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.

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