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Dogen's Guidelines for Study of the Way Part 6 - Talk 9 Mar de Jade April 2013

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | Apr 11, 2013
Location: Mar de Jade
In topic: Dogen
Norman gives the ninth and last talk to the Mar de Jade April 2013 Sesshin on Dogen's Guidelines for Study of the Way (Part 6) as found in Moon in a Dewdrop by Kazuaki Tanahashi.
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­Dogen's Guidelines for Study of the Way Part 6

Zoketsu Norman Fischer - April 2013

Transcribed and edited by Barbara Byrum and Cynthia Schrager


We are now up to the ninth point:

 You should practice throughout the way.

 We have such problems with language. I don’t the exact words Dogen uses in Japanese. Even Japanese people don’t know exactly the words that Dogen uses, because he is writing in Medieval Japanese, which is not the same as modern Japanese. Actually, Dogen has to be translated from Japanese to Japanese. The first translation of Dogen by our friend and colleague, Kaz Tanahashi, was from Medieval Japanese to modern Japanese. We translated this word “throughout” into English. And then we translate into Spanish. We don’t know what people understand by these differences. I do understand that when Dogen says, “Practice throughout the way,” he means something very important by this, which we may or may not understand from the words.

 He means something like, Don’t just study or practice. That’s not enough. When he says, “practice throughout the way,” he means, You should become the way, so that there is nothing left to you but the way. But he means even more than that. Maybe we could translate this point as, Completely become the way that is beyond the way.

 He doesn’t just mean from beginning to end. He means something more. Let’s read on, and maybe we will understand better:

Courageous people who study the way [this is an important word for him: courageous] should first know what is correct and what is incorrect in practice throughout the way.

 Shakyamuni Buddha was the great tamer of beings.

 We are the wild beings that need to be tamed. Maybe you have noticed that there is a wild animal inside your mind that needs to be tamed. So Buddha is the great tamer of beings.

 In order to tame beings, Buddha sat under a tree, and he was immediately awakened to the unsurpassed way, when he looked up and saw the morning star.

 This word “immediately” is another important word for Dogen. In English, the word “immediately” literally mean “without anything in-between.” Nothing mediating; nothing in the middle. That means “just merging.” It also means “in this moment right now.” In this moment right now, there is nothing in-between. So, it has the special meaning. Immediately, in this moment, without anything in-between, without any gap, without any space between ourselves and ourselves, or without any space between ourselves and what we meet in that moment. So, we are meeting without any gap, which can only happen right now, immediately.

The way of enlightenment cannot be reached by students of less profound ways or by any ordinary people. Only buddhas can be enlightened, and only buddhas transmit the dharma to other buddhas. This goes on forever.

Transmitting from buddha to buddha is what life is: life transmitting to life, in life’s mystery, in every impermanent moment, and in eternity, which is the same thing. In other words, everyone who practices and deeply practices must be a buddha. So this must mean that we are buddhas. We can’t be ordinary people.

To practice throughout the way is to make real the limitless realm of the buddha way and to illuminate all the aspects of the buddha way. [There are infinite aspects.] The buddha way is right there. Every step you take, you are stepping on the buddha way. You are immersed in the way.

Like when you jump in the ocean, you are completely surrounded by the ocean.  But, of course, we are in the ocean right now, right? We are in the ocean of air. We are also immersed in being.  And so, we are immersed in the way.

So we should understand right now, immediately. Immersed in awakening, you yourself are always complete.

 Isn’t that a nice feeling, to be complete? When you think about it, we never feel complete, right? We always think, If only there was a little more of this. Maybe a little bit less of that. Even if we don’t have these thoughts in our mind, in our heart, we are always thinking. Imagine feeling like this is just enough. If in the next moment I die, it’s okay, because this is enough right now. This is what he is saying: you are complete. The feeling inside you is just right.

 Therefore, even though you arrive at full understanding, this is only a part of enlightenment.

 In other words, another moment comes, and it is a new world, a new possibility. Anything could happen. This is how we practice throughout the way.

 People these days, who study the way, do not understand where the way goes or ends up, so they are always looking for visible results. [Who wouldn’t make this mistake? It is a common mistake.] It is like somebody who runs away from his father, leaving behind his treasure, and wandering around lost. Even though he is the only son of a wealthy family, he doesn’t know this, so he wanders around doing menial jobs in foreign lands away from home.

 Dogen is referring to a famous parable in the Lotus Sutra. The king has a son, and the son wanders far away by mistake, and he forgets who he is. He forgets that he is the son of the king. He ends up cleaning out the stables. He struggles, and this is his life. Then he happens to wander back home. The king realizes that if some person tells him that he is the son of the king, and that he will inherit a kingdom, the son won’t believe it. He will think this is crazy. So the king gives him a job cleaning out his stables. Little by little, he gets better jobs from the king, and eventually the king says, “Guess what! You are really my son! All of this is yours. You forgot you were my son.”

 This is obvious: this is us. We are children of the king. We inherit the whole of the world, but we forgot. So we have to go through all of this trouble to remember. That’s why we are looking for results, hoping to get better and better, not realizing that we are already buddhas. We don’t need to improve at all. The problem is that we don’t know who we are, which is why we have to go through all this trouble.

 Those who study the way try to become immersed in the way. For those who are immersed in the way, all traces of enlightenment disappear.

 You don’t see any enlightenment, because you are so immersed in it. You can’t be standing outside of it looking at it. So, actually, there is no enlightenment. There is only enlightenment when you are on the outside looking in, but actually, there is no such thing.

If you practice the buddha way, first of all, you must trust the buddha way. Those who trust the buddha way, trust that they are already within the buddha way. In the buddha way, there is no delusion, there is no false thinking, there is no confusion, there is no increase or decrease, and there are no mistakes.

 But you might say, Wait a minute. I noticed a little delusion here! A little confusion here. Now I am supposed to be in the way, but I have all this confusion and delusion. Dogen doesn’t mean that confusion and delusion disappear as we think they would if we were a buddha. What he means that when we see confusion and delusion in our mind, we know what it is. We know that it is confusion and delusion. We know that it is a natural arising of the human mind. It comes out of our life and everything that has happened to us, so that we understand it. We don’t blame ourselves.

 This is an important point: we don’t blame ourselves. When we really understand the delusion and don’t blame ourselves, we see the beauty in it. We see that at the bottom of even our worse delusions and pain, there is something beautiful. Based on that feeling of confidence and self-forgiveness, we then work to clear up our delusions if we can. But not with the feeling, I am so bad, I have to get rid of this, but with the feeling, this is the Buddha work, cleaning up the garage. If we find out that we can’t clear up our delusions, then we practice patience, endurance. This is what “no delusion” means. It means understanding our delusions.

 To arouse trust in this and to illuminate the way like this, that is the first fundamental aspect of the way.

 In other words, trust. Trust in the way and trust in yourself. Trust in the process of practice. Trust in the fact that you can do the practice. That trust is the first thing.

 You find this trust by sitting. Sitting cuts off your attachment to your thoughts and all of your confusions, and allows you to practice, letting everything come and go. This is the way that you arouse beginner’s mind. Beginner’s mind is the mind that sees everything as fresh. It doesn’t cover everything with confusion from the past. It takes everything as it is on this moment.

 Then you can let your body and mind drop away. You can let go of confusion and also enlightenment. Let it all go.


The phrase “dropping body and mind” is also important for Dogen. The story goes that when Dogen was studying in China, the monks would sit up all night long. When there was sesshin, they wouldn’t sleep; they would sit twenty-four hours a day. Of course, they would fall asleep in meditation, but they wouldn’t lie down. The teacher would walk up and down, waking people up when they fell asleep. Sometimes the teacher would wear slippers in the hall. Sometimes when he saw someone sleeping, he would whack him and say, “Wake up!” Once, somebody nearby Dogen was sleeping. The teacher took off his slipper and whacked the person. He said, “Why are you sleeping? Don’t you realize that practice is completely letting of body and mind?” When Dogen heard this, he was illuminated. He thought, “Now I know what it is to be completely free from body and mind.” So, he would often say, “Drop your body and mind.” He meant, Be free. Don’t be a slave of your body and mind. This is the second aspect of studying the way.

Generally speaking, people who trust the way are rare. If you trust that you are within the buddha way, you understand where the great way leads and where it ends, and you know the real source of all of your confusion, which is the same source as the source of awakening. If just once in your sitting, you can cut off your attachment to your thinking, and sit in freedom for a moment, in eight or nine cases out of ten, you will attain full enlightenment.

 That’s all you have to do. Once you can sit in one moment of freedom from your thoughts, then everything will be okay in the end.

 The last point is short:

 Immediately hit the mark. [Like an arrow in the bull’s eye.] There are two ways to understand our life: studying with a master to hear the teaching and sitting in zazen with devotion.

 When he says a master or a teacher, he doesn’t mean a person who has great skill or who is brilliant. He specifically means someone who has received the transmission from the Buddha, down through the generations. In other words, he means someone who is a family member of the Buddha. If they are authentic family of the Buddha, regardless of their brilliance, then they are worthwhile teachers.

 When you listen to the teachings, it opens up your conscious mind. If you sit in zazen, you open up practice and enlightenment.

 This is one thing: practice-enlightenment.  This means body-mind-breath. He is saying that both are important.

 Therefore, if you neglect either of these when entering the buddha way, you can’t hit the bull’s eye.

 Everyone has body-mind. Body-mind is one thing. Harmonize body-mind. Body-mind either leads or follows. It is either courageous, or it is not.

Human life is life lived with intention and with choice. That is human life: we have some intention and some choice. We go in some direction. That means we can live with courage or not. When body and mind are leading, as he says, it means that we live harmonizing body, breath, thinking, and emotion. We live with courage. Our life is led by our practice. And we lead others. Not by trying to lead others, but simply by living, by living together with others. We become an inspiration for the world.

 It is our choice. If we don’t do this, then we are following. We are following our thinking mind, which is the world’s confusion inside of us, and we perpetuate the confusion of the world on and on. We don’t live with courage and vision. That is what he is saying.

 To realize buddha immediately with this body and mind is to hit the bull’s eye. You don’t need to change your body-mind. Just follow this buddha realization. This is called “immediate.” This is called “hitting the mark.”

 To follow the buddha way completely means that you don’t have your old viewpoint anymore. To “hit the mark” means that you don’t have a new nest in which to settle.

This is an old saying in Zen, “Don’t make a nest.” It means to face each moment with beginner’s mind. Meet each person that appears, meet each situation that appears, nakedly and courageously, which means just naturally, without the extra stuff that we put between ourselves and our life. It’s that simple. It’s not that easy, but it’s simple.