way the wording is changed equates seeking or practice with buddha-actualization. In this sense, the first period of zazen we sit, the zazen we do after years of practice, and our zazen during a long sesshin are all zazen. Whenever we sit whole-heartedly, we engage our whole being. Whole-hearted zazen is a complete act. Each time we totally engage in just sitting, we practice absolutely; and absolutely means completely, totally, with an all inclusive quality. So there is nothing left over or left out of our zazen. Each point in time, our zazen is buddha-actualization; and there is no progress because there is nothing outside that moment of total engagement to compare it to. For Dogen, zazen practice and actualization are united and reaffirmed moment by moment.

When Huai-rang was polishing the tile and Ma-Tsu asked," What are you doing?" Dogen commented, "Polishing a tile has been present in the Absolute," indicating that the activity of Absolute reality is "tile polishing" or practice, and "tile polishing never ceases." According to Dogen, practice is how we express and embody the Absolute or the non-dual, interdependent nature of reality. Dogen went on to say, that "tile polishing" or practice is not "mirror-making," because the practice of zazen is not a method for producing enlightenment.

For Dogen, practice is total, complete and self-sufficient, and when there is complete engagement, there is no anticipation of enlightenment. If we do zazen now, thinking about a future enlightenment, we aren't doing zazen. We are thinking about the future. In this practice, there isn't room for anything else, no room for future, no room for enlightenment, Buddha, or insight. There is only room for one activity: total engagement in immobile sitting, instant after instant; and total, non-dual engagement is itself realization. There is no room for the two activities of total engagement and realization. Total engagement is realization. This total engagement is to throw our whole body and mind into our present activity without looking outside the present for a result. Our practice, our very presence, is unique and non-repeatable, and each moment of being is complete just as it is.

Referring to this passage, Bielefeldt wrote, "...zazen is not merely a utilitarian device producing a perfected state of enlightenment, but the expression of a more fundamental perfection inherent in all things. In this way, the practice of zazen itself becomes the actualization of ultimate truth, and the practitioner, just as he is, becomes the embodiment of perfect enlightenment."

Dogen taught that practice is how we manifest or express the mind of thusness or reality, not how we transform ourselves into a buddha. Likewise, the tile does not become the mirror because the tile already is the mirror. If you are practicing zazen in order to get something, a wonderful quality or state of mind, that you think you don't already have, that is delusion. By reaching out for it, you are reaching away from your own inherent completeness.

We still have many more periods of "repose and bliss." And all we have to do is sit upright totally engaging in immobile sitting, engaging with our most fundamental, unembellished being. Try to melt yourself into zazen so there is no zazen, so there is no you, so there is only this ... just this.

© 2020 Taitaku Josho Pat Phelan