Monday, August 30, 2010

Dogen’s Shobogenzo: Chapter 9 – Keisei-Sanshiki(II), Buddha Nature and Enlightenment

When voices are heard
Waves break back into themselves
And surf crashes sky.

In Keisei-Sanshiki Dogen brings up Buddha-Nature and enlightenment, although a description of these states is not the main focus and I’ve gathered that he delves into these topics in greater detail in later Chapters. It has been my tendency to avoid these topics, due to a combination of being a ‘relaxation’ type practitioner in the past and, more recently, due to recognizing the value in a ‘non-attainment’ approach. Mostly, I have been okay with the ‘non-attainment approach’ because enlightenment can’t really be described anyhow and descriptions can be counterproductive because they can cause us to get stuck.

Without having researched these topics in any directed fashion, my understanding is that Buddha Nature (aka no-self, true self, the unborn, the uncreated) refers to that ‘base state’ inherent in us before emotion, desire, and thought, much like the state we are in when we ‘not thinking’. The typical view I’ve encountered in many Buddhists and other ‘New Age’ thinkers seems to be that the various aspects of nature, such as trees, rocks, insects, dogs, and cats etc etc do not think and therefore they naturally express Buddha Nature.

But I balk because insects, dogs and cats do feel, desire, think and have memories. In fact, already twenty years ago, the famous neuroscientist David Wiesel argued and presented data in support of the notion that even a blade of grass feels, desires, thinks and has memories. (Too bad for any of us trying to keep the precepts – its impossible. That’s not to say we shouldn’t ‘walk on tiptoes’ to make a minimal footprint.)

Okay, so maybe the sky, Earth, mountains, and water have an inherent Buddha Nature. Its interesting, to me, then, that in presenting Buddha Nature Dogen refers to the voices of the river valley and the forms of the mountains and not other aspects of nature.

Is Buddha Nature synonymous with Enlightenment? Right now, my answer is Yes and No. Yes, because Dogen indicates in Bendowa, Fukan-zazengi, and elsewhere that zazen (sitting meditation) is already Enlightenment. In zazen, we think not thinking and we can realize a state of boundless joy. No, because zazen is just a ‘taste’ of Enlightenment and not something that then automatically manifests in the rest of our day-to-day living. So zazen is (or can be) a manifestation of the ideal, but in the reality of our daily lives, there is something lacking… usually.

- Happi.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dogen’s Shobogenzo: Chapter 9 – Keisei-Sanshiki (I)

Voices of River,
Mountain and Valley faces 
Awaken new Sight.

In Keisei-Sanshiki, translated as The Voices of the River Valley and the Form of the Mountains, Dogen describes the material manifestation of Buddha Nature inherent in the sounds (voices) and sights (forms) of the Earth (and, indeed, Universe) and presents several cases in which “the supreme state of bodhi” is transmitted and realized via this gate. The first example is that of Layman Toba, who during a trip to a particularly beautiful region of the country, hears the sounds of a mountain stream flowing through the night, and realizes the truth.”

Much of the time people, including myself, do not perceive and, therefore, are unaware of the Buddha Nature inherent in nature, because in our day-to-day living we are typically caught up in or absorbed by ‘self’. But I also would venture that the various aspects of nature and our perception of them are the ‘easiest’ gate(s) to an awareness of and sense of communion with Buddha Nature, even for non-Buddhists. Its just that, without understanding, the awareness is transient and fades.

Indeed, in this Chapter Dogen points out that more lasting awakening via the material manifestations of Buddha Nature often depends on predisposing conditions that allow a person to hear or see Buddha Nature and grasp its significance. For example, regarding the awakening of Layman Toba, Dogen writes:

“Under the words of the Zen master, the form of his somersaulting is still immature, but when the voices of the river valley are heard, waves break back upon themselves and surf crashes high into the sky. This being so, now that the voices of the river valley have surprised the layman, should we put it down to the voices of the river valley, or should we put it down to the influence of Shokaku? I suspect that Shokaku’s words on “the nonemotional preaching Dharma” have not stopped echoing but are secretly mingling with the sounds of the mountain stream in the night.”

Dogen presents additional examples of awakening via the sense gates in the cases of Master Kyogen Chikan (“a piece of tile flies up and strikes a bamboo with a crack”) and Master Reiun Shigon (who is awakened on a fine spring day seeing peach blossoms – after thirty years of study).

On the nature of awakening, Dogen describes awakening as an instantaneous transition from a non-awakened state to a permanently awakened one. It could also be argued that it is the Masters who treat these awakenings as permanent, and not necessarily Dogen, at least in these examples.

I notice that in my writing above I use the terms transient, fades, and more lasting. Dogen uses some pretty cool imagery in the above quote to describe these experiences — 'immature somersaulting' versus 'waves breaking back upon themselves' and 'surf crashing high into the sky'. Is awakening instantaneous if it requires many years of prior study to be present with the appropriate understanding? (In Ch. 8, sincerity and belief were all that was required, but that sincerity also implied a certain amount of effort.) Is the truly awakened state a permanent, concrete one? Or can awakening also be impermanent, say shorter events that with continued practice increase in duration until a largely permanent awakened state is realized? But if awakening is impermanent it would necessarily follow that it can be lost… (Some interesting posts have been floating around on the Internets regarding these questions lately, e.g. at Bodhi Amour and Wild Fox Zen.) ...For today I think I'll just feel lucky that all these questions fall by the wayside once I hit the cushion.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflections: Happiness Obeys a Law of Physics

My own conclusions regarding happiness:

(a) First, there is no such thing as 'happy forever.' In my opinion, 'happiness' is, by definition, a self-motivated concept. As such, for every happiness there is an equal and opposite reaction -- eventually. I don't think the same is necessarily true for love, although in many instances it is. In otherwords, love encompasses both happiness and sadness and can be selfless.

(b) For me, sources of happiness are a sense of fulfillment and/or a sense of being appreciated.

Fulfillment can be little or big, eg, a nice dinner or a college education, but eventually, even the college education is realized to be a transient source of happiness, though admittedly, you can get a lot more of the little happinesses out of it for awhile. Billionaires may be the most unhappy because they realize the 'carrot' is a lie and know of no other solutions.

Being appreciated, honestly for me, includes the strategy of putting 'other' before 'self'. I don't think for most people there is such a thing as selfless giving. If we just give and give and give, with little or no recognition of the effort, our battery gives out. There's also the weird scenario in which you manage to make yourself happy, but find there is no one to give it to -- that's pretty depressing -- and can occur when you rely on the fulfillment strategy. Or the scenario when you realize that the thing the person you've been giving to needs the most, is for you to be 'not present' -- that is one of the deepest sources of unhappiness there is, although its important to recognize that situation can arise either because that person doesn't recognize you as a source or just cares too much (e.g., My own interaction with my parents right now.. which is occurring because I don't have any answers for them at the moment. Thanks for your understanding Mom and Dad!)  

Alternatives to the above, for me, have included sitting meditation and sangha, but even these can be a source of difficulties and unhappiness, again following the laws of physics, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

At the start of my blog, I recognized the possibility of donating my efforts to an organization such as the Peace Corps or Doctors w/o Borders etc. That may be a way out -- where one recognizes the pay back or sense of appreciation is just getting folks back on their feet and on their way, whatever their way turns out to be. But that's not without difficulties either. Given my experience at Antaiji, I have been asking myself if I'm ready for it. ...Probably best to start small at the soup kitchen in town.

Everyone wants to be happy. There is no happy forever. Which of the above solutions works best differs from person to person. Even 'giving up' on self and the 'bigger happinesses' as Zen tradition seems to advocate is a strategy.

Maybe the best solution is to be flexible as to strategy and to recognize that no matter what strategy you use, there's bound to be an equal and opposite reaction someday and learn how to deal with that eventuality.

I recognize this has all been me, me, me sounding. These thoughts are just me rambling on and could change. But just maybe these ramblings will be useful to someone.

- JustHappi (Just in recognition of the effort involved)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reflections: Sensibility, a Poem

While I was at Antaiji I didn't have the freedom to respond to the calling of a poem. Due to scheduling I had to keep the 'lid on' most of the times when I felt a longer poem 'surfacing'. 

So maybe its not a surprise that the poem that follows gave me a lot of material for self-inquiry. I doubt I’m done with that, but feel there's been enough to post it now.


There are times, like the time
Approaching a change in season,
When the air carries with it
A memory we had no intention
Of calling up or recalling
From our adult deportment.

And so, unbidden, perhaps even
Against our will, the air marks
Our movement, imagined or real,
With the shadow of a thought
And a sting of sadness or regret
For what we think we’ve lost –
A bit of joy, a bit of laughter –
Nothing special, nothing really major.

But the air gasps as we walk by.
Sun dapples the leaves, 'still green',
We say, as if to reassure,
Walking in that way, no break
In stride, the way we've learned
To seem to ignore, but watch alertly
From the corner of our eye,
With the curiosity of the foreigners
That we are, the old guy
Wearing a donated fur in summer
 half-toppled over,
On his cardboard box mattress.

A butterfly flutters from flower to flower
And disappears in the tall
Grasses, burnt to straw by the dry heat
Of August. The woman who watches
Is as far removed from childhood
As Pluto from the sun, so there
Is no chase, but also, no chance
For a skinned knee. Her fingers instead
Reach to grasp and twist
A bit of fabric from her skirt.

Is it a miracle of light that we see
Or a miracle of sight that there is light?
What worth has sight
Without a bit of wistfulness
For the promise of a solar system
That never existed or is just out of reach
By some arbitrary definition
Of a void so very real.

For me, the poem touches on Zen practice -- both what it is and what it's not.

The void is real. It is infinite, has no boundaries, is ineffable, and can't be filled. Many people spend their whole lives trying to escape (like my own attempt to 'run' from this poem) or fill the void. Society teaches us strategies from an early age, but those strategies often end in disappointment and turn us into ‘the woman watching’. Society lies to us, tries to define the void, tells us it has limits, "If you manage to do x, y, z successfully, the void will be filled." Well, we're typically not successful. And even if we are, the sense of fulfillment doesn’t stay with us, so we excuse that by saying we weren't successful enough or that success is our birthright, expected, and move on to the next challenge. And the lie gets propagated.

Zen practice also can turn us into ‘the woman watching’ if we're not careful, because its a practice of restraint. We start with zazen or sitting to rewire our brains and hearts. Although its a practice of restraint, we're told the outcome is supposed to make us free. But we can get stuck in the desire for freedom and we can get stuck in self-denial.

What is free? Certainly not ‘the woman watching’ who's either kind of dead or anxious inside. Nor is it the children who might chase a butterfly, although a ‘child-like’ approach seems to be part of it.

As practitioners of Zen, we face the void. We let go and drop into it. We find the void is infinite, has no boundaries, is ineffable, and includes everything, even or especially ourselves. And a major source of the void is a sense of exclusion.

What happens after? Reality. Life goes on… Practice goes on...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Reflections: Dogen’s Raihai-tokuzui – Prostrating to the Marrow of Attainment (II)

What follows is a preliminary, non-inclusive, non-definitive synthesis following my first read through of Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo:

In thinking about Raihai-tokuzui, Chapter 8 of the Shobogenzo, there’s at least one more observation I feel is pretty important. Dogen is clear that anyone exhibiting sincerity and belief can realize the Buddha-Dharma:

“Getting the marrow, and receiving the Dharma, invariably come from sincerity and from belief.”

“Even human beings and gods, in their stupidity, have the sympathy to respond to sincerity, so how could the buddhas, in their rightness, lack the compassion to reciprocate sincerity.”

That means that the Buddha-Dharma makes no distinctions on the basis of an individual’s past behavior, sex, or race. Something we tend to forget.

Sincerity and belief are all that’s required. 
Sincerity and belief are all that’s required.
Sincerity and belief are all that’s required…

In all sincerity, I first read Raihai-tokuzui (Nishijima & Cross translation) several months ago. My reading was shortly followed by news of the expulsion of Ajahn Brahm for ordaining women in his Australian-based monastery, a decision upheld by the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand (Article in the Bangkok News; a great collection of links on this story also can be found over at Nella Lou's Enlightenmentward). The decision by Thailand’s Sangha Supreme Council was a bit of a surprise (and disappointment) for me, although it probably shouldn’t have been. I just hadn’t focused on the role of women in Buddhism in a socially- or politically- minded way. (I’ll also note, though, that I hadn’t thought about ordination much at that time either.) Its not like Christianity has done much better over the years, nor has academia (see, for example, Virginia Valian’s well regarded analysis Why so Slow? ) – in spite of its being a center for liberal and progressive thinking. I had, however, noticed the striking absence of the names of women in Zen lineage. (Some information and stories can be found at Barry’s blog Zen Women if you’re interested.)

In case we forget, historical accounts indicate Buddha ordained his aunt Prajapati establishing a precedent for the ordination of women at the onset of Buddhism.

Given the news of Ajahn Brahm’s explusion, Raihai-tokuzui  really stuck with me. Dogen is clear that the Buddha Dharma is equal opportunity — and not just for men and women. In fact, he’s pretty clear that there should be no distinctions. A few quotes:

“As regards attainment of the truth, both [men and women] attain the truth, and we should just profoundly revere every single person who has attained the Dharma. Do not discuss man and woman. This is one of Buddhism’s finest Dharma standards.”

When they have yet to cut delusion, men and women alike have yet to cut delusion. When they cut delusion and experience the principle, there is nothing at all to choose between a man and a woman.”

“When a woman has [thus] already become buddha, is there anything in all directions that she cannot perfectly realize? Who could aim to bar her from passing?”

As far as whether a person’s background or past actions affect their ability to receive the Buddha-Dharma, Dogen reminds us that we shouldn’t judge or exclude people on the basis of past actions:

“Furthermore, if we hate [others] for the wrongs they have committed in the past, we must even hate all bodhisattvas. If we hate like this, we will discard everyone, so how will we be able to realize the Buddha-Dharma?”

And so, a few more haiku for Chapter 8 (the latter borrowing a bit from Genjo-koan):

True sincerity,
True belief – all that’s needed
To realize marrow.

Who was Kanzeon
The days before she became
A Bodhisattva?

World with no judgement,
Buddhas, ordinary beings --
All Buddha-Dharma.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reflections: Antaiji - Docho-san's Comments on Practice-Enlightenment

Here is an excerpt of Docho-san's comments on Practice-Enlightenment a during a Rinko given at Antaiji on May 24, 2010. The iPhone mic was a bit too far from the presenter, so these segments have been spliced out. Thankfully, Docho-san's voice projects well. The topic of the Rinko was Shobogenzo Zuimonki 2.20 which can be found under the Library tab at SOTOZEN-NET.  Still working on uploading the remainder of these recordings to iTunes..  

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reflections: Antaiji Recollections – Washing Up Dishes

For several years of my life I’d developed a bit of resentment for washing up the dishes, since the responsibility always seemed to fall on my shoulders. Right now, I’m remembering how, right before I left for Antaiji, I had started to like doing the washing up again because I'd realized that it gave me a chance to retreat from whatever was going on and enter a semi-meditative state – aware of the water, etc etc – though I should add that usually I would withdraw into an observational state rather than withdraw totally into myself. Washing dishes at the Zen Center also resulted in that joy…

Doing dishes at Antaiji was different. The goal was to get the dishes washed, rinsed, dried and put away in a little time as possible, because we only had a few minutes to clean the monastery and change into work clothes before starting Samu, the official work of the day. Typically, one person for washing, one for rinsing, and the rest for drying and putting away. Ideally, there was no hesitation and no talking and the job got done smoothly and expediently... Of course, when new guests arrived it didn’t necessarily go that way for a few days. I was once new too, so hopefully that’s okay to say.

My preference in the routine was either of the jobs that allowed my hands to get wet, washing or rinsing, and I thank the person who showed me how to do these things the best, most efficient way. For example when rinsing you’d hold the dish under the water with the left hand (there was only cold water, by the way) and run the right hand over every surface of the dish. Then the left hand would put the dish in the drying rack, while the right hand would take the next dish from the person doing the washing up. I’m thinking 5 secs or less per dish. (You didn't have time to worry about the freezing cold water getting splashed onto you.) There was also an efficient way to deal with handing off the drying rack to the folks drying the dishes that minimized the inevitable gap in the wash-rinse routine.

The ultimate was to be good enough at your job that you could perform it quietly and stay aware of the whole Sangha in motion around you and the total picture of the job being performed. For example, if there was a slow down in one area (e.g., dishes with eggs would slow down the washer) the newer folks drying sometimes would stand around waiting. If you were a dryer and aware, rather than stand around, you could jump in and be a second washer to preserve the rhythm.

Getting the dishes done quietly, staying aware of the whole Sangha in motion around you, and staying aware of the total picture of the job being performed was a real joy… One that we could share, not that we had the time to usually, but still...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reflections: Dogen’s Raihai-tokuzui – Prostrating to the Marrow of Attainment (I)

What follows is a preliminary, non-inclusive, non-definitive synthesis following my first read through of Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo:

There were a few practical observations I got out of reading Raihai-tokuzui (Chapter 8 of the Shobogenzo, Nishijima & Cross translation) I wanted to make note of with more than a couple of haiku.

The first relates to finding a teacher:“the most difficult thing is to find a guiding teacher.Dogen goes on to list many characteristics of a good teacher, for example:
- beyond appearances such as those of a man or a woman
- should be someone ineffable (someone indescribable)
- should never be unclear about cause and effect (Law of Dependent Origination)

But the main gist of what he is saying throughout the Chapter is that a teacher should be someone who has ‘got the marrow’, i.e., the Dharma or the Truth.

It would be nice if it were that simple. Later in the Chapter Dogen states that anything can ‘have the marrow’ and be a teacher:[whatever] whether it is an outdoor pillar, whether it is a stone lantern, whether it is the buddhas, whether it is a wild dog, a demon or a god, a man or a woman ….even fields and villages might preach to us …even fences and walls.”
So if anyone and anything can be a teacher, why is the most difficult thing finding a guiding teacher? To me, this statement recognizes that, in our striving for the Truth, each of us may be at different points on the path and may even be taking different paths. Even if we intellectually know this to be the case, our ability to recognize, to really see, the Dharma in different people or things is likely a function of where we are on the path and which path we are taking. Another observation I found insightful in Raihai-tokuzui was:Having met with a guiding teacher, we should throw away myriad involvements and, without wasting a moment of time, we should strive in pursuit of the truth. We should train with consciousness, we should train without consciousness, and we should train with semiconsciousness.” If I put these observations together, what they seem to suggest is that the right guiding teacher for each of us should be someone who inspires and motivates us enough that we are willing to throw away myriad involvements and not waste a moment of time in pursuit of the Truth.

Dogen also states that when we find a guiding teacher we should venerate them.

A couple of preliminary haiku attempts:

Each day prostrating
To the myriad dharmas
That teach me to see.

Without wasting time
The Truth of the Universe
Unfolded by You.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Reflections: Antaiji - The Song in My Head

I have a few half-written posts on my desktop, but somehow I haven’t been able to motivate myself to finish them or don’t quite know how. One of the few things I have been working on is trying to get the ‘Antaiji song’ that’s been playing in my head ‘onto paper’. Its still going strong, still coming up with new variations in instrumentation, styles, and timing. To get the song ‘on paper’ I’ve been using the laptop’s software, which is something I’ve never used before. So its been an experience. I probably should invest in some ‘real’ software to get the niceties in, e.g. grace notes, crescendos, more precision in the timing, more realistic sounding instruments. I could work on improving my editing skills too. But I start work tomorrow. So here are two really simple stripped-down versions of the basic melodic fragment. The longer one (Antaiji1) is the ‘sitting and working in the fields’ version and the shorter one (Antaiji3) is the ‘going-into-town’ version. Maybe your head can have fun with it too…