When voices are heard
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.