Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dogen’s Shobogenzo: Ch 10 (III) Shoaku-makusa – Good Doing vs Doing Good

‘Universal Precept 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.

In this section of  Shoaku-makusa Dogen states that, like ‘wrong’, what is ‘right’ has no set shape, but varies depending on conditions and circumstances. In other words what is ‘right’ is going to be different in different dharmas, worlds, and times. 

The myriad kinds of right have no set shape but they converge on the place of doing right faster than iron to a magnet. It is utterly impossible for the earth, mountains and rivers, the world, a nation, or even the force of accumulated karma, to hinder [this] coming together of right. 

In fact, we could probably debate what ‘right’ is endlessly, either internally (in our heads) or externally (with others) because our views of any specific situation are going to be different – how can they not be, given different lives and selves? On this basis we can recognize that an intellectual understanding of what ‘right’ is likely to be flawed. And we can also recognize that while we’re debating, ‘right’ isn’t getting done.

Even though the many kinds of right are included in “rightness,” there has never been any kind of right that is realized beforehand and that then waits for someone to do it.

Doing right is “good doing,” but it is not something that can be fathomed intellectually.

Dogen’s phrase “Doing right is 'good doing'” resonates with me. What it means, for me, is that we end up doing the most good by sincerely practicing the Buddha-Dharma. As long as we are sincerely practicing, our intuitive responses to the situations that come up are most likely to result in doing ‘right.’ 'Good doing' instantaneously coalesces into 'right' at the moment of doing. In contrast, notions we have about doing ‘good’ are likely to be flawed -- notions about what ‘good’ is are limited. Not to mention that in trying to ‘do good” we’re often attempting to gain brownie points (or merit) for our ‘self’ or how we think others view us, even or especially if we think of ‘doing good’ in terms of self-sacrifice. And in trying to gain ‘brownie points’ we create separation between ourselves and others.

This “good doing” inevitably includes the realization of the many kinds of right. 

If we do not learn how buddhas should be, even if we seem to be fruitlessly enduring hardship, we are only ordinary beings accepting suffering; we are not practicing the Buddha’s truth.

By sincerely practicing the Buddha-Dharma “not committing wrongs” and “doing right by good doing” are naturally realized, and practicing in this way “naturally purifies the mind.”

Haiku for Shoaku-makusa:

'Not committing wrongs' — 
The Universal teaching
Of all the buddhas.

In each world and time 
Doing right is good doing, 
Though right changes shape.

Buddhas know no right — 
Converging right through practice 
Buddhas know no wrong.

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