Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reflections: Things as They Are, Indirect Costs, and Gratitude

As I was working on another bit of writing, I re-read a thought I tried to articulate (though not very well) in another post, namely that:

merely by existing, i.e., by meeting the requirements that allow me to stay alive in a reasonably comfortable manner, I am indirectly responsible for killing even though that is not my intention.

That seems to be a pretty extreme statement at first. I say it the way I say it though because its true. I am part of humanity (I mean the human race) - a massive and often sluggish human machine.  Humanity, albeit indirectly, does things I don’t agree with, is moved by forces I have very little say in, and uses resources, causing physical suffering for some while helping others who are more privileged, and even kills in my name. I recognize there isn’t much I can do to change the situation – namely, to affect a change in this massive forward movement of the human machine.  

Even though I’m unhappy with some of the things that go on, I’ve felt pretty helpless in the face of it, so I’ve tended to accept this as ‘the way things are’ – and, as I think about it now, the irony of this phrasing, given a similar one in Buddhism is not lost on me. Because I am pretty positive that there is a difference in shrugging our shoulders in helplessness or frustration and what is intended in Buddhist literature. But how much different or is the difference in how we look at things?

I think most folks I know, myself included, often feel we are entitled to live our lives the way we do – after all, we’ve worked hard for and earned what we've got. We pay the direct costs and forget that there are Indirect Costs to our individual existences. We can’t begin envision all the indirect costs of being alive – even if we take the time to be mindful of where things come from. 

If we have to do without to make the world a better place I’m sure a lot of us would be willing to, especially if it became some sort of ‘save the world’ movement. But what would you chose to do without? Every person’s choice would be different, because we're human and unique and each have different dreams and desires. The only way we’d be able to come to some overwhelming agreement would be in the face of a major crisis or if we were to completely deny ourselves precisely what makes us human, i.e. live banal, uniform, uncreative existences. Anything less, and we’d be precisely in the same position we are now – living life within the massive forward movement of the human machine.

I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m Grateful to be alive and to be allowed to express my individuality, actually, even more so, now that I recognize the indirect costs and what they’re about. 

I'm not saying we should be pacifists. Only suggesting that we can pause on those occasions we get frustrated or angry and recognize this is part of the price of being human. Remember our gratitude for being allowed to be just as we are.

Just a few thoughts, stimulated by a lot frustration I've seen in some of my friends the last couple of days.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dogen’s Shobogenzo: Ch 10 (II) Shoaku-makusa – Not Doing Wrongs

Repeating the Universal Precept of the Seven Buddhas from my last post:

The eternal buddha says,
Not to commit wrongs,
To practice the many kinds of right,
Naturally purifies the mind;
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

At first glance ‘not committing wrongs’ sounds pretty straightforward. But when trying to conceptualize ‘not committing wrongs’ there is a great potential for complexity that rests in how we define what wrong is. Just as there is great complexity in each of the Buddhist precepts that rests in how we define them. Dogen tries to help us clarify ‘‘not committing wrongs.”

The way I understand what Dogen says is that any instant, any dharma, contains within it the characteristics of  (or at least potential for) ‘wrongness’, ‘rightness’ and ‘indifference.’* Dogen also indicates that what ‘wrongness’, ‘rightness’ and ‘indifference’ actually are varies in different dharmas, worlds, and times. In other words, ‘wrongness’, ‘rightness’ and ‘indifference’ depend on context. E.g.,:

In “wrongs,” there are similarities and differences between wrong in this world and wrong in other worlds. There are similarities and differences between former times and latter times.

Dogen says that, especially as beginners, whether we are learning from teachers or by reading the sutras, the right Dharma when we hear it should sound like “Do not commit wrongs”, which to me means that we recognize it because it resonates and changes us:

At the beginning, the sound of it is “Do not commit wrongs.” If it does not sound like “Do not commit wrongs,” it is not the Buddha’s right Dharma…

We are changed and we incorporate what we hear into our practice and in this way “not committing wrongs” is actualized:

..when we are changed by hearing it, we hope “not to commit wrongs,” we continue enacting “not to commit wrongs,” and wrongs go on not being committed; in this situation the power of practice is instantly realized.

As long as we are focused in our practice, wrong does not have the opportunity to act through us:

The power of not committing wrongs is realized, and so wrongs cannot voice themselves as wrongs, and wrongs lack an established set of tools.

There are several passages that also suggest that, if we are practicing “not committing wrongs”, the four elements, the five aggregrates, the world around us, and even 'right' and 'wrong' themselves practice “not committing wrongs.” E.g.,:

When we cause even the mountains, rivers, and the earth, and the sun, moon, and stars, to do practice, the mountains, rivers, and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, in their turn, make us practice.

We accomplish ‘not committing of wrongs’ by practicing. We aren’t trying to 'become' someone other than what we are already at this particular moment, i.e., trying to be a 'good' person. 

In becoming a Buddhist patriarch, we do not destroy the living being, do not detract from it, and do not lose it; nevertheless, we have got rid of it.

There is the Buddhist truth of taking up at one moment, and letting go at one moment. At just this moment, the truth is known that wrong does not violate a person…

To summarize, we focus on one instant and the context we are in. Because we have heard, 'sensed', and incorporated the Buddha-Dharma, we are actively practicing it. As long as we are practicing the Buddha-Dharma we are "not commiting wrongs." To me, this seems to mean that we don't have to worry too much about the possible complexities in trying to define 'wrong' in any given instant, world, or dharma -- as long as we keep practicing. 

Admittedly, my understanding is a beginner's understanding and I still have many Chapters to go...

*I prefer neutrality over the term indifference, since indifference has negative connotations for me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dogen’s Shobogenzo: Ch 10 (I) Shoaku-makusa – Introduction

Shoaku-makusa is translated as "not doing wrongs". 

In Shoaku-makusa Dogen tackles the subject of moral conduct. He opens with the ‘Universal Precept of the Seven Buddhas’ poem below, emphasizing that it has been universally and authentically transmitted to all Buddhas and so it is the teaching, practice, and experience of hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of buddhas,” and noting that These words of Dharma of the Seven Buddhas always sound like the words of Dharma of the Seven Buddhas.”

The eternal buddha says,
                        Not to commit wrongs,
                        To practice the many kinds of right,
                        Naturally purifies the mind;
                        This is the teaching of the buddhas.

This Universal Precept supercedes all other Buddhist precepts. It may be easier to remember, but it is more difficult in practice. Why? Because you have to be rooted in practice to have a hope of knowing what "not commiting wrongs" and "practicing the many kinds of right" mean.

The Ten Grave Precepts are central to Buddhist practice, and at first glance seem easier than the Universal Precept for anybody and everybody to understand. But, if we think mindfully about it, the Ten Grave Precepts, in spite of their simplicity, are impossible to follow one hundred percent of the time. Moreover, the list of precepts seems, to me, to offer a false sense of security that we are in the right (or at least not in the wrong) without having to think carefully about our actions. Different Buddhist groups also sometimes add on or elaborate on the precepts. This seems to be taking more and more of the responsibility of thinking and acting mindfully on a moment-by-moment basis off the shoulders of the individual. (I tend to prefer the Eight-fold Path as a guide because it promotes contemplation of what right and wrong are in any given instance.)

The precepts were meant to be guidelines for action rather than commandments. The fact that they are guidelines recognizes that there can be conflicts between the precepts in certain circumstances, and that what the precepts are actually saying depends on how mindfully we think about them. For example, in my view, merely by existing I am indirectly responsible for killing even though that is not my intention. So, to me, I’m already breaking the first precept just by meeting the requirements that allow me to stay alive. Some might say the precepts only refer to direct action. Some might say that I’m going too far with this example, but shouldn't I at least be aware of the cost and feel gratitude for the opportunity of life?

As another example in which right and wrong are more obvious, there is a story about a Buddhist layman who lies to his children to get them out of a burning house. This layman directly breaks the precept to not lie in order avoid killing indirectly. Even a young child would intuitively know what to do under these circumstances and do it. But would an older man intuitively know if his life was spent following the precepts to the letter or thinking they only applied to direct action? Admittedly these are extreme examples. But having lost the naivety of a child, some people only see what they are used to seeing, do what they are used to doing...

In the story of Kyo-i presented in this Chapter:
Kyo-i asks, “What is the great intention of the Buddha-Dharma?”
Dorin says, “Not to commit wrongs. To practice the many kinds of right.”
Kyo-i says, “If it is so, even a child of three can express it!”
Dorin says, “A child of three can speak the truth, but an old man of eighty cannot practice it.”
Thus informed, Kyo-i makes at once a prostration of thanks, and then leaves.

In the rest of Shoaku-makusa Dogen relates what he thinks each line of the verse of the Universal Precept means and concludes the chapter with the story of Kyo-i and his thoughts on Kyo-i's understanding...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Antaiji Recollections: Planting Rice – Genjo-koan of the Antaiji experience?

There were so many aspects of my Antaiji experience that fit some way or another into the topic of rice planting (Tave) that I’ve come to think of the Tave as the ‘Genjo-koan’ of Antaiji. But I’m not going to be able to adequately articulate all the reasons that notion works for me in the space of a post. So I’ll just try to highlight some aspects of rice planting.

Tave was by no means the hardest or most unpleasant samu assignment. It also differed from other samu because the whole monastery (minus the Tenso) was involved – even Docho-san’s children participated for awhile. This was to ensure that all of one rice field got planted in one day.

How easily the rice planting goes depends on the condition of the field. Basically the planters have to be able to see intersecting grid lines, about a foot apart, that are marked onto the mud’s surface a day or two before. During planting 3-5 rice seedlings are carefully stuffed into each spot where the lines cross. If the field isn’t level or there’s too much water due to rain, the grid lines disappear under the water. This year the first field we planted was about a third under water.

On the morning of Tave there was no zazen and no cleaning of the monastery. Instead, we pulled on our work clothes, slugged down a cup of tea or instant coffee and met by the kitchen entrance a bit before 5 am. There was a bit of nervousness and joking around as everyone gathered in anticipation of the big day. As far as clothing, there was some discussion on the evening prior about footwear. You could either go barefoot or tightly strap on your otherwise loose-fitting rubber boots with duct tape (or string or both) so the boots wouldn’t get pulled off as you made your way through the mud. (If you were ‘in the know’ there are special boots made for planting you may have purchased, like the ones modeled below.) It was also suggested we grab a plastic bag to carry extra seedlings in, since it was going to be difficult to turn around mid-field, avoid messing up the grid, and not step on planted seedlings to get more.

Boots specially made for planting rice (modeled by Koho)

We headed out in the dim light of a chilly morning collecting a van load of rice seedlings on the way. There nothing like your first few minutes of stepping into and trying to move forward through shin-deep mud surrounded by swarms of small blood-sucking bugs that occasionally flew into your mouth, nose or ears. I recommend that everyone try it at least once in their life. There was a loud chorus of frogs accompanying the sound of mud pulling at our boots, along with occasional shouted directions. Overall, Tave was a concentration practice. You learned to switch off the panic about the bugs, got used to the feel of the mud, and tried to concentrate on the row you were planting and on grabbing the right number of seedlings as you went along.

After awhile our work got evaluated: The lines we had planted were not straight enough. It was explained again that we had to match the grid to facilitate weeding etc later. Not entirely our fault given that the lines were partially under water. But some were better at eyeballing the grid than others. And, of course, abilities also depended on the success of neighboring workers. People started getting frustrated and irritated with themselves, with their neighbors, with the grid, with the ways that had been devised to try to figure out where the grid was. And this wasn’t just any group of people, supposedly we were practiced in ‘pausing before reacting’ to the circumstances..

At some point after breakfast, I remember thinking that everyone had the best of intentions, was trying their hardest to do a good job and/or to get the field properly planted. People had different perspectives on how this would be best accomplished. People had different perspectives on success. People literally had different perspectives of the field itself. Different people had different strengths and short-comings. But, I think it is accurate to say that at least for this group of people, everyone was trying their best. This realization didn’t make the situation any less serious, but most of the time I was able to stay grounded (more or less, given the mud) and less affected by the reactivity of others.

We took breaks for breakfast, midmorning ‘tea’ and lunch. What a scraggly, mud-covered motley crew we were! The field did get finished that day. At the end of the day we all got to take hot baths to soak off the mud so we could admire our bug bites. The next day we were told, however, that the field was a disaster and for several days folks tried to straighten out the lines. It was a bit of a disappointment. Some continued to speculate for days on how to make grid lines more reliably..

Antaiji has two rice fields, so only two days while I was there were spent doing Tave. The condition of the second rice field was pretty perfect. The difference in the planting experience, in terms of speed, non-frustration, and success, was incredible. We finished near lunch time and went to a nearby hot spring to celebrate…

The Antaiji rice field in spring

* * * * *
Other notes:
Organic Rice!: Antaiji is probably one of the few places in Japan where the rice is manually planted. Most rice paddies these days are planted using a machine. (Driving by those paddies was kind of depressing after I could compare, they look so beautiful and lush compared to ours – at least this year.) The places that use a machine, however, rely on pesticides and herbicides to keep their crops weed and insect free. Antaiji’s rice crop is chemical-free. The planting machines’ rows are too narrow to allow for manual weeding of the Antaiji rice crop… hence, manual planting.

Food!: Antaiji is largely a self-sustaining monastery and its major crop is rice. That rice goes to feed residents their requisite 1/2 cup per meal (I think Dogen suggests 1 cup, but times have changed), typically along with soup, often a miso, and a couple of side dishes. We also sort the rice grains we eat before it gets cooked, pulling out the few rice hulls, pebbles, bugs that have stayed or found their way into the rice stores.

Harvest!: This year's rice crop should be due for harvesting soon. I wonder how it turned out...  I wonder what harvesting is like...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reflections: A Morning in September, Fall 2010

This morning I woke up to the first day that seems to be truly Fall instead of a preview of Fall. The sun came up while I was sitting, but it's one of those gray drizzly days and the humidity no longer makes the air seem heavy, but fresh and clear, and carries a bit of a chill.

The windows in the Center's Zendo were open and much of my sitting was accompanied by the soft patter of rain in addition to the feel of the breeze on my skin. One of the thoughts that drifted through my 'thinking not thinking' mind (well, it does happen occasionally) was that for a long time my sittings have been in an 'outdoor air' environment and that that was going to change soon. (At Antaiji, even though the Hondo has it's walls, windows, and doors, the outside air and whatever weather it carried seemed to make it in.)

...Today my body was startled at the start of the Four Vows, though I hadn't been sleeping, just settled deeply in a sense of spaciousness.

After the sitting I sat outside for awhile, enjoying the morning's fresh air and studying the trees. It struck me that seasons can be thought of as the Earth's slow breathing -- spring and fall, inhalation and exhalation, and summer and winter, the spaces between, and how it seemed like the Earth had been holding it's breath for much of the summer. How that breath seems the same no matter where I am on the planet.

I'm reminded of a line out of Uji... "The momentary passing of spring..inevitably passes, moment by moment, through spring itself." Right now, this moment that is now is passing through Fall...

Is it fair to say that the seasons are an expression of the Earth's Buddha Nature? That seems just about right to me...

The Weather Channel says it's 56 oF with 94% humidity and a North wind at 15 mph. Sunrise was at 6:38 am.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dogen’s Shobogenzo : Ch 9 – Keisei-Sanshiki (V) Single-Minded Pursuit of the Truth

With one-minded aim 
Mountains and River Valleys 
Sing all their verses.

In the rest of Keisei-Sanshiki Dogen gives some helpful advice for those serious in their pursuit of the Buddha-Dharma. 

Dogen reminds us that any beginner’s intellectual understanding is bound to be flawed. That’s probably true whether we are beginners or not. But its also important to note, I think, that he doesn’t tell us to completely stop thinking about the Buddha’s truth either:
         In general, a beginner’s sentimental thinking cannot imagine the Buddha’s truth—[the beginner] fathoms but does not hit the target. 

Dogen also mentions several scenarios that can be discouraging to one’s practice. If there is a central message in these passages, to me, it seems that Dogen is telling us we need to trust our own instincts. He reminds us to remember our joyful determination when we began and to continue our ‘single-minded aiming to get the truth’. As long as we continue our ‘single-minded aiming to get the truth’:
       At the time of right training, the voices of the river valley and the form of the river valley, the form of the mountains and the voices of the mountains, all do not begrudge their eighty-four thousand verses. When the self does not begrudge fame and gain and body and mind, the river valley and the mountains, similarly, begrudge nothing.

He includes the following vow:
     “I hope that I, together with all living beings, may hear the right Dharma through this life and through every life hereafter. If I am able to hear it, I will never doubt the right Dharma, and I will never be disbelieving. When I meet the right Dharma, I will discard secular rules and receive and retain the Buddha-Dharma so that the earth and sentient beings may finally realize the truth together.”
     And notes: If we make a vow like this, it will naturally become the cause of, and conditions for, the authentic establishment of the mind. Do not neglect, or grow weary of, this attitude of mind.

* * * * *
As mentioned, there are a number of straight-forward passages on difficulties and hindrances in this chapter. I've listed some of the ones that stood out for me below:

Lack of enthusiasm in fellow practitioners: There are many who drift into the monkhood, and who seem to have left the secular world, but …they have no will to pursue the Dharma for the Dharma’s sake, and so, when they meet the real Dharma they doubt the real dragon, and when they meet the right Dharma they are disliked by the right Dharma. Their body, mind, bones, and flesh have never lived following the Dharma, and so they are not in mutual accord with the Dharma; they do not receive and use [in harmony] with the Dharma…They explain the bodhi-mind as if relating an old dream. How pitiful it is that, having been born on the treasure mountain, they do not know what treasure is and they do not see treasure.

On looking for praise or corroboration: Because people today rarely seek what is real, when the praises of others are available, they seem to want someone to say that their practice and understanding have become harmonized, even though there is no practice in their body and no realization in their mind. “In delusion adding to delusion” describes exactly this. We should throw away this wrongmindedness immediately.

On expectations of gain: Foolish people, however, even those who have the will to the truth, soon forget their original resolve and mistakenly expect the offerings of human beings and gods, feeling glad that the merit of the Buddha-Dharma has come to them.

On criticism and insult: 
       We should remember that there are dogs who bark at good people. Do not worry about barking dogs. Bear them no grudge. Vow to lead them and to guide them.
       There may be some who have it in their nature to learn, in veneration of the ancients. There may also be insulting demons who will not learn. We should neither love nor resent either group.

On not bragging or boasting: As a general rule concerning actions and vows which are the bodhi-mind, we should not intend to let worldly people know whether or not we have established the bodhi-mind, or whether or not we are practicing the truth; we should endeavor to be unknown. How much less could we boast about ourselves?

More on maintaining single-minded pursuit of the truth, not thinking of fame & gain: Moreover, there have been examples since ancient time of the god Indra coming to test a practitioner’s resolve… these things always happened when [the practitioner] had not got rid of the will to fame and gain. When the [spirit of] great benevolence and great compassion is profound, and when the vow to widely save living beings is mature, these hindrances do not occur.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dogen’s Shobogenzo : Ch 9 – Keisei-Sanshiki (IV) ...Enlightenment Again

Raising an eyebrow,
With a flower and a smile,
Knowing that again.

A lot of the concepts I’ve encountered since I’ve been practicing Zen have revolved around duality. I’ve mentioned ‘self’ and ‘no-self’ on several occasions. A lot of the chants at my Zen Center refer to various dualities, including both Master Hakuin’s Chant and Heart of Perfect Wisdom, form vs no-form, thought vs no-thought, form is emptiness and emptiness is form, for example.

I think because a lot of the work on ‘self’ we do is in realizing ‘no-self,’ its easy to fall into the trap of thinking that enlightenment is ‘no-self’.  ‘No self’ can be a blissful state. I’m sensing that the ‘no self’ state carried over into living defines a true Bodhisattva. But I’ve also gotten the sense that a Bodhisattva isn’t necessarily a Buddha.

My sense right now is that enlightenment is realizing the superimposition or overlay, and, indeed, unity of the above dualities so that we are an informed whole. My first intuition of this came from the Affirming Faith in Mind chant, for example, “When you assert that things are real, you miss their true reality. But to assert that things are void also misses reality;” and “Awakening is to go beyond both emptiness as well as form.” (Links to:  Vermont Zen Center's and Rochester Zen Center's Chant Book and MP3s)

In Keisei-Sanshiki Dogen also refers to superimposing and unity, e.g.:

“How does pure essentiality suddenly give rise to mountains, rivers, and the earth?” Questioned thus, the master preaches, “How does pure essentiality suddenly give rise to mountains, rivers, and the earth?” Here we are told not to confuse mountains, rivers, and the earth which are just pure essentiality, with “mountains, rivers and the earth.”

“Remember, if it were not for the form of the mountains and the voices of the river valley, picking up a flower could not proclaim anything

As noted in the translation, the latter quote refers to the transmission between Buddha and Mahakasyapa described in the Flower Sermon. (The linked description made me smile.) The haiku above refers to that exchange.

I’ve seen some people refer to this overlay as a continuum, but I think ‘continuum’ may be misleading because it can apply to a single dimension (e.g., the range of wavelengths of the light spectrum vs all of electromagnetic energy). My sense right now seems richer (although that may be the poet in me who tends to romanticize). Realizing emptiness and form as overlaid adds another dimension or depth to our reality. 

You can find another Rubin Vase on Wiki
Another way to put this is to refer to an exercise in perception that is often presented to students in beginning psychology or physiology classes. The one I show here is a picture that can be perceived as either two people facing each other or a vase. People perceive one or the other even though the visual ‘information’ is the same regardless of what you perceive. In terms of enlightenment, think of one of those perceptions as form and the other as emptiness. I think more lasting enlightenment is when you can begin to see both at the same time, i.e., superimposed, not just perceptually switching from one to the other. How easy is this to accomplish? It likely varies from person-to-person. But I think that’s why we’re encouraged to start with ‘thinking not thinking’, as opposed to only ‘not thinking,’ in zazen. Its to give us practice in the perception of that depth.

The joy of practice-enlightenment comes from realizing the overlay of emptiness and form, as well as other dualities, in our day-to-day living – an awareness that results in an amazingly expanded reality. Maybe.

...Of course, this is just intuitive as of this moment. And overly conceptual at that. Its still up to us to put it into practice.

- Happi.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dogen’s Shobogenzo : Ch 9 – Keisei-Sanshiki (III), More on Enlightenment (?!)

The more I look at Keisei-Sanshiki, the more clues about enlightenment I see, and those clues have gotten me thinking (yikes?!). Since I broached the big ‘E’ topic in the previous post, I decided to try to hammer out these thoughts on the keyboard. This post focuses mostly on other Buddhisty stuff, more elementary, setting up for the next post. Well-read Buddhists may want to skip it. (I've also brought a lot of this up before in my other non-Shobogenzo posts.)

Enlightenment means to be free of desire, and because its desire that keeps us trapped in suffering, to be free of desire is to be free of suffering. (This is essentially The Four Noble Truths. Links: a short Wiki version; a longer version by Ajahn Sumedho.. I admit I haven't read all of the latter yet, but I usually like the stuff I've read by Ajahn Sumedho.) What follows is my own take on this.

It seems reasonable to me to suggest that a primary driving force behind our desires is a sense of isolation. Before enlightenment, the cycle of suffering typically goes round and round, almost as soon as we manage to satisfy one desire, the next one crops up because our sense of isolation doesn’t go away for more than a short period, if that.

The above suggests several definitions of suffering. Suffering can be defined as: (1) the ‘distance’ between a specific desire (an object, an accomplishment, an ideal, or an other) and self. (Note: this sufferer still experiences a sense of hope in pursuing each desire); (2) a sense of isolation (which arises from our view that there IS a distance or isolation), and (3) a deeper suffering that arises when someone realizes that no matter how many times they manage to satisfy their desire, it doesn’t seem to get rid of their sense of isolation. (This sufferer experiences a state of hopelessness. And, on the bright side, it is from this state of hopelessness that another Buddhist may be ‘born’.)

What most non-Buddhists don’t realize is that a (or the) way to ‘cure’ (as opposed to temporarily relieve) suffering is not by continually answering the call of desire(s), but to work on ‘self’ by releasing, or at least relaxing, our views. Even before the big ‘E’ this approach reduces suffering a lot. [For any non-Buddhists out there that doesn’t mean we take up your views or other views instead. We’ve simply figured out that if we relax our own views when encountering opposition or difficulty we’re less likely to get psychologically bruised.] 

The biggest view we work on releasing or relaxing is our view of ‘self’ (and indirectly, in that way, we address our sense of isolation). This is what gives rise to the concept of ‘no self.’ And the practice of ‘not thinking’ is a way to realize ‘no self.’ Dogen says this all more succinctly and beautifully in the following two quotes:

“When we each get rid of our husk, we are not restricted by former views and understanding, and things which have for vast kalpas been unclear suddenly appear before us. In the here and now of such a moment, the self does not recognize it, no one else is conscious of it, you do not expect it, and even the eyes of Buddha do not glimpse it.”

“'How can we make mountains, rivers, and the earth belong to ourselves?' The master says, 'How can we make ourselves belong to mountains, rivers, and the earth?' This says that ourselves are naturally ourselves, and even though ourselves are mountains, rivers, and the earth, we should never be restricted by belonging."

For clarification, in the first quote “the self does not recognize it” and “the eyes of Buddha do not glimpse it” may be Dogen’s way of describing ‘no-self’. In the second quote, if there is ‘no-self’ there doesn’t need to be a sense of isolation from anything. Because when we break down the illusion of 'self' our reality expands to include everything.

But how realistic and practical is the concept of ‘no-self’ in our every day living? Not to mention 'not-thinking'. For most people, not very, actually. After all, we have basic needs that have to be met, breakfast, a place to sleep, etc. How do we resolve that conflict of interest? It may be that Dogen is trying to point this out, when he uses the phrase ‘we should never be restricted’ in the second quote, although I didn’t ‘key’ into that wording until I started thinking about the two additional quotes I’ll present in my next post…