Third talk on Dogen’s Fukanzazengi focusing on Zazen.
Third talk on Dogen's Fukanzazengi focusing on Zazen
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Abridged and edited by Ryūsen Barbara Byrum
Buddha often spoke of the three marks of conditioned existence: annica, anattā, and dukkha: impermanence, no-self, and suffering – radical unsatisfactoriness. Practice begins with the recognition of these three marks of conditioned existence.
Annica. Impermanence is not a hard sell. Everyone knows that things are impermanent. This is an empirical, observable fact. Every relationship, every possession, every attitude, and every feeling that we have is not permanent. We all know what kind of problems this occasions in human life. You don't have to make a big philosophical argument about this, because everybody knows, for instance, about death. It's not something that is going to appear to someone as news: "The Buddha invented death, and now we know."
Buddha noticed these three marks of conditioned existence and studied them thoroughly in his meditation practice. In his deep insight and clarity, he saw that impermanence is not just a conventional fact; it's much more of a radical fact than any one of us realizes. Every moment passes away virtually the moment it arises. You can't find the moment. The moment is here, and then when you look for that moment, the moment goes. The Buddha noticed that impermanence is not later. Impermanence is now. Death doesn't come later; death is coming now, on each moment of letting go of life. Each moment of life is succeeded by another moment of life, and we die to each moment. So, there's nothing graspable. There are no moments that you can ever find.
Anatta. There actually is no self in the way that we believe there is. Because we don't really understand impermanence at its depth, and we don't really understand the nature of our self at its depth, we are unable to give ourselves to this ceaseless flux of reality. We resist it, and so it makes us nervous. We have a lot of anxiety, because we're living in a situation that doesn't apply! We're projecting a situation of living that is constantly going to be frustrating to us, because we want a self that is this fixed entity. So our anxiety and fear run very deep. And that's dukkha, the unsatisfactoriness of existence that comes from annica and anattā.
The view of the three marks that Buddha called the three marks of unconditioned existence are the empty, the sign-less, and the wish-less. And these are the flip side, the unconditioned side, of the three marks. When we understand annica, impermanence, as it really is, we see emptiness. We see that all of time, all of space, all of reality is freedom. There is nothing graspable, and we don't have to worry about anything! Everything comes and goes. What a great idea! [Laughter] What a beautiful thing! You have a big problem? No worry, it will be gone! Trust impermanence – it will solve all your problems – moment by moment by moment. It's wonderful that everything can be so ungraspable, so floating, so free, so delightful, so beautiful, so blissful, and, ultimately, so peaceful. So we see emptiness as impermanence.
When we're willing to experience the self as it really is – anattā – it sounds spooky. No self? Who likes that? But when we see the self as it really is, it becomes the sign-less. In other words, all the characteristics of the self that we see – we all think that we have various characteristics that define us – have their advantages and their disadvantages. We're all trying to construct a self that is very good-looking and getting rid of all the defects. When we understand the sign-less, we understand that all the advantages and defects of anybody are insubstantial. They're illusory and really non-problematical. Whatever our worst character trait, it is not a problem, and our goal here is not to try to get rid of our bad characteristics. Our goal here is to understand their nature. When you do understand them, they're not a problem.
When you understand dukkha, the radical unsatisfactoriness of life as it really is, it becomes the wish-less; that is, there's nothing we need. There's nothing we have to produce. There's nothing we have to change. There's nothing we have to fix. We're not missing something that we need to get, so desire is not necessary. We can find our completeness in every moment, even in a moment of desire arising. We think we need to grasp the object of desire, but we don't. The desire itself is the fulfillment. Every moment is its own completion. When we see that, it is called the wish-less.
So that's how Buddha, at the outset of his teaching, described conditioned reality and how it transforms when our understanding of it transforms – after we accept and investigate reality as it is. The great Mahayana pundits emphasized emptiness as "the mixing and merging of all things." There is nothing apart. There is only the flow of all things mixing and merging together, as we change into and through one another, in the on-going, beginingless, never-ending flux of existence/non-existence.
I've been thinking about this lately. There isn't any thing. There's just this ever-shifting, constant point of meeting. Every moment is a moment of meeting. We are always, in every moment, meeting something. We are met by something, whether it is something inside ourselves, or something outside ourselves. Every moment we're meeting something, and every time we meet, we're utterly changed. It's as if we are disappearing into one another, constantly – moment after moment after moment.
Emptiness is love, compassion, sharing. There's no way we could be here without literally giving ourselves to one another. So the natural and true state of things is to recognize this radical connection to one another and to everything in the world. Therefore it's the most natural thing, and the truest thing, to get over our self-concern and our paranoia. So, reality is love. Reality is caring for one another. It is giving each other to each other. Why? Because there's nothing else. There's nothing separate outside of this big sharing.
So Dogen says,
The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation.[It's not a technique that you have learned to fix the untenable situation that you're in.]It is simply the dharma-gate of repose and bliss,
This sometimes can be a hilarious thing to contemplate when you're sitting there with a pain in your back, and your knees hurt, and your mind is raging, and you say, "Yes, this is the dharma-gate of repose and bliss, just as I always expected." But it is, even then.
It's the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It's the manifestation of ultimate reality. Traps and snares can never reach it.
Even if you are trapped in the snares of your own mind, you're sitting anyway, in the midst of ultimate reality.
Once its heart is grasped [once you understand your own zazen and appreciate it], you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains.
The dragon is the queen of the water. The dragon is comfortable in the water, and no one can touch her in the water. And nobody can harm the tiger in the mountain. The tiger is boss. So when you really find your place in zazen, you're the boss. Nothing can trouble you. You find your spot. You find your place. You find your true security. Whatever happens, it doesn't matter. In that place there is no harm.
Sometimes I say to people that in zazen we are making a new body within the physical body, and that's why the physical body is sometimes having aches and pains. I wonder what it's like for a butterfly to poke its way out of a chrysalis? It might have aches and pains. It might be painful to get out of that constricted situation and open up. That's what is going on when you're suffering a lot in your body and mind in zazen. But when you find that body – which is not the same as, but not different from your physical body – when you find that body in zazen, you feel like a tiger or a dragon.
For you must know that just there in (in zazen) the right dharma [the correct, true dharma] is manifesting itself [manifesting itself; you're not manifesting it], and that from the first dullness and distraction are struck aside.
Even though you may be dull and completely distracted, in reality you see that you're beyond this. That's why when you grasp the heart of zazen, you really feel trust and confidence in your practice. You find your true body on the cushion. Even if you're dull and distracted, even if there's a pain, even if there's a problem, you don't mind. Because you know that something else, more fundamental and stronger than this, is going on. That's where you take your stand. That's where you find your life.
When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Do not rise suddenly or abruptly. In surveying the past, we find transcendence of both unenlightenment and enlightenment, and dying while either sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the strength of zazen.
So our practice is to go beyond enlightenment. Actually, enlightenment is too small a category for us. We have to go beyond enlightenment and unenlightenment. Enlightenment, which is the opposite of unenlightenment, is just part of the story of our life. It is not our goal.
In addition, the bringing about of enlightenment by the opportunity provided by a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and the effecting of realization with the aid of a hossu, a fist, a staff, or a shout cannot be fully understood by discriminative thinking.
The finger and banner are all references to famous stories in Zen – awakening stories. If you notice, all Zen awakening stories are stories of a meeting. The stories are not so and so was sitting in meditation and then enlightenment dawned. They are always stories about some meeting – either with a person, or most often, an encounter between two monastics: a teacher and disciple, or two brother and sister disciples. Sometimes it was the meeting of the mind with the object of the mind, or a perception with an object of perception.
Indeed, it cannot be fully known by the practicing or realizing of supernatural powers either. It must be deportment beyond hearing and seeing – is it not a principle that is prior t knowledge and perceptions?
So the mind is grasping for something, always. We want to grasp our awakening. We want to have an awakening that is graspable – that will give us some kind of satisfaction. But anything that we can grasp and be satisfied with will always be limited and will always disappoint us. Our real awakening must be beyond the reach of perception and discriminative thinking.
All of our experience springs from a pre-reflective ground. The only part of it that we ever see and know is the post-reflective experiences that we have. In zazen we – to whatever extent possible – illuminate that pre-reflective experience. We can't know it as an object, but we can sense it. We can feel it somehow, we can appreciate it, and we can trust it. And when we return to it, over and over again on our cushion, and when we breathe and feel the presence of being, we're coming to trust it. And that is our awakening – and not something that can be an object of perception.
This being the case, intelligence or lack of it does not matter, between the dull and the sharp-witted there is no distinction.
You look around, and it might look like, "Wow, that person is doing really well. They're really doing it right, and I'm falling down on the job." But that's never true. And if the person who is doing it right thinks that they're doing it right, it's a big problem for that person. And if we think that they're doing it right, it's a big problem for that person and for us.
So it doesn't matter how smart we are, or how good we are, or how much it looks like we're doing it right or doing it wrong – it's beyond our knowledge and perceptions. There's no distinction.
If you concentrate your efforts single-mindedly, that in itself is negotiating the way.
In other words, the only point is: Do you make effort? Are you there? Do you try? Do you do your best? If you do that, it is already the way.
Practice-realization is naturally undefiled.
This is a hyphenated word: practice-realization – practice that does not lead to realization, but practice that is realization, that is awakening. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. In other words, it's perfect. It's always perfect. When we show up to practice, it's always perfect.
Going forward in practice is a matter of everydayness.
So that's how we go forward, trying to develop continuity, so that everyday activity – everything that we do – is just part of our zazen, an extension of practice. This is so important in Zen practice – wholeheartedly giving ourselves to every moment of our lives, no matter what it may be, with the spirit of practice. That's what we have to learn how to do, and that's the place where we can all grow, learn, and develop.
In general, this world and other worlds as well, both in India and China, equally hold the buddha-seal [Because the buddha-seal is the seal of reality. Every moment and place of reality is the buddha-seal]; and over all prevails the character of this school, which is simply devotion to sitting, total engagement in immovable sitting. Although it is said that there are as many minds as there are persons, still they all negotiate the way solely in zazen. Why leave behind the seat that exists in your home and go aimlessly off to the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep you go astray from the way directly before you.
This sounds, on the surface of it, a little narrow-minded. Did you know that all of reality comes down to Soto Zen Buddhism? [Laughter] And all spiritual practices are no good except for zazen in the way we do it? Sounds like he is saying that. But one of the most profound and beautiful aspects of Dogen's teaching is the way that his view is both narrow and vast. In one and the same text he says that everything is perfect as it is, and then he says, "Be sure to get your left leg on your right thigh."
It's kind of strange when you think about this text – that funny combination of very specific, mundane instructions and the very vast understanding. So I don't think he means that our mission here is to convert the entire universe to Soto Zen Buddhism. He means that the zazen we are practicing is the buddha-seal of reality – it is just reality itself. Even though for us it takes the form of this very specific activity, in fact, the real content of what we're doing is without limit. After all, he just finished telling us, "What is zazen? It is the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment." Elsewhere he says that it has nothing to do with sitting or standing, walking or lying down. By "zazen" Dogen means both, "Sit in this way and breathe," and he means zazen is the Truth. Zazen reaches everywhere, with all beings doing zazen all the time.
You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form.
We don't think of this, but we don't have to be here as human beings. It's a big universe, right? It's not part of our ordinary experience, but intellectually we all know how big the universe is and how small this planet is. Who knows if there are any other creatures like us, or anything at all like us, anywhere else in this vast, huge universe? So how do we get to be here? This is a pivotal, rare opportunity.
So how do we get here? According to Buddhism, due to long, positive actions of the past, we appear here. So we are all already excellent practitioners. You wouldn't be here in human form if you hadn't already done a lot of good practice. Maybe you did a few bad things also – that's why there are some problems – but basically you wouldn't be here without many, many lifetimes of the practice of kindness and devotion. It's mainly the practice of kindness and devotion that gets you into the human world.
You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. [So this is a rare opportunity – a pivotal one – because it's from this human world that we can awaken. So it's a very important opportunity.] Do not use your time in vain. You are maintaining the essential working of the buddha way. Who would take wasteful delight in the spark from a flintstone?
So don't waste time. Don't waste something that is like a flash. If you're looking for that one spark from a flintstone, you wouldn't want to waste that spark – you need that to light a fire. Human life is like a spark that lights that fire, so let's not waste the spark.
Besides, form and substance are like the dew on the grass, destiny like the dart of lightning – emptied in an instant, vanished in a flash.
Life is so short – it is a little scary. How fast it goes by. Five years, ten years – it's nothing. There's a stock phrase, "Practice for thirty years." I used to think, "Wow, that's a long time." But I have been practicing for more than thirty-five years, and it has gone by really fast. I'm just kind of getting into this, you know. I feel like a beginner. I'm getting used to it. I'm just getting into it, but there is still a long way to go. Thirty-five years went by, and it was a flash. Where did it go? Very fast – like the dew. A flash of light – that's how fast it is. Life comes and goes. Life comes and goes very quickly. We don't need to worry so much. Just as dew makes beautiful jewels on the grasses, we appreciate it, it's gone, and we don't worry about it. =So live life and don't waste time. Use the opportunity – don't worry, but use the opportunity.
Please, honored followers of Zen. Long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not be suspicious of the true dragon.
You all know the ancient, Indian story about the elephant, right? Several blind men want to describe the elephant. One grabs the ears, and another grabs the tail, and they all think it is a different elephant. They don't see the whole elephant. So he's saying, "Don't blindly search around for partial answers to your human dilemma, as you have been doing all this time. When you have a chance to grasp the true dragon in full, total, spiritual practice, do it."
Devote your energies to a way that directly indicates the true dragon. Devote your energies to a way that directly indicates the absolute. Revere the person of complete attainment who is beyond all human agency.
Who would that be? That would be you. That would be your actual self. That would be the absolute dimension of your self. Revere that person.
Gain accord with the enlightenment of the buddhas; succeed to the legitimate lineage of the ancestors' samadhi. Constantly perform in such a manner and you are assured of being a person such as they. Your treasure-store [of your heart, which may be locked up, without finding the key, without banging on it to get it open] will open of itself, and you will use it at will.
So that's how Dogen ends the Fukanzazengi.