Friday, December 31, 2010

Shobogenzo Ch14 (I) Sansuigyō - The Mountains are Teaching Us

Mountains and water —
Words of eternal buddhas
Sung loud into life.

Walking, we keep time
Flowing with mountains, through sky
And, always, the ground.

Mount Sumeru:

Sansuigyō means the Sutra of Mountains and Water.

The mountains and water of the present are the realization of the words of eternal buddhas.

The mountains and the water are sutras because they have something to teach us. The sutras can be regarded as living words that have something to teach — truth to realize and celebrate, and the mountains and water are living examples of those words.

Beginning with the mountains:

Master Kai of Taiyōzan preaches to the assembly, “The Blue Mountains are constantly walking. The Stone Woman bears children by night.” Mountains lack none of the virtues with which mountains should be equipped. For this reason, they are constantly abiding in stillness and constantly walking. We must painstakingly learn in practice the virtue of this walking. The walking of mountains must be like the walking of human beings; therefore, even though it does not look like human walking, do not doubt the walking of the mountains. is because [the mountains] are walking that they are “constant.” ...If we doubt the walking of the mountains, we also do not yet know our own walking. It is not that we do not have our own walking, but we do not yet know and have not yet clarified our own walking.

Forward walking never ceases, and backward walking never ceases. The moment of forward walking does not oppose backward walking, and the moment of backward walking does not oppose forward walking. We call this virtue “the mountains flowing,” and we call it “the flowing mountains.”

The mountains are walking because they are moving forward or expressing themselves through time. Because (I assume) the mountains are not tangled up in thought, living in past and future like we humans often are, the mountains are living their existence in the immediate moment of Now. Both because they are always in the immediate moment of Now and because another way to think about Now is the entirety of the mountains existence, the mountains are constant. (This all is understood on the basis of Chapter 11, Uji.) The mountains lack none of the virtues because, for example, in addition to their walking and constancy, they are experiencing and expressing their true self.

All this is magical and poetic. I can sense and appreciate the virtues of the mountains. But guess what? For all of these virtues, the magic and the poetry, the mountains are stuck being plain old mountains and they are stuck in the same place no matter how much walking they do. What this means, is that no matter how 'enlightened' we are or become, no matter how much and/or how hard we practice, there is no way we can escape being who we are. No way we can escape the conditions and circumstances we find ourselves in. This is at least part of what I think Dogen was trying to say in the next quote:

Though there may be eyes in which grass, trees, soil, stones, fences, and walls are realized, that moment is beyond doubt and beyond disturbance; it is not “total realization.” Though moments are realized in which [the mountains] are seen to be adorned with the seven treasures, [those moments] are not “the real refuge.” Though visions are realized [of the mountains] as the area in which buddhas practice the truth, [those visions] are not necessarily something to be loved. Though some have got the brains to realize a vision [of the mountains] as the unthinkable merit of the buddhas, reality is not merely this. Every “realization” is an instance of object and subject.

If the above sounds harsh, then it's probably because, like me, you had some remnant of a romanticized notion of what practicing 'Buddhism' was going to accomplish. But there's more, in emptiness we experience oneness with all things, and this is something we can bring with us into our daily lives— an existence filled with dualities:

“The Blue Mountains are constantly walking. The Stone Woman bears children by night.”

The act of walking exists, the act of flowing exists, and moments in which mountains give birth to mountain children exist.

Every “realization” is an instance of object and subject.

The mountains need us to be fully realized as mountains. And I can apply this to all of the ten thousand things, not only the mountains.

It works the other way around too, I need the mountains, the ten thousand things and you — to accept them and you for what or who you are to be fully realized, to fully realize myself, what I can give, and to experience the richest life I can...

Gratitude to you and all the ten thousand things for being here, for being there, for being whatever and wherever you are.

Now I have the incredible luxury of being able to sit while an arbitrarily defined invisible line of time passes over me moving me from the year 2010 into 2011... Just because what folks call it changes, doesn't mean it ends, but it does change— becoming more beautiful than any single one of us alone could realize or imagine.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reflections: Weird Plasma Field Dream, Gridlines & the Ten Thousand Things

I had this ‘dream’ yesterday morning I thought it would be fun to share. It’s a bit wacky though, kind of in the science fiction vein, and it wasn’t actually a dream because it occurred as I was waking up. 
It seemed like I was waking up to a colorful plasma field. It was a bit like the molecules of air had slowed down and condensed and I had expanded to match (in wavelengths or impedance or something) because I wasn’t solid either, I was part of the plasma. Anyhow, if I moved even a little I could see and feel ripples and swirls and even backwashes of energy and changing colors rolling through the plasma in several directions as far as I could see and sense it. I hung out there for awhile between sleep and wakefulness because it was a warm and cozy space to be in, pleasant -- as long as I didn’t move much. (I didn’t want to move much because it actually made me dizzy or sea-sick.)
The reason I wanted to share this is because, as I became more conscious, it reminded me of this drawing Okumura had on his white board much of the time he was lecturing on the Genjo-Koan. It was of a circle with gridlines, a bit like one of those little screens you would put in a faucet. Each node or crossing point was a person and the gridlines were cause and effect. It seemed like Okumura’s grid could be a simpler version of the plasma field I was experiencing. 
Another thing that Okumura said that left an impression and relates to the above imagery is that delusion is not like a sickness that can be fixed by working only on ourselves (like, for example, cutting out cancer), we also have to work on our relation with all beings -- the way we interact with the whole grid (or plasma field), which means practicing the noble eightfold path. Its one of the first Buddhisty things I learned about, but I seem to have a long way to go in practicing it well...
Both Dogen and Muho-san’s comments on practice-enlightenment seem to offer some good advice though. Paraphrasing Muho-san: ..its what we can discover in each moment -- Do we project ourselves (mainly our preconceived notions of how things should be) onto the ten thousand things, or do we let the ten thousand things approach and interact with us, discover what they can awaken in us? The first approach results in delusions about the permanence of things, boredom, and suffering as a function of loss, whereas the latter allows life to be richer, because the things we allow ourselves the freedom to perceive and the ‘self’ that we experience is constantly fresh and new. It's pretty amazing what we can discover about ourselves.

Well, whatever. The dream sure was cool. That's about all I can think of to share at the moment. So time to wrap this post up.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reflections: Happy Bodhi Day Everybody!

Bodhi Day or, in Japan, Rohatsu (meaning: the 8th day of the 12th month) is the day Buddhists celebrate Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, his great realization of truth.

Enlightenment isn’t such a big deal as I understand it. There are a lot of words out there that suggest this. For example, the quote most Buddhists have heard ‘Before enlightenment, the laundry; after enlightenment, the laundry.’ Or a better version I heard from Okumura, ‘Before enlightenment, the noble eight-fold path; after enlightenment, the noble eight-fold path.’

To honor the day, I did a little sitting until the sun came up… not the week long event celebrated at many places, although I did attend a short sesshin over the weekend.

I did have a bit of a realization I thought I should share, given that I vow to free all beings and all that…  And the realization is

Most suffering arises not because of impermanence, but because we view most things and circumstances as if they're permanent when, in actuality, they're not. 

Isn't this one of the things we realize from engaging in an outwardly simple seeming, actually infinitely complex, activity like zazen? Maybe due to zazen we learn to pay more attention.

Life would be pretty insufferable without change.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 12 (II) - Kesa-kudoku (Merits of the Kasaya)

(This is a longer post... You don't have to read the haiku if you don't have time.)

Five fundamental merits and ten excellent merits of the kesa are cited in Kesa-kudoku. Of the ten excellent merits Dogen says:

These ten excellent merits broadly include all the merits of the Buddha’s truth. We should explicitly learn in practice the merits present in [these] long lines and [short] verses of praise, not just glancing over them and quickly putting them aside, but studying them phrase by phrase over a long period. These excellent merits are just the merits of the kaṣāya itself: they are not the effect of a practitioner’s fierce [pursuit of] merit through perpetual training.

In Chapter 13 (Den-e), which seems to be a first draft of Kesa-kudoku, Dogen includes some justification for these merits (which admittedly seem pretty extraordinary) but then drops them out (or off) of his final draft. Although it's speculation on my part, I don't think he does this because we should take these claims on faith or for-granted, but rather, because we should continue to question them, study them, and keep them close to heart — every day.

Even not having taken vows yet, this practice has already caused me to experience a feeling akin to 'rebirth', and this is something very different than blind faith. To me, the kesa represents a promise we make to ourselves and renew daily. Otherwise why would Dogen have cried when witnessing the kesa ritual upon his arrival in China? It's through honoring and revering the kesa we are likely to realize its gifts — whether we actually need to do so or not. Moreover, recognizing that these are merits of the kesa, and not our own merits, reminds to be humble and grounded in our practice.

As an initial effort to study these merits phrase by phrase I've gone ahead and written haiku for each of them... (Quoted passages are italicized.)

Five Fundamental Merits:
(A vow made by the bodhisattva mahasattva Great Compassion to the Buddha Jewel Treasury):

A single moment
Honoring the Buddha robe
Grants affirmation.

‘World-honored One! If, after I became a buddha, there were living beings who had entered my Dharma and left home and who wore the kasaya—even if they were bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, and upasikas who had accumulated heavy sins by violating the grave prohibitions, by enacting false views, or by contemptuously disbelieving the Three Treasures—and in a single moment of consciousness the reverence arose in their mind to honor the samghati robe and the reverence arose in their mind to honor the World-honored One (the Buddha) or the Dharma and the Sangha but, World-honored One, even one among those living beings could not, in [one of] the three vehicles, receive affirmation, and as a result regressed or went astray, it would mean that I had deceived the buddhas who are present now in the worlds of the ten directions and in countless, infinite asamkheya kalpas, and I surely should not realize anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.

One look at the cloth
Prevents regression of one
Within the yanas.

‘World-honored One! After I have become a buddha, if gods, dragons, and demons, and human and nonhuman beings are able to wear this kasaya, to venerate, to serve offerings to, to honor, and to praise it, as long as those people are able to see a small part of this kasaya, they will be able not to regress while within the three vehicles.

Fragment of the cloth –
Freedom from all affliction
To those who claim it.

‘When living beings are afflicted by hunger or thirst—whether they are wretched demons, miserable people, or living beings in the state of hungry ghosts—if they are able to obtain a piece of the kasaya even as small as four inches, they will at once be able to eat and drink their fill and to accomplish quickly whatever they wish.

Virtue of the robe –
Soft flexible mind for those
Remembering it.

‘When living beings offend each other, causing ill will to arise and a fight to develop—or when gods, dragons, demons, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, kumbhandas, pisacas, and human and nonhuman beings are fighting each other—if they remember this kasaya, in due course, by virtue of the power of the kasaya, they will beget the mind of compassion, soft and flexible mind, mind free of enmity, serene mind, the regulated mind of virtue, and they will get back the state of purity.

Survive all conflict –
Retain and honor the robe
Emerge the victor.

‘When people are in an armed conflict, a civil lawsuit, or a criminal action, if they retain a small piece of this kasaya as they go among these combatants, and if in order to protect themselves they serve offerings to, venerate, and honor it, these [other] people will be unable to injure, to disturb, or to make fools of them; they will always be able to beat their opponents and to come through all such difficulties.

The Ten Excellent Merits:
(from Vol. 5 of Daijōhonshōshinchikankyō)

The World-honored One says to the bhikṣu Wisdom-Brightness:
“The Dharma robe has ten excellent merits:

1) It is able to cover the body, to keep away shame, to fill us with humility and to [make us] practice good ways.

Robe of the Dharma —
Abundant happiness blooms
From humility.

2) It keeps away cold and heat, as well as mosquitoes, harmful creatures, and poisonous insects, [so that we can] practice the truth in tranquility.

The robe guards against
Distracting bugs and weather
To move us towards truth.

3) It manifests the form of a śramaṇa who has left family life, giving delight to those who behold it and keeping away wrong states of mind.

Showing all respect,
Renouncing secular ways,
Staying untainted.

4) The kaṣāya is just the manifestation to human beings and gods of a precious flag; those who honor and venerate it are able to be born in a Brahmā heaven.

To honor the robe
And all it represents brings
Highest happiness.

5) When we wear the kaṣāya, we feel that it is a precious flag; it is able to extinguish sins and to produce all kinds of happiness and virtue.

When wearing the robe,
The Buddha's light shines brightly —
Shines like a tower.

6) A fundamental rule in making the kaṣāya is to dye it a secondary color, so that it keeps us free from thoughts of the five desires, and does not give rise to lust.

Yield of real practice —
Freedom from afflicting thoughts,
Sincere in our hearts.

7) The kaṣāya is the pure robe of the Buddha; for it eradicates afflictions forever and makes them into a fertile field.

The robe seeds bodhi —
Wearing it, our deeds are hands
Doing Buddha work.

8) When the kaṣāya covers the body, it extinguishes the karma of sins and promotes at every moment the practice of the ten kinds of good.

The robe takes the shape —
Naturally manifesting
A monk's right practice.

9) The kaṣāya is like a fertile field; for it is well able to nurture the bodhisattva way.

The robe seeds bodhi —
Our selves the field yielding up
Joy to all beings.

10) The kaṣāya is also like a suit of armor; for it makes the poisoned arrows of affliction unable to do harm.

Armor of the truth —
The arrows of affliction
Pass through without harm.

Wisdom-Brightness! Remember, through these causes, when the buddhas of the three times, and pratyekabuddhas and śrāvakas, and pure monks and nuns, cover the body in the kaṣāya, [these] three groups of sacred beings sit as one on the precious platform of liberation, take up the sword of wisdom to destroy the demons of affliction, and enter together into the many spheres of nirvana which have one taste.”

Joining together —
Our selves growing rich in truth's
Abundant harvest.