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Dogen Great Enlightenment 2

By: Norman Fischer, Zoketsu Norman Fischer | 10/15/2008
Location: Deer Run Zendo
In Topics: Dogen Studies

Talk on Dogen’s “Great Enlightenment” as found in “Beyond Thinking” by Kazuaki Tanahashi.

Dogen Great Enlightenment 2

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | October 15, 2008

Abridged and edited by Ryusen Barbara Byrum


Last week Chris discussed the story about the monk who says, "What happens when a person who is greatly enlightened becomes deluded?" Tonight we'll talk about the third story, that appears on page sixty-eight of the text.* But I think I am going to start with the previous paragraph, which could be either the end of the discussion of the last story, or could be an introduction to the discussion of this third and final story:

Indeed, [daigo] great enlightenment is limitless, delusion is limitless, and delusion does not hinder great enlightenment; take up three-fold great enlightenment and turn it into a half-fold minor delusion.

This is a way of saying that delusion and enlightenment are completely mixed up with each other. They are completely different and yet the same.

Thus, the Himalayas are greatly enlightened to benefit the Himalayas. Wood and stone are greatly enlightened taking the forms of wood and stone. Buddhas' great enlightenment is greatly enlightened for the sake of sentient beings. Sentient beings' great enlightenment is greatly enlightened by buddhas' great enlightenment. This goes beyond before and after. [Beyond the conventions of time.] Great enlightenment right at this moment is not self, not other. [It's not in me. It's not in you. It's not limited to either one of us, or anything else.] Great enlightenment does not come from somewhere else – the ditch is filled in and the stream is stopped up. [I think it means the ditch is overflowing, and the stream is overflowing, even though it says ‘stopped up.' In other words, great enlightenment is like an abundance of water that fills up every ditch and overflows every stream.] Great enlightenment does not go away – stop following others. How? Follow all the way through.

So in a way, I think, the whole essay is expressed in that one paragraph. And one thing that I forgot to say in the beginning was that the character dai is translated as "great" – daigo – Great Enlightenment. The Zen understanding of that character doesn't mean "great" as opposed to "not so great" – as in "this is great," and "that's not so great." This over here is better than that over there. It doesn't usually mean that. It means great in the sense of "without limit, universally great, beyond definition, beyond distinction, without boundary." So that's why in this essay Dogen is specifically talking about Great Enlightenment. This is not the enlightenment that is often spoken of. It's Great Enlightenment – Daigo – boundless, endless enlightenment. It is unlimited enlightenment that can't be reduced to saying, "I had an enlightenment. Now I'm enlightened." That kind of enlightenment is very small compared to Daigo, Great Enlightenment.

Now, if you think about this for a moment, if something is beyond limit, without boundary, then it can't be exactly something, because every something is limited by not being something else, right? Every something is not boundless and limitless. Every thing is necessarily bounded by its own parameters.

So when we say that enlightenment is Great Enlightenment, unlimited enlightenment, without boundary, as Dogen is saying here, we're saying that it isn't anything. We're saying that it's not something. Every something has some sort of boundary. So even being itself – any sort of being – is always limited.

But Great Enlightenment is not exactly not limited. Great Enlightenment is not a something or anything, but also it is not existing. You can't even say it exists, because existence itself is bounded. It's bounded by non-existence, just as our existence is very much circumscribed by our non-existence. So to say the Great Enlightenment is great enlightenment without limit, without boundary, is to say that it is not something, and that it does not exactly exist or not exist. On the other hand, it's not right to say it's nonexistent, because that also would be bound, right? Nonexistence is exactly bound by existence. It's limited by existence.

So this is Dogen's great point in this whole fascicle. Great Enlightenment, as he understands it, is everything and nothing. Always present in various forms, but unidentifiable, ungraspable – not really existing or not existing. And so, given that, he can say that there is a Great Enlightenment of wood and stone. There's a Great Enlightenment of Buddhas. There is a Great Enlightenment of sentient beings. Ordinary people, who we might think are not enlightened, by definition participate in this Great Enlightenment. And each one has his own place, her own place, its own place, and there is no hierarchy of value, because all equally share in the Great Enlightenment. And as the end of this paragraph makes clear, Great Enlightenment is in each thing and each one of us. In the light of Great Enlightenment, there is no self and other.

So let's say that is the introduction to the following story:

Mihu of Jingzhao sent a monk to ask Yangshan, "Do people nowadays pretend to have enlightenment?" Yangshan said, "It's not that they are not enlightened, but how can they avoid falling into the secondary?" The monk returned and reported this to Mihu, who then approved Yangshan.

The implication is that in the old days people did practice enlightenment, or rely on enlightenment, but "nowadays" everything is corrupt. People aren't what they used to be. So do people nowadays – in the present day – still depend on enlightenment? Do they still make effort for enlightenment? This is Dogen writing in the twelfth century about a story that probably happened at least a century or two centuries earlier. So by the tenth century, things are already downhill. Modern times. Already the Song dynasty is not what it used to be in the Tang. So these moderns nowadays, do they still try to practice Great Enlightenment, or is it too late for them? These people who are not as spiritually powerful as they once were in the old days? So, in other words, they're pretending. They're not really doing it.

So it strikes me that this is actually a great question for us. If we could say the practitioners were decadent in the tenth century, how about now in the twenty-first century? In our crazy world? Does it make any sense for us to practice with reference to Great Enlightenment? Actually, not Great Enlightenment – just enlightenment. It's so noisy around here – so busy. We can't go on ninety-day retreats or enter monasteries like they did in the old days. So maybe we should forget about enlightenment and just try to calm down a little bit. Get a little more sane. Maybe not be so pushed around by our emotions. In other words, there's plenty of things we can do in practice without worrying about enlightenment. So is there any point nowadays in trying to rely on enlightenment?

As Chris said last week, twenty-five, thirty, or forty years ago, when people here were practicing Zen and Buddhism, they were trying to obtain a very specific state called enlightenment – something like being on LSD, only better, more permanent – maybe an ethical system, or something like that. We don't know exactly what. But then, after many years of trying to do this, and finding out that they weren't getting enlightened, maybe they got over that. Now we're just trying to be better people.

So that is the question being asked here. And it's a good question. It's not an unreasonable question. So let's pretend that this is us asking Yangshan, "Does it make sense for us nowadays, in our condition, to aspire to, to make effort toward, to make enlightenment part of our practice? Or is this not what we're doing?"

So we go to Yangshan and say, "Should we be making effort for enlightenment? It doesn't make sense for us anymore." And Yangshan would turn around to us and say, "Well, it's not that you're not enlightened. It's just that you can't avoid falling into the secondary."

The secondary here, I think, means the relative world, the ordinary world. More specifically, I think it means the conceptual world, which is the ordinary world. In other words, we operate on a daily basis according to conceptual frameworks. You know – me/you, this/that. We have a set of ideas that precede us wherever we go, and everything we do is inspired by that set of ideas. That's the secondary. And presumably the primary would be experience that goes beyond those secondary conceptions – a kind of pure awakening experience – the one that we were all trying to get twenty-five or thirty years ago.

So in response to the question, "Should we be having enlightenment as part of what we're doing?" Yangshan is saying, "It's not that you're not enlightened. It's just that you cannot avoid falling into the secondary."

So we are participating in the Great Enlightenment. This dimension of our lives defies our capacity to grasp it conceptually. So we might say that we're not experiencing it somehow in some primary way, and we're not grasping it conceptually, so why don't we forget about it?

But he is saying, "No, you can't forget about it, because you are that. You are that Enlightenment. But you will fall into the secondary. Don't think you won't."

That's where we live – in the secondary. I think the implication here is that it's not a matter of "Darn it. We shouldn't be in the secondary. We should be in the primary. We should be living in some state of enlightenment, where the colors are brighter all the time." He's saying, "No. Actually the secret is that these two, the secondary and the primary, the ordinary mundane world and the enlightened world, are not two different things. They're mutually reinforcing. Mutually inclusive."

Don't think that being enlightened is avoiding falling into the secondary. Embracing the secondary as the secondary, embracing the conceptual as the conceptual, embracing the ordinary as the ordinary, is the way Great Enlightenment is manifested.

That's how I commented on the story. Now Dogen comments on the story. He says that when he says "nowadays," what it really means is "now." "Nowadays" actually means "now." History changes, and conditions change, but "now" – time itself, every moment – doesn't really change. Being itself doesn't really change. The styles change, the clothes change, the way people think changes, but existence doesn't change.

The nowadays spoken of here is the right now of each of you. Even if you think of the past, present and future millions of times, all time is the very moment, right now. Where you are is nothing but this very moment. Furthermore, this eyeball is this moment, a nostril is this moment. [These are kind of words that mean the great significance of our lives is to be found in entering this moment.] Quietly investigate this question [the original question]: Do people nowadays make use of enlightenment or not? [Should people nowadays practice enlightenment or not?] Revive [investigate] this question with your heart, revive this question with the top of your head.

So, this enlightenment, the ultimate limitless life, is not something that we should be ignoring in our practice. It should be our koan. What is it? What is the Great Enlightenment here and now in our living? We are working in the secondary, trying to work with our emotions, trying to be more kind, trying to be more present in a simple way. We shouldn't ever lose track of the mysterious limitlessness of our lives. And that's not an experience we are looking to have; it's a turning of a question. It's a passionate question. Questioning with all our heart, every moment.

These days shaven-headed monks in Song China vainly look for enlightenment, saying that enlightenment is the true goal, though they don't seem to be illuminated by the light of buddha ancestors. [In other words, they say they are looking for enlightenment, but they seem to be very far removed from the real teaching.] Because of laziness they miss the opportunity of studying with true teachers. They may not be able to attain liberation even if they were to encounter the emergence of authentic buddhas.

So he's criticizing the monks of Song China. It's kind of amazing, when you think about it. Dogen made this harrowing journey to China, which was really taking his life in his hands, so that he could encounter the original Buddhism from the old country. And when he got there, he was terribly disappointed in all the practitioners. And it took him a long time to find somebody who he thought was really good. So it must have been very devastating to him, when you think about it, having gone all that way, not to find people he could respect. And their laziness, I think, was not necessarily laziness in their practice, but that they were lazy in their concept of enlightenment as being something they could attain through their efforts – a state of mind, something that they could get or not get. It was so limiting to Dogen, their completely missing the point.

The Great Enlightenment is just life engaged at its depth – not a special state of mind, a special attainment.

Mihu's question does not mean that there is no enlightenment, that there is enlightenment, or that enlightenment comes from somewhere else.

It doesn't mean any of those things. It doesn't mean there's no enlightenment. It doesn't mean that there is enlightenment. It doesn't mean that enlightenment would come from somewhere else.

This question asks whether or not people … [make use of enlightenment.]

Here Kaz says ‘pretend' to have enlightenment. The question is not whether there is enlightenment, or there isn't enlightenment, or if it comes from somewhere else, or you already have it. It's none of that. It's do you activate awakening in your life?

It's like saying, "How are people nowadays enlightened?" If you speak of "achieving enlightenment," you may think that you usually don't have enlightenment. [You didn't have it before.] If you say, "Enlightenment comes," you may wonder where it comes from. If you say, "I have become enlightened," you may suppose that enlightenment has a beginning. [But how could the Great Enlightenment actually have a beginning or an ending?] Mihu did not speak that way. When he spoke of enlightenment, he simply asked about pretending to have enlightenment.

Kaz uses the word "pretend," but it means "turning enlightenment, making use of enlightenment, relying on enlightenment, practicing enlightenment." In other words, it's a process, a commitment, an engagement. It's not a thing – like going to the dealer and buying enlightenment. "I'd like the latest model. The one that gets good mileage." It's not like that kind of a thing. An inner thing or an outer thing – what's the difference? Either way we are talking about something acquired. It's not like that. It's a process, it's an activity. It's an engagement with life.

We have so many assumptions about this. All of our ideas about improvement and spiritual awakening are based on these sorts of faulty, materialistic assumptions.

Yanghan's word how can they avoid falling into the secondary mean that the secondary is also enlightenment.

A lot of people who engage in spiritual practice – maybe all of us – get bored with the secondary, and we want some other, higher realm. But he is saying that if you can fully engage the secondary with this sense of mystery, it's enlightenment. The secondary is like saying "to become enlightened," "to get enlightenment," or "enlightenment has come." It means that "becoming" and "coming" are enlightenment.In other words, the becoming part, the working toward, the process, the effort. This sounds like what we read in "The Point of Zazen" – effort without desire. Making effort joyfully – that is the awakening. And there's no limit to it.

It may look like Yangshan was cautious about falling into the secondary and was denying secondary enlightenment. But the secondary that becomes enlightenment is no other than the secondary that is true enlightenment. This being so, even the secondary, the hundredth, or the thousandth is enlightenment. It is not that the secondary is capped by the primary. Don't say that yesterday's self was the true self, but today's self is the secondary self.

It's kind of ridiculous to say that. Yesterday I was really myself, but today I have fallen off of that, and next week, it will be even worse. No, every day we are completely ourselves, 100%. So whatever is coming up, whatever the situation is, the Great Enlightenment is right there.

Don't say that enlightenment just now is other than enlightenment yesterday. It is not that enlightenment has begun this moment. [It's always been unfolding.] Study in this way. Thus, great enlightenment is black, great enlightenment is white.

So all three stories in this fascicle are talking about the complete interpenetration between delusion and enlightenment. Talking about the fact that our minds are always limiting and distinguishing and conceptualizing. But no matter what our minds are doing – whether it looks like we are operating under delusion or operating under wisdom – great enlightenment is always there. We shouldn't privilege so-called enlightenment over delusion. Privilege primary over secondary.

So what do we do with that information? What does that mean to us? I hope it gives us all a lot of encouragement to go forward in practice. Not to think, "Darn, I'm not enlightened. I'm not getting anywhere. I really want to get somewhere." Or, "I used to be somewhere, but now I'm nowhere."

Today I was in a very grouchy mood – you know, too many things to do. Things break and you have to fix them, and then you have more things to do. So I was grouchy. I just started reading Daigo, and felt, "Ah, this is so great!" It really cheered me up immediately. It took me about fifteen minutes, and I was all cheered up. I felt, "What's the difference if things break, or if there are a lot of things to do? What's the difference? Why would I be complaining about that, if it weren't for the fact that I've conjured up a whole universe of grumpy thoughts for no reason. Why not take up the next moment of my life, and give it all I've got, however it turns out?" I didn't exactly think all that, but I was just happy. So the tenor of my day was just changed.

So if you ever want to be happy, just sit and read Dogen, and you'll be happy right away. [Laughter] It frees you up. And we are constantly – and that's the whole point – we constantly, constantly, no matter how much we know better, we're constantly binding ourselves with our conceptions of what we think we want, what we think is going on in the world, who we think we are, what's wrong, what's right, and so on and so forth.

And so we have to remind ourselves just to make effort. And for us, the effort is to do our practice. It's Great Enlightenment – without limit, right there in the middle of our being-existing.


* From Beyond Thinking – A Guide to Zen Meditation, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi.


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