Talks on the Fukanzazengi by
Eihei Dogen Zenji:

Universal Guidelines
for the Practice
of Zazen

Part V

For Dogen the practice of zazen was the very essence of Buddhism. According to Bielefeldt, Dogen considered that zazen, when "rightly practiced, was itself enlightenment; [or] the activity of Buddhahood." The catch, of course, is "zazen when rightly practiced." Dogen considered zazen to be the direct realization of the enlightened Buddha mind within us all. In China, Buddhism was and still is more inclusive than Buddhist practice in Japan. When monks are ordained in China, they are ordained as Buddhists, but in Japan a person is ordained as a particular kind of Buddhist — as a Pure Land, Tendai, Shingon, Nichiren, Soto Zen or Rinzai Zen monk. In China a large monastery would have a separate Hall where each sect would do their practices within one monastic compound, so there is more exposure and maybe cross-over between the different Buddhist traditions. In China the Cao Dung or Soto Zen tradition tended to set aside these different methods of practice so that the practice of zazen became the main practice. This is the practice that has come to us through Suzuki Roshi, although in Soto Zen, we still do some prostrations and chanting.

When Dogen was practicing in China, he felt that there were two ways that zazen was often misunderstood. One way was the view that zazen was a concentration device for calming and focusing the mind; and the other misunderstanding was the view that zazen was a technique only needed by beginners until the practitioner realized that everything one does is Zen, i.e. walking, standing, working, everything is Zen, so the separate practice of zazen was no longer necessary. Bielefeldt, echoing Dogen, said that "Zazen is not mere meditation concentration but the teaching of ease and joy, the practice and verification of ultimate enlightenment."

Returning to the "Fukanzazengi," The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma-gate of repose and bliss, the practice realization of totally culminated enlightenment. The phrase, "learning meditation" refers to the Sanskirt word dhyana which is the Right Concentration or Meditation aspect of the Eight-fold Path and in the Three Trainings, it is the cultivation of meditative concentration. Traditionally, Buddhist cultivation is divided into Three Trainings, beginning with the practice of morality or right conduct which is expressed through the precepts. Through wholesome conduct, one's mind becomes calm enough to meditate; and through meditative concentration, the stage is set for wisdom through one's personal insight or through personally tasting the Truth, knowing it through one's own experience.

In contrast, for zazen, the instructions given to a beginner and those given to an experienced practitioner are pretty much the same. Bielefeldt said that for Dogen, "zazen was not merely a... device for 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 the ultimate truth; and the practitioner, just as he or she is, becomes the embodiment of perfect enlightenment." And at any point in practice, Dogen considered a moment of zazen rightly practiced to be a moment of Buddha or enlightenment, which, I think, sets zazen practice apart from most other forms of meditation.

Next, It [or The zazen I speak of] is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Traps and snares can never reach it. The phrase, manifestation of ultimate reality is also translated as "actualizing the fundamental point" which is genjokoan in Japanese. (Sekkei) Harada Roshi said that "traps and snares" are a "condition in which you are bound by something you can't see, like karma, for example." "Traps and snares" are also considered to be discriminative thinking and everything related to it which trap the living, dynamic world by conceptualizing it and through which we end up being ensnared.

Dogen continued, Once its heart is grasped, you are like the dragon when she gains the water, like the tiger when he enters the mountain. In Asian culture, dragons are wonderful water dwelling creatures who bring good fortune. When a dragon enters the water or a tiger enters the mountain, they are in their true element. Likewise we enjoy our Original Nature, our true element, when we engage in zazen.

Next, For you must know that just there in zazen the right Dharma is manifesting itself and that from the first dullness and distraction are struck aside. "Dullness" is the near-enemy of zazen because it has no particular content or object which makes it hard to perceive. Dullness refers to dull, lethargic, sleepy states of mind, and can be like a "gray zone," whereas distraction means getting caught up in mental activity, wandering endlessly away.

When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Do not rise suddenly or abruptly. Our bearing and comportment are an extension or embodiment of our state of mind. So, there's no need to hurry away from this moment. Out of the stillness of zazen, we begin moving, slowly rocking from side to side, before uncrossing our legs and standing up. This is an opportunity to maintain a connection with our inner stillness and balance as we go on to the next thing whether it is kinhin, service, or leaving the zendo.

Next, In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both unenlightenment and enlightenment, and dying while either sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the strength [of zazen]. There are a number of stories of Chinese and Japanese Zen Masters who, when they felt they were about to die, bathed and put on fresh robes, took the zazen position and passed away. In Zen lore, Bodhidharma, and the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Zen ancestors in China died this way, and it's said that the Third Ancestor, Kanchi Sosan who wrote the Hsin Hsin Ming, died while standing under a large tree. I think the idea of "transcending both unenlightenment and enlightenment" is a hallmark of Buddhism.

It is pretty easy to see why attaching to unenlightened activity would be an obstacle to liberation, but even attaching to practice and our insights create separation by turning them into an object which tends to make them seem substantial. In Buddhism, the practice is to let go, including letting go of our insights, understanding, and nondual experience — we let everything go. Because holding on means holding on to our conceptualizations about experience since there is no way we can hold on to actual, living reality. In Buddhism, true liberation includes freedom from both unenlightenment or conventional reality as well as enlightenment or ultimate truth.

In addition, the bringing about of enlightenment by the opportunity provided by a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and the effecting of realization with the aid of hossu, a fist, a staff, or a shout, cannot be fully understood by one's discriminative thinking. Now comes the fun part. In this section Dogen gave a list of things which played a part in famous enlightenment stories. First, a "finger" refers to Gutei (Juzhi), and whenever he was asked about Zen, Master Gutei simply held up one finger and offered no other teaching. He had a young monk attendant and once when Gutei was out, a visitor came to the monastery and asked him about Gutei's teaching. The attendant imitated his teacher and raised one finger. After Gutei found out, he asked his attendant, "I heard that you understand the essential doctrine. Is that so?" His attendant said, "yes." Gutei then asked, "What is Buddha?" The attendant imitating his teacher, raised one finger. Gutei grabbed him and cut off his finger. As the young monk ran out of the room, Gutei called after him. When he turned his head, Gutei asked, "What is Buddha?" The monk held up his hand but his finger was gone — there was nothing there but emptiness, and he instantly awakened. If you find this story distasteful, don't take it literally. It illustrates that whatever we use to stand on or whatever we use to explain reality to ourselves, eventually will be taken away, if we continue to practice. With nothing to stand on, explanations and beliefs are no longer needed — direct experience is enough. When the time is right, when the practitioner is well-grounded in practice, pulling the rug out from under them can be effective and constructive. Or it can be that just taking away a small thing will provide an opening to vast spaciousness.

After a "finger," next in the list is "a banner," which refers to Ananda's enlightenment story. Ananda was the Buddha's first cousin and became his attendant for the last 25 years of Buddha's life. Both Ananda and Kasyapa were disciples of Buddha, but in Zen lore Kasyapa or Mahakasyapa became Shakyamuni Buddha's dharma successor, whereas Ananda didn't realize enlightenment until after Buddha's death when he was practicing with Kasyapa. Ananda had memorized and later recited all of Buddha's sermons which are the Pali suttas we have today. Sutras begin, "Thus have I heard at one time at..." and then the place where the sermon was delivered is named. The "I" who heard the sutra is Ananda. Ananda's enlightenment story goes, One day Ananda asked Kasapya, "Elder brother, did the World-Honored One (or Buddha), transmit anything else to you besides the gold brocade robe?" Kasyapa, knowing the time was right, called out, "Ananda!" And like a valley spirit echoing in response to a call, Ananda immediately replied, "Yes!" Like a spark issuing from a flint. Kasyapa said, "Knock down the banner in front of the gate." Ananda was greatly awakened.

In India at that time, when two religious or philosophical groups debated, both sides put up a banner; when one side was defeated, their banner was taken down. The commentary says, it's as if Kasyapa and Ananda had lined up for debate and set up their banners next to each other, since now Ananda was appearing in the world, Kasyapa should fold up his banner — one appearing, one disappearing. But this story is not about debating or winning and losing. When Kasyapa instructed Ananda to take down the banner, Ananda was greatly enlightened because master and disciple had become one in the Way, so they no longer needed two banners. This story can be found in the Transmission of the Light by Keizan.

The next story, about a "needle," refers to the enlightenment story of Kanadeva which is also found in the Transmission of the Light. When Kanadeva met Nagarjuna, he hoped to become his disciple. At their first meeting, Nagarjuna knew that Kanadeva was a person of great wisdom. Nagarjuna sent his assistant for a bowl full of water and had it placed before Kanadeva. When Kanadeva saw it, he thrust a needle into the bowl of water and presented it to Nagarjuna. They met each other and joyfully realized that they were of like minds. Nagarjuna accepted Kanadeva as a disciple and eventually he become Nagarjuna's Dharma successor. Both of these stories present a quiet, intimate meeting.

"A mallet" can be found in the first case of the Shoyoroku, or Book of Equanimity, which is a Soto Zen koan collection. It goes, One day the World Honored One, or Buddha, ascended the seat or raised teaching platform. When Buddha took his place, Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, struck the gavel and said, "Clearly observe the Dharma of the King of Dharma; the Dharma of the King of Dharma is thus." Then without saying anything, the World Honored One got down from the seat, and that's the end of the story. It was the custom at the opening of the teaching hall to strike the gavel and announce this verse the way we chant before a Dharma talk. Except that after the verse was said, Buddha got down and walked out without saying anything. In this case, the teaching is in what was not said.

Then Dogen gave another list of four items that helped stimulate realization, a hossu, a fist, a staff or a shout. A "hossu" is a ceremonial whisk which originally was also used to shoo flies with out hurting them. The hossu refers to Tozan Ryokai's exchange with Ungan Donjo. Tozan visited Master Ungan and asked, "When the inanimate preaches the Dharma, who can hear it?" Ungan said, "The inanimate can hear it." Tozan asked, "Can you hear it?" Ungan said, "If I could hear it, then you would not be able to hear me teach the Dharma." Tozan persisted, "Why can't I hear it?" Ungan raised his hossu and said, "Can you hear it?" Tozan said, "No, I can't." Ungan responded, "You cannot even hear it when I expound the Dharma. How do you expect to hear when a non-sentient being expounds the Dharma?" Tozan then asked which sutra teaches that non-sentient beings expound the Dharma. And Ungan said, "The Amitaba Sutra says "water, birds, tree groves, all without exception recite the Buddha's name, recite the Dharma." This was a turning point for Tozan, he got it.

I haven't found the references for a "fist" and a "staff," but "a shout" referred to Master Lin-chi or Rinzai who was known for his shout, which helped many of his disciples awaken. The shout is "Ho' in Chinese and "Katsu" or "Kwatz" in Japanese. All of these references are to situations in which practitioners went beyond conceptual experience. Not only did they go beyond conceptualization and discriminating consciousness, they also went beyond supernatural powers. These are abilities like being able to see everywhere without obstruction; hearing any sound, near or far; being able to transport oneself through solid objects; knowing other's thoughts; and the ability to remember past lives in detail. I can imagine yogis and ascetics in ancient India with these abilities, but the historical Buddha emphasized that these powers do not lead to liberation, and in fact they can be a hindrance because it is so easy to become intoxicated with them and attach to them. So, developing supernatural powers can lead us away from waking up. Dogen taught, Indeed, it [enlightenment] cannot be fully known by the practicing or realizing of supernatural powers either. It must be deportment beyond hearing and seeing — is it not a principle that is prior to knowledge and perceptions?

One of Dogen's teachings is, Jinzu, which is translated as Miracles or Spiritual Powers. In this essay, he said that the six supernatural powers that I just mentioned are small powers or minor miracles, and the six major miracles of a buddha are entering forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables, and objects of mind and not being confused by them. Realizing the emptiness of the six sense objects, a buddha is free of conditions. Dogen said, "A buddha practices miracles that are grounded on the earth." He cited the 8th century Buddhist practitioner, Layman Pang who studied with Ma-Tsu. Layman Pang said "Miracles are nothing other than the everyday activities of fetching water and carrying firewood." Dogen commented, "Those who practice this are all miracle buddhas." "Not abiding in these miracles is called 'going beyond miracles.' A Bodhisattva who goes beyond miracles does not leave traces. This is a person going beyond buddha." And so, going beyond Buddha is neither being attached to enlightenment or unenlightenment, moving freely between the conventional world and Ultimate Reality.

I would like to end today by reading a passage by Kaz Tanahashi. He said, "Nirvana is regarded as the realm of nonduality, where there is no distinction between large and small.... self and other. It may be called reality itself.... To experience this ... in the midst of the passage of time, change, and decay, is a miracle." He said, "For Dogen, this miracle can happen each moment, as each moment of duality is inseparable from a moment of nonduality. Duality and nonduality, change and no-change, relative and absolute, coexist and interact with each other. Dogen calls the experience of this dynamic 'actualizing the fundamental point'." [or genjokoan] In Zen, miracles are nothing other than drawing water and carrying firewood, when we realize — really realize — each moment of samsara as inseparable from a moment of nirvana.

© 2020 Taitaku Josho Pat Phelan