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.

1 comment:

mark said...

Mike Luetchford's angle: