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.

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