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.

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