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…


Jordan said...

Enlightenment does not mean to be free from desire. Your working with a bad translation or transliteration on that one. There is no freedom from desires. For example, I desire a sandwich. These things will continue to pop up as long as we are alive.
Desire is not even the problem Desire is perfectly necessary for survival. It is how we human beings manage to get stuff done. (desire for enlightenment for example) The problem I think you are saying enlightenment solves in your opening paragraph is clinging, craving and addiction.

But thats not even true in my view. Enlightenment, in my view, is just the beginning, It is just getting out of bed. Then we are able to go on to brushing the teeth, carrying this husk to the zafu and sitting upright, and then the myriad things after that. Enlightenment on it's own does not solve a thing. It just might allow you to be aware of the things that need work, thats all. Then, you have enlightened activity, Which in my view is where the joy of practice~enlightenment come in.

Anyway, I just got set off my your second and third paragraphs this morning.

Happi said...

I'm sorry if my post set you off this morning. I hope you got it out of your system at least. And, I admit, you caught me soft-pedalling using the word 'desire'.

As far as the rest, for what its worth, I don't think we disagree. I think that's where my next post is heading, though the post is/will be more conceptual than the way you've voiced things here.. (and not by a little, by a ton actually). Which is why I appreciate getting your take on things. How else would I manage to cross the great divide between concept and practice?

I will venture to say, though, that I do think enlightenment decreases suffering. The awareness "of the things that need work" -- simply that 'knowing' can sometimes decrease suffering, not to mention that we can then work to decrease suffering in an informed way, and by that I mean in a way that in less likely to result in additional suffering.

Thanks, as always, for stopping in!