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.

No comments: