Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reflections: Blue Lotus Flowers Open Inside Fire*

When I envision a 'perfectly enlightened' person I don't see them sitting, though they may spend a lot of time sitting.

Instead I envision character traits, traits like selflessness, equanimity, wisdom and compassion... although these days I'm not as certain as I may have been in the past about what those traits might look like.

Selflessness, equanimity, wisdom and compassion are manifested as actions towards others. But actions alone, however well-intentioned and no matter how hard we try, run a risk of being insincere, unhelpful and even counter-productive when even the smallest trace of the perspective of an unenlightened self exists.

We can't get rid of 'self' because self is a part of who we are. So, it seems to me, the 'traits of enlightenment' have to bloom from within, from true self and emptiness, which some people experience while sitting.

We choose to sit, an action that takes place in the phenomenological world, and the flowers or sparks of true self and emptiness grow into a fire, a fire that is strong enough to engulf the self and transform it.

After reading Hokke-ten-Hokke and Kuge, Chapters 17 and 43 of the Shobogenzo, I can't help but think that Dogen felt this way too, at least for a time.

...Of course the wisdom that we might experience while sitting is the selflessness, equanimity, wisdom and compassion of 'nothing to attain'.

*In Kūge, Dogen quotes and then expounds on a line of verse by Master Do-an Josatsu: "Blue lotus flowers open inside fire." The blue lotus flower often stands for wisdom.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reflections: Dogen's World (II) - umm, errr... my world?*

Once we get a sense of true self and emptiness, it's pretty easy to develop a preference, or even outright addiction to them. And it's easy to think that if we could only live our lives one hundred percent as true self in emptiness we would be perfectly enlightened!

Some of us may start thinking if we sit in front of our white walls long enough, if we manage to attain and maintain the perfect zen posture, if we manage to quiet our minds long enough, if we experience those states often enough, one of these days by some magic we will be that, will be there, will be perfectly enlightened. In other words, when we get up off of our zafu our experience of true self and emptiness won't disappear.

When we think that way we create a whole new set of dualities. Instead of experiencing unity with all things, we create more separation. Instead of being free, we've trapped ourselves solid.

Because it's impossible to avoid the phenomenological world — it's where we are!

And it's impossible to escape self — it's who we are!

So this is the impression I get of the motivation behind practice-enlightenment:*

If we want to integrate or re-integrate true self with self and emptiness with the phenomenological world, how do we go about it?

I'm pretty sure at least one thing Dogen recommends is zazen. Because when we are sitting our bodies and the phenomenological world (typically a white wall but any color is probably okay) are right here with us. In fact, if we haven't been working out enough, ate too much for dinner, or are sitting long hours at a retreat or sesshin, our bodies are pretty good at reminding us bodies can't be denied — at least not forever.

The phenomenological world can't be denied either... It may be too hot or too cold, a fly or June bug may be banging on a screen, someone's stomach may be growling, dogs may be barking, a cat may want to sit on your lap... and thoughts will come and go. Can we learn to be at peace with, and even appreciate, these aspects of self and the phenomenological world while sitting?

Clue: A first step may be to appreciate that we are not appreciating these things!

*after reading the first 17 chapters plus Chapter 43 of the Shobogenzo, combined with a whole lot of stuff that is difficult to describe or quantify.

**posted from my phone using Dragon Dictation and BlogPress

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reflections: Dogen's World*

The following post is my attempt to synthesize a cohesive set of notes reflecting my understanding of the concepts self, true self, emptiness and the phenomenological world, an understanding that is based on my readings of the Shobogenzo to date. This synthesis was made shortly after attending a Genzo-e on Kuge offered by Rev. Okumura and, therefore undoubtedly has been influenced by his efforts and expertise in the study of Dogen, an area in which I am a beginner. My reading of the Shobogenzo is far from complete and therefore this post likely contains many inaccuracies if it is taken as a summary of Dogen. It is more accurate to say this post is a temporary framework or point of reference for the rest of my readings.

In Kūge, Chapter 43 of the Shobogenzo, Dogen discusses the interdependent nature of flowers (representing phenomena and cause and effect) and space (emptiness). Dogen's discussion of the interdependent nature of phenomena and emptiness also can be applied to the relationship between self and true self and can be summarized in the following statement:

Flowers give rise to emptiness and emptiness gives rise to flowers.

In terms of true self and self, Dogen suggests that true self and emptiness, in isolation, would be static and sterile. Specifically, true self and emptiness are not phenomenological because of the absence of coming and going — in other words, the nature of true self and emptiness is always the same, but true self and emptiness are phenomenological because our experience of true self and emptiness arise out of the phenomenological world, which includes self.

Once we perceive emptiness and true self (or no self) we have to integrate the perception with the phenomenological world or self — otherwise we are not experiencing the unity of all things, we are only creating another duality.


A second complimentary way to view the opening statement is from the perspective of a single flower, where the entire flower represents Indra's net (or the plasma field/grid I referred to in an earlier post) and you and I are individual petals of that flower. We each have our own identity as a petal, but the flower itself is a phenomenon or reality that is greater than the sum of its parts, our Universe. This is suggested by the chapter title Kuge — Space Flower or Emptiness Flower.

The existence of the flower, Indra's net, is real in spite of the coming and going, impermanent nature of the phenomena it describes. Experience proves it — although the exact nature of the proof in this cause and effect world differs depending on who you are and your actions.

The awareness of true self and emptiness, to the extent it stays with us, gives rise to another dimension in our perception of reality. This awareness can be very helpful in understanding our lives and as a guide for our actions. This awareness can also insulate us in that we are more able to stay grounded as we walk within the phenomenological world.


Interdependent —
The space-flower blooms and falls
In our triple world.


* Previous posts along similar lines:
Keisei-Sanshiki - ...Enlightenment Again
Weird Plasma Field Dream, Gridlines, and the Ten Thousand Things
Sansuigyō - Water: Not Matter, Not Not Matter

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reflections: Kūge (I) - Flowers in Space & a few thoughts on self

A good friend I used to have Dharma discussions with once posed the question of whether true self is one and the same for everyone.

It's a question that has stayed with me. Because, logically, in the state of emptiness we experience oneness with all things. No separation exists in this unity because the views and habitual responses we hold as a natural by-product of living are let go of while we sit.

So, logically, from this perspective it makes a certain amount of sense that your true self and my true self are not any different. And that may very well be true during zazen.

Yet, intuitively, I have never believed this to be an accurate understanding of the truth for most of us when we get up off the zafu. Why? Because just about everything naturally realized, as opposed to artificially manufactured, is unique in it's expression of self.

This evening I went on a walk by the smaller of several lakes in our area. On the walk back I noticed the tinge of bright and soft greens of various shades now covering the branches of most of the trees since the most recent rain. Even the oaks, which typically seem to be the hardest to convince that winter has come to an end, have started to bud. And even within a species, each tree is unique in it's expression of self.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been reading Kūge (translated as Flowers in Space, a chapter of the Shobogenzo that focuses primarily on the phenomenological world) in preparation for a Genzo-e by Shohaku Okumura on this chapter. In Kūge Dogen says:

Although there are originally no flowers, now there are flowers—a fact which is true for peach and plum trees and true for apricot and willow trees... Apricot and willow flowers inevitably bloom on apricot and willow trees; looking at [apricot and willow] flowers we can identify apricot and willow trees, and looking at apricot and willow trees we can distinguish [apricot and willow] flowers. Peach and plum flowers never bloom on apricot or willow trees. Apricot and willow flowers bloom on apricot and willow trees, and peach and plum flowers bloom on peach and plum trees.

In case you're wondering, Dogen is referring to more than trees, flowers and fruits, he's referring to people, to us:

Penetration of the truth of a flower is “I originally came to this land to transmit the Dharma and to save deluded emotional beings.”...“I entrust effects to effects themselves”: this expresses “natural realization.” “Natural realization” means enacting causes and accepting effects. The world has causes, and the world has effects. We enact the cause-and-effect that is this world, and we accept the cause and-effect that is the world. “The [natural] self” is “itself,” and the self is inevitably just you...

Realizing that phenomena are empty doesn't mean we should deny the phenomenological nature of the reality we live in. Or that we should deny our own nature while operating in this reality.

..when the common and the stupid hear the Tathāgata’s words that “What is seen by clouded eyes is flowers in space,” they imagine that “clouded eyes” means the upset eyes of ordinary beings. They imagine that sick eyes, because they are upset, perceive “flowers in space” in a pure void.

Picking up a flower and winking an eye are all the universe, which is realized by clouded eyes and flowers in space. The right Dharma eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana, which have been authentically transmitted to the present without interruption, are called clouded eyes and flowers in space. Bodhi, nirvana, the Dharma body, selfhood, and so on, are two or three petals of five petals opened by a flower in space.

In other words, our delusions and phenomena mediate not only the bad things we experience, they also mediate realization and enlightenment. To me, this suggests we accept and are compassionate towards our self for who and what we are, as well as accept others.

Sometimes acceptance doesn't mean we do anything differently — rather it means we acknowledge and respect our individual truths.


Five petals open,
The natural self is just you —
Each flower a truth.