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Genjokoan – Dharma Seminar (Talk 2 of 4)

By: Norman Fischer, Zoketsu Norman Fischer | 05/10/2006
Location: Deer Run Zendo
In Topics: Dogen Studies

Part Two of Four Talks on Dogen’s Genjokoan published in “Moon in a Dewdrop”, one of his most important and poetic works on the Dharma, Practice, and Enlightenment.

Genjokoan – Dharma Seminar (Talk 2 of 4)

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | May 10, 2006


Abridged and edited by Ryūsen Barbara Byrum


I thought I would start tonight with a brief review of what we talked about in the text. We had a great time last week, as I recall, with the first famous opening lines of Genjokoan:

As all things are buddha-dharma, there is delusion, realization, practice, birth and death, and there are buddhas and sentient beings. As the myriad things are without an abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth and death. The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many and the one.

We took this phrase "the many and the one" to be a technical term – meaning the unity and differentiation of everything; the oneness and multiplicity of everything.

The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many and the one [going beyond the many and the one]; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas. [So it is a kind of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.]

Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.

So the human world is radically affirmed, even though we understand its problems, and we know they are problems. We still affirm the beauty of those very problems and of the whole human world

To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion.

Well, this is just pretty much what we do, right? It's ordinary life. We are sallying forth into the world and having experiences. We are over here, facing the world, which may contain within it some things that we want and may contain within it some things that we don't want. And we might have to battle it out with the forces of the universe to make our place under the sun and get what we want. This is what we do. This is life – to carry yourself forward and experience myriad things. Ordinary life, with our ordinary motivations and our ordinary view of things, is the definition of delusion.

Then that's contrasted and balanced with the next sentence,

That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.

So, in this translation, there seems to be the second version of reality, which is being called awakening. We don't appear in here, notice? Things are coming forward and experiencing themselves. What about us? Where are we in all this? So on the one hand, we go forward and we meet the world. We might meet it kindly. We might meet it with a paranoid point of view. To go out and meet the world and have experiences of myriad things in the world is a delusion. To allow the world to come forth and experience itself is awakening.

So one question I have when I read that is, "Where are we?" We are in the world. We are the world. That's the point. We're not over here, facing a world that we have to do battle with, or be nice to, or whatever. We are the world. I had a particularly quiet and peaceful sitting this evening, and part of the experience is that you hear sounds, there are sensations in the body, a thought comes or goes, or the breath comes and goes. There's no thing that says, "This experience is me, and those experiences are not me." My whole life is "me" and "not me" all mixed up together. In other words, the only world that I will ever know, that anyone of us will ever know as human beings, is the world of our experience. And the world of our experience is not divided up into what's me and not me. It's just experience, experience, experience. Things arising, things arising, things arising. So to allow things to arise and experience themselves, without the feeling that we are amassing experience, that we are shaping experience, that we are using experience, but allowing experience to come and go, as it arises and falls, including what we call ourselves – this is the myriad things coming forth and experiencing themselves as awakening.

That's awakening. Just to allow things to come and go. Isn't that nice? And I think the way he puts it is also really, really nice. Just to bear witness and allow, rather than to separate and define oneself as outside of experience, outside of the world. Whatever arises would be perfectly fine – just allowing things to arise and be experienced. There's no sense of possessiveness. There's no sense of separation. There's no sense of evaluation. There's no sense of grasping or shaping. To let things come forward and experience themselves.

That's awakening. We think of awakening as carrying ourselves forward and experiencing awakening! We want to carry ourselves forward and experience awakening so that we'll be better off! But you can see the problem with that strategy, because awakening is exactly not that. Awakening is to let things come and go, without carrying oneself forward seeking anything.

That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening. Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; [And again, everything in this section of the Genjokoan is perfectly balanced. He says one thing, then he says the opposite side.] those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings.

Sentient beings are the opposite of buddhas. Sentient beings by their nature are confused creatures, lost in the forest of samsara, and buddhas are creatures who are able to negotiate the forest of samsara, as if it were a peaceful grove. So, in other words, there is no enlightenment. There is no realization. There's this constant tendency, I think, to imagine enlightenment or realization as a particular state. I think it comes from our past history of drugs, and the drugs that are constantly being offered to us in this society. "If you take this drug, you'll feel that way."

So we're looking for a state that we can inhabit, that we might call awakening, or realization, or enlightenment. But here he is saying that enlightenment or realization is not a state. Realization is simply understanding delusion – completely embracing and understanding delusion. If you are completely messed up, and you know you're messed up, and you embrace the being messed up – that is awakening. "I am very angry right now. I know that I am very angry right now, and I'm not trying to get out of it, and I'm not trying to justify it, and I'm not feeling guilty about it. I just know that I am angry and know the nature of this anger. I am being this anger." That's what he's saying. To really realize delusion – that is being Buddha. There's no special state. Just to realize your state and embrace it, whatever it might be. If I am angry right now, there's a reason. Karmic conditions have arisen to make me angry. So if I accept that and embrace it, that is realization.

On the other hand, sentient beings are in a state of misery because they're deluded about realization. "I'm miserable now, and somehow things could be better. Who's to blame for my present misery? Me? I'm guilty. Her? I'm angry." So we're projecting some idealized, or even improved state, unwilling to embrace the condition of this moment, and so we make trouble for ourselves.

So that is an astonishing statement and completely switches our concept of what it is to try to realize enlightenment.

Further, there are those who continue realizing beyond realization, who are in delusion throughoutdelusion.

Don't think that realization is a final stopping place. The chances of deepening this embracing of the present moment, embracing of what we are, are endless. You could realize beyond realizing.

When buddhas are truly buddhas, they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas. However, they are actualized buddhas, who go on actualizing buddhas.

I think this means they don't know it. They don't experience: "Oh, I'm a buddha. I've got this figured out." They think, "I'm anger. I'm peace. I'm happiness. I'm under the sky. I have a stomach ache." They don't think "I am a buddha." They just embrace their conditions, and if they were to think that they were buddhas, this would already be not to be buddha in that moment. Because what would they be doing? They would be projecting a state, or something they would be naming or calling a buddha, and in doing that, they would then be removed from their true Buddhahood, in their experience of the moment. However, even though they don't notice it, they are actualized buddhas in fact and experience.

When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you grasp things directly.

Or we could say, you grasp things intimately. I would prefer to say it that way: "You grasp things intimately." It's the same word; it could be translated that way. This is very like how we practice in zazen. Grasping forms and hearing sounds with a fully engaged body and mind. In other words, we're just there for it. We're not evaluating; we're not instrumentalizing. We're not making use of it, or even naming it. We're just letting things completely advance and experience themselves.

So in zazen there is an intimacy and immediacy of experience that we can know and in which we can train our hearts. That is a virtue, I think, of doing zazen on a regular basis. This experience can be something within yourself or outside yourself. It could be something you hear or see, or it could be a thought or a feeling or an insight that arises. To embrace it fully, engaging all of body and mind, is to be intimate with experience.

Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon and its reflection in the water, when one side is illuminated, the other side is dark.

Well, I thought about that part for about ten years, and read many, many commentaries. It's a little misleading that one side is illuminated and the other side is dark. I believe, and this I get from the commentaries, that what Dogen is saying here is that things and their reflection in the mirror, and the moon and its reflection in the water, are two things. Right? There's a thing over here, the reflection is over there; the moon is over here, and the reflection on the water is over there – so there is a division between the two. But, when we experience things directly and intimately, with our whole body and mind, there are not two things. There's only one thing that is illuminated. Illumination stands for the myriad differentiated things of the world, which do appear when you turn the lights on. But when you turn the lights off, it's all one. In darkness everything is the same.

So when you see one thing illuminated, everything is there. That is one of the most salient thoughts of the Zen tradition, and it's why Zen is so picky about so many things. "No, don't bow that way. Bow this way. Put your spoon over here." I was meeting with a bunch of people yesterday, and they asked me about oryoki. I was explaining to them about oryoki., eating in the formal style. They thought it funny, annoying, or they didn't know what to think. What they didn't know, as we learn about oryoki., is the idea that when you are lifting up the bowl, you are lifting up the whole universe. When you experience the bowl with whole body and mind, everything is there.

That's the training. When we say, "I'm confused and upset, because I don't know how to change the suffering world," then we are forgetting this truth. We can change the suffering world by drinking a bowl of tea. This is the teaching of Zen. Just by taking a mindful breath, just by being aware in a moment, we illuminate one thing, and the entire world comes with it. This is not to say that we should spend all our time drinking tea and not run around and change the world. We can run around saving the world, but never forgetting this teaching.

All the enlightenment and all the transformation we need is to fully meet one thing that comes. And in every moment one thing comes.

The next part is a very famous part that is always quoted from Dogen, and I am sure that you all have heard it many, many times. Probably you know it by heart.

To study the buddha way is to study the self.

That's the beginning. I would take that to mean that the first thing to do, if you want to study the Buddha way, is to begin to be radically honest with your self – to be willing to admit, "This is how I feel. This is how I am. This is how it really is for me in this moment." I think we can all see the tremendous extent to which we censor ourselves and shape our experience to suit what we think would be good, would be acceptable, would be honorable – whatever adjectives you want to use. And we can use Buddhism to reinforce those preconceptions. "Buddhism is nice, and I want to be nice, and I should be nice, and I am nice." And maybe we are. When we're nice, we really should be honest about it. "I was really nice there – when I was good, when I was kind." And when we're rotten, we need to know, "That was really pretty rotten there. I really have these pretty rotten impulses."

So, "To study the buddha way is to study the self," means to me to begin by being very honest and to keep the eyes open to what arises within oneself.

To study the self is to forget the self.

When we are focused on our own impulses and experiences, we need to start there, but in the end, we have to get over ourselves. We are all so concerned about ourselves. It's kind of ridiculous in a way, how concerned we are, even when we have good spiritual aspirations. We really want to be something or other. So when you study the self and you are really honest with yourself, you see there is just a flow of experience, inside and out. As we were saying before, in zazen you see things arising and passing away. Some of them, you could say, are outside yourself. Some of them are inside yourself. But, really, it is all inside and it is all outside. So when you really study the self, the result of that is that you forget the self. You're not so focused on yourself. You see that life is a process, and you're part of that process. What arises within you is part of that, but it's not the center of it.

To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things.

This is a very liberating possibility – to see something appearing in your life that's not you, and be awakened by that thing, and appreciate that thing, and embrace that thing, and be embraced by that thing. So when you get off of so much self-concern, you see how many helpers you have, everywhere, and how much scope there is to your life.

When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away.

For those of you who have studied Dogen before, you know that this is a very important phrase for Dogen – "body and mind dropping away." It is a phrase that refers to Dogen's own satori experience. According to Dogen's diaries, he was sitting up all night long, and Rujing, who was an elderly person at the time, would either stay up all night with the monks, or set his alarm and wake up in the middle of the night. He would walk up and down and encourage them in their search for enlightenment. Once when he was doing this, one of the monks near Dogen fell asleep. Rujing said, "Don't you know that buddha-dharma is dropping body and mind? How in the world could you be here sleeping?" and he whacked him with his slipper. When Dogen heard this, he was awakened.

Dogen doesn't refer to it that often, but the phrase "body and mind dropping away" was important to him. It sounds like some lurid experience like vacancy; but I think what it means is not that all of a sudden we think that we're not there, but that we're free of attachment to the body and the mind. Of course, naturally, we're quite attached to the body and the mind. But to be free of that, and to allow the body to be the body and the mind to be the mind, and to understand that the whole nature of the body and mind can't be grasped, is the liberation that Dogen experienced in that moment.

So when you are actualized by the myriad things in the way that he described, the next stage is that your body and mind, as well as the body and mind of others, drop away. So you don't have the experience, "Look at this! I did it! I just got awakened!" That's not the way it feels. It feels more like, "This is the way it is. This is how it's always been for all of us. I didn't know that before. Everybody else is just the same as me. I'm not on some higher plateau from the others. We're all just this way. It's always been so." So the body and mind of oneself, as well as the bodies and minds of others, drop away.

No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

It's not a big deal, and it's a traceless realization. This no-trace continues endlessly, because that's the only thing that could continue endlessly, because it doesn't have any marks, it doesn't have any grasp. It's an ongoing, constant existence, beyond existence and non-existence.

So this is a very, very important saying of Dogen's, which you could say encapsulates the whole of the path that Dogen sets forth in all his writings. To study the Buddha Way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things; to be actualized by myriad things is to experience your body and mind, as well as the bodies and minds of others, drop away. No trace of this remains, and this no-trace goes on and on and on and on, endlessly. So there's not a feeling of, "Aha, I accomplished this great thing I'm trying to do," but rather, "Ah, I am so lucky and happy to be able to continue this ongoing, peaceful exploration of practice, forever and ever and ever, lifetime after lifetime after lifetime – what a blessing. Isn't this what life actually is and has always been for everyone – not just for me, but for all human beings – this search for meaning and understanding and peace and loving all the things of the world? Isn't that what we were all born for? Isn't that what it has always been about?" And there's no end to that search and that discovery.

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