Norman gives the third talk at the Mar de Jade April 2003 Sesshin on Dogen’s Guidelines for Study of the Way Part 2 as found in Moon in a Dewdrop by Kazuaki Tanahashi.
Dogen’s Guidelines for Study of the Way Part 2 – Mar de Jade April 2013
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | April 8, 2013
Edited and transcribed by Barbara Byrum and Cynthia Schrager
This morning I want to continue with studying ten important points for practice in Dogen’s Guidelines for the Study of the Way. Yesterday we talked about the first two points. Point one: Arouse bodhicitta, the thought of enlightenment. Dogen says this means to feel impermanence, to appreciate the question of the passing of time, and to understand how it lies at the root of our human problems. Once we really take this to heart, we understand that clinging to ourselves and to the things that we want will never work. Clinging is impossible and only leads to a lot of sorrow. So we have to find another way to live this life.
The second point we talked about yesterday is that once you hear the teaching, you should practice it without fail. You will remember that Dogen uses the image of a wise king, who hears good advice from a wise advisor. He knows enough to understand that it is good advice, and so he accepts the advice and follows it. Then Dogen talks about a stubborn king, who insists only on his own point of view. He doesn’t know how to hear good advice or take it to heart.
It is interesting in this example that you are the king. Buddha is not the king; you are the king, and the Buddha is like a good advisor to you. So you are the boss. The Buddha is not the boss. But if you are a stubborn boss, and you don’t know how to listen to good advice when you hear it, in the end, your business will fail, and your kingdom will collapse. A good boss knows how to hear good advice and has the flexibility to take the good advice.
The third point is: “In the Buddha way you should always enter enlightenment through practice.”
A worldly teacher says, “Through study one can gain wealth.” Buddha says, “Within practice there is enlightenment.”
Maybe I have to explain that through study you gain wealth, because it doesn’t seem like you gain wealth through studying, does it? Here Dogen is quoting one of the Chinese classics. From earliest times, one of the subjects of Chinese classics was how to become a good ruler. Nowadays when people train business executives, they often study the Chinese classics and bring these ideas to the business executives, because so many of the classics are about how to be a good leader. So when Dogen says by study you get wealth, he doesn’t mean personal wealth. He means prosperity for your nation or for your business. The idea is that you can’t get prosperity for your business or for your nation simply by grabbing something in the easiest way, because that won’t be sustainable.
Nowadays, we would not say to study is the way to gain wealth. Now we would say, Be seventeen years old and develop an app. That is the way that we obtain wealth. So this is something different from religious practice. The Buddha says, “Inside practice there is enlightenment.” Just as without studying someone would not gain wealth, it is not possible to attain enlightenment without practice.
There are lots of ways to practice. Some people practice by faith; some people by understanding; some people ¡¡¡with sudden insight; some people with slow, gradual insight. So there are lots of ways of practice, but you always depend on practice to go beyond enlightenment. Inside of practice is enlightenment, and through practice we go beyond enlightenment. Most people think that we practice so that we can get enlightenment, but this is not Dogen’s point of view. He thinks that the enlightenment is inside the practice. So the enlightenment is already here. Practice is to go beyond enlightenment.
Though study can be superficial or profound, and students can be sharp or dull, accumulated studying earns wealth. This does not necessarily depend on the king’s excellence or inability, nor should it depend on one’s having good or bad luck. If someone were to get wealth without studying, how could he transmit the way in which ancient kings, in times of either order or disorder, ruled the country?
Dogen is applying this idea to our study. It doesn’t matter how good or bad our practice is, or how smart or dumb we are, or whether we have good luck or bad luck. The only thing that matters is that we continue. If we continue, we can have some wisdom that will be sustainable, that we can pass on to people who come after us. This idea of passing on wisdom to those who come after us is very important, and it is the basis of being a good king or a ruler. If you are a ruler, you want to leave the place where you rule better off when you are gone. A lot of rulers are charismatic and powerful. They come to power, and things are really good, because they are so skillful and talented. Then time goes by, and they start getting old, and they don’t have so much energy, but they remain in power decade after decade. Then, by the time they are gone, everything falls apart.
Of course, Dogen is applying this to our own situation as practitioners. When we appreciate impermanence, we realize that it is impossible to practice just for ourselves. We are practicing for now and for the future, for our children and for their children. So he is saying that if you just practice steadily, no matter how much you have good or bad luck, no matter how good or not so good at it you are, you are going to have an effective happiness for your own life and something to pass on to others.
You should know that arousing practice in the midst of delusion, you attain realization before you recognize it.
This is a very important saying, because a lot of times we are frustrated in our practice. We’re confused, and our back hurts, and our mind is a wreck. We get tired of the whole thing and wonder why we came. The beach is so nice. What are we doing inside, sitting here? We wonder, Is this doing any good at all? But Dogen says that even though you practice in the middle of your confusion, your enlightenment is actually right there. You just haven’t noticed it yet, but it is actually there.
At this time you first know that the raft of discourse is like yesterday’s dream, and you finally cut off your old understanding bound up in the vines and serpents of words. This is not made to happen by Buddha, but is accomplished by your all-encompassing effort.
In other words, when you practice, you finally realize that all the usual thoughts that you have, and all the problems that you have, and your usual way of thinking about your life that seems so true, are like yesterday’s dream.
Imagine seeing everything that is a problem for you as yesterday’s dream. Even if it was a bad dream, it is okay. It is just yesterday’s dream. It is just a memory now. Even yesterday, when it was more disturbing, it was still a dream. So it doesn’t bother you anymore. Finally, you throw off your old way of understanding things, which was so entangled in the vines of words.
So if you really think deeply about all the things in your mind that are so troubling, you see that they are the entanglement of words and thoughts. Finally, you get some relief from all of this and get some serenity. This doesn’t happen because of something that the Buddha does. This happens because of the effort that you make.
How enlightenment functions is through practice; how could actions of mind-ground go astray?
So practice always, without fail. Practice brings enlightenment, but enlightenment does not come from outside. Your treasure house is inside. Enlightenment manifests itself and exists in the world because of practice. How could the activity of the truth be a mistake?
When you sit and when you bow, these are not really actions coming from your ordinary life. Ordinarily, people would never do these things. We are too busy trying to solve our problems and getting what we want and getting rid of what we don’t want. When we practice, it really comes from another place in our lives. If you are practicing, it means that there is something in your life that is very trustworthy and beyond what even you yourself know about. This is a good thing. How could this ever be a mistake?
Then he says something that is very beautiful to me:
So if you turn the eye of enlightenment and reflect back on the realm of practice, nothing in particular hits the eye, and you just see white clouds for ten thousand miles.
Suzuki Roshi once said, “Practice is nothing special. In the sky there is nothing special – just white clouds as far as you can see.” So there is really nothing to it, just as there is nothing to a cloud. You can’t hold onto a cloud. There is nothing to our practice. It is nothing but clouds. But, of course, clouds are so beautiful, aren’t they? If you are in an airplane above the clouds, the clouds are really beautiful. If you are on the earth looking up at the clouds, clouds are also really beautiful. This is our practice. There is nothing to it. It’s endless, and it is really beautiful.
The he says:
If you arouse practice as though climbing the steps of enlightenment, not even a speck of dust will support your feet; you will be as far from true practice as heaven is from earth. Now step back and leap beyond the buddha land.¡¡¡¡¡¡¡
In other words, if you think that you are down here and enlightenment is up there, you have to climb steep steps. So don’t climb up steep steps to enlightenment. Instead of climbing forward as we usually do, climb backwards: “Take a step backwards and leap beyond the buddha land.”
Stop grabbing everything outside yourself, which is taking a step forward, climbing. I want more money, more friends, more knowledge. I want to be more spiritual, more enlightened. I want to be a movie star. I want to be famous. Or just, I want more food for lunch. I want seconds. I want another dessert. It’s big things and small things.
What does he mean by “take a step backward”? Return to your body. Return to your breathing. Return to presence in this moment. Step backwards into impermanence, which is eternity, which is contentment. This is a practice that we can do physically on our cushions.
Sometimes stepping up and going outward is looking with our eyes, being pulled out of our body with our eyes. During walking meditation, we don’t look all around at all the beautiful things. We just have soft eyes, and we see whatever is there. We are not looking for something. Whatever happens to be there, because it is there, is always beautiful, because it is inside and outside at the same time.
That’s enlightenment already. Instead of stepping forward, it is stepping backward. But all the time we are so used to stepping outward. It is such a strong habit in all of us that we need a lot of training to step back inside of our lives. That is why this opportunity to do sesshin (retreat) for a week is so important to us, even though after sesshin is over, you can’t feel the same way. Still, little by little, in a very sneaky way, you are being trained. Little by little, you begin to see life differently, just by coming back to the breath and the body, just by coming back to presence.
So that is the third point: “In the Buddha way, you should always enter enlightenment through practice.”
The fourth point: “You should not practice Buddha’s teaching with the idea of gain.” Dogen goes on to say:
The practice of Buddha’s teaching is always done by receiving the essential instructions of a master, not by following your own ideas. In fact, Buddha’s teaching cannot be attained by having ideas or not having ideas. Only when the mind of pure practice coincides with the way will your body and mind will become calm. It is not a matter of believing something, espousing something, or saying something is true or not true. It is a matter of harmonizing your body and mind. So when you harmonize body and mind, there is calmness. [In other words, when you are calm, you can walk the path easily and naturally.] When the body and mind are not at ease, thorns grow on the path of realization.
Again, harmonizing the body and mind, we bring our awareness back to our bodies all the time. That’s the main thing.
How do we do this? What is the most important thing to remember? Don’t grasp anything. Don’t push anything away. When you do that, try to notice it, and then let go.
Then he says something that is quite surprising, “Do not practice buddha dharmawith the thought that it is to benefit others.” Right away you think, What? Why does he say that? I don’t agree. That’s wrong. I don’t like that. I’m mad! What he is telling us is that sometimes when we want to benefit others, it creates a lot of grasping and rejecting in our mind: What a wonderful person I am. I am always kind to everybody. Look how good I am. Everybody in my family depends on me; I take care of everyone. Look how terrible she is; she is so stingy. You see how this good motivation of benefitting others all of a sudden becomes a way for us to grasp and to reject.
So he is talking about how important it is in our practice not to grasp and not to reject. That’s why he says this here: Don’t practice to benefit others. Actually, those are not the correct words, exactly. What he says is, “Don’t practice with the idea of benefitting others.”
Dogen is writing in the year 1234 c.e., and he is complaining of people of his modern times.
People in the present world, even those practicing the buddha dharma, have a mind which is far apart from the way. They practice what others praise and admire, even though they know it does not accord with the way. [Oh I heard there is a good spiritual teacher there. I think I’ll go too. This other one over there, nobody goes there, so I won’t go there.] They reject and do not practice what others fail to honor and praise, even though they know it is the true way. How painful!
Paraphrasing, usually the popular ones are not practicing in the right way. Usually the ones who are not so popular are often doing it the right way. But people are not going based on whether it is the right dharma or not. They are going based on getting credit from their friends for going.
You should sit down and look into your own mind and figure out what you are doing. Don’t just practice something because somebody thinks that it is a good idea. Practice what you know is the truth. Don’t practice just for your own sake, and certainly don’t practice for fame and profit. Practice just for the sake of practice.
The buddhas’ compassion and sympathy for sentient beings are neither for their own sake nor for others. That love and compassion is not for their own sake, and it isn’t even for the sake of others.
That is just how their hearts are. They’re not thinking that they will be compassionate for him or for her or for anybody. They are not even thinking of being compassionate. They just are compassionate, because they can’t be any other way.
Isn’t is apparent that insects and animals nurture their offspring, exhausting themselves with painful labors, yet in the end have no reward when their offspring are grown?
Look around at the world. Look at insects. Look at little animals, like cats and dogs, or mice. Look at how every kind of animal expends its whole life energy to take care of its babies. The animals of the world should be an example to us.
So compassion in this way is the basis of all the teachings of dharma. Because we are human beings, we are already children of Buddha. So, of course, we should follow the buddhas’ lead and try to live the way that the buddhas live.
Dogen looks at all the people listening to his talk, and he says to them, I imagine, with tears in his eyes, Dear, dear students. Don’t practice for your own sake. Don’t practice for fame and gain. Don’t practice to get some big reward in heaven. Don’t practice so that you can perform miracles and be a spiritual big shot. Practice for the sake of practice. Just do it the way that the birds do it and the animals do it.
We all know that there are tremendous benefits that we receive from practice, but they all come, just like rain falling from the sky. They come not because we made them come, but because we continue on and on with practice for its own sake, with love and devotion, and without believing in any of the various ideas we had about what we thought that we were doing.