Dharma Talk on
Eihei Dogen Zenji's
Genjokoan

Read Part 2 here.

Reprinted by permission from the Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter, August and September, 2005.


I think it's important for everyone to have some understanding of "Genjokoan" since our practice comes from Dogen as well as our understanding. When you study his Shobogenzo you can see how each fascicle relates in some way to this one fascicle. Since "Genjokoan" is the touchstone for the whole Shobogenzo, Dogen's most well-known collection of writings, it's important to have some feeling for it.

First, I'll talk about the title "Genjokoan." Genjo means something like "manifesting in the present" or "the immediacy of the present." There are various ways that we can look at the term, koan, but I think that in the case of "Genjokoan" what follows is the best explanation. Ko means "equality" and an is "difference," or "momentary." Ko is like "even" or "still": that with which everything can identify. An is particular, vertical, active, something individual. Where the vertical and horizontal meet is genjo—this, right now, all inclusive moment.

Translators have different interpretations for the title. Kim says, "The Realization Koan." Cleary says, "The Issue at Hand." Maezumi says, "The Issue of Life." Kaz Tanahashi uses, "Actualizing the Fundamental Point." So there are these various ways people translate the title, all of which have validity.

Where the vertical and the horizontal meet is called the Dhama Position for each thing. Everything has its Dharma Position on each moment, and the Dharma Position of each individual existence is absolute as well as relative. An is an expression of ko, and ko is the essence of an. An is ko and ko is an and ko is ko and an is an.

Dogen's first paragraph presents four propositions. These four propositions form the cornerstone of the whole fascicle. The rest is elucidation. Although there are several ways to look at these four propositions, I will present the one most people agree is Dogen's.

He begins by saying, "When all dharmas are buddha-dharma there are enlightenment and delusion, practice, birth and death, Buddhas, and creatures." Then, the second one, "When the ten thousand dharmas are without self, there are no delusion, no enlightenment, no Buddhas, no creatures, no birth and no death." The third one, "The Buddha Way transcends being and non-being; therefore there are birth and death, delusion and enlightenment, creatures and Buddhas." The fourth one is, "Nevertheless, flowers fall with our attachment and weeds spring upwith our aversion." These are four ways of looking at reality from the point of view of enlightenment.

The first one, "When all dharmas are buddha-dharma, there are enlightenment and delusion, practice, birth and death, Buddhas and creatures," is looking at existence from the conditioned side. This is our usual way of seeing things. We see what's in front of us, and we feel, we touch, and we hear in the realm of the senses, the realm of tangibility. "When all dharmas..." All dharmas means all things, in the wide sense of the word. When means, when we realize all dharmas as they really are. "When all dharmas are seen as buddha-nature there are enlightenment and delusion, practice, birth and death, Buddhas and creatures." He presents these polarities. The only term he presents that is not a dualism is practice. Practice is the non-dual catalyst for realization.

He then says, "When the ten thousand dharmas are without self, there is no delusion, no enlightenment, no Buddhas, no creatures, no birth, and no death." This is looking at life from the point of view of non-being. The first sentence is looking at life from the point of view of an. This sentence is from the point of view of ko—the horizontal. Here there is no comparison, no division; before the arising of discrimination. There is nothing coming up. This is the matrix of life, where there is no special form or color.

Then he says, "The Buddha Way transcends being and non-being,"—or leaps beyond—goes beyond being and non-being; leaping clear of the many and the one. "Therefore there are birth and death, delusion and enlightenment, creatures and Buddhas." "Therefore" may seem a little strange here because therefore means because or it follows. "The Buddha Way leaps clear of the many and the one, being and non-being, therefore there are birth and death, delusion and enlightenment, creatures and Buddhas." This is like "form is emptiness and emptiness is form" in the Heart Sutra.

The first proposition is looking at everything from the point of view of existence. The second is looking at it from the point of view of non-existence. And the third is looking from the point of view of beyond existence and non-existence—beyond affirmation and negation. We consider it from the point of view of ocean and waves. The first proposition is waves; the second is ocean. Waves are the expression of the ocean.

Ocean is the fundamental essence of waves. Ocean has no special shape or form, but the waves express the activity—or practice—of the ocean. Then he says, "The Buddha Way transcends being and non-being." This is the water and the waves' total dynamic functioning—beyond being and non-being, beyond water and waves. Water and the waves are practicing together inextricably intertwined, going beyond water and waves.

Lastly he says, "Nevertheless, flowers fall with our attachment and weeds spring up with our aversion." "Flowers" is like enlightenment, or something that we want—something wonderful. "Weeds" are something that we don't want or don't like. Nevertheless, flowers fall with our wanting or clinging, and weeds spring up with our aversion. Every moment we have to make a choice. We either accept something or push something away. Attachment and aversion are what we are always dealing with. In zazen we go beyond grasping and aversion and sit with just this. This is enlightenment within delusion, delusion within enlightenment, which is what Dogen talks about next.

These are four views, or ways of looking at the non-duality of duality and the duality of non-duality. It's not that one is right or one is wrong, or we go from one to another, but looking at something from all sides. Even though we have good understanding, flowers fall with our grasping and weeds sprout up with our aversion. We are always dealing with this fact of life. Even though we say "No I," or "No Self," it feels like a self. It definitely feels like a self. Even though we talk about going beyond suffering, it still feels like suffering. Even though we love certain things, at some point they are out of reach, and even though we dislike certain things, at some point they're right in our face.

Following the first four propositions, Dogen gives us four other propositions; four couplets; four ways of looking at enlightenment and delusion. Dogen doesn't ask us to get rid of delusion in order to have enlightenment but realize that enlightenment and delusion go hand in hand. One of the most fundamental propositions of Soto Zen is that ordinary people and Buddhas are not two. We are Buddhas and at the same time ordinary human beings.

Dogen continues: "To carry the self forward in order to realize the ten thousand Dharmas is delusion" "That the ten thousand Dharmas advance and realize the self is enlightenment." That's the first couplet. "To carry the self forward in order to realize the ten thousand Dharmas," is egocentricity or self-centeredness. The delusion is to separate subject and object, to see our self only as a separate subject surrounded by an objective world we experience as other, oblivious of the basic oneness which is shared by all.

Dogen then says, "That the ten thousand Dharmas advance and realize the self is enlightenment." To realize that there is no fundamental separation between myself as a subject and the ten thousand interdependent Dharmas is enlightenment. The whole universe is responsible for my existence. To see our self in whatever it is that we meet is enlightenment. When we allow the ten thousand Dharmas to advance, the ten thousand Dharmas verify the self as the self. It is said that a fool sees himself self as other, while the sage sees others as her self. But there is another way of looking at these two sentences. It's that the self does advance, and the dharmas advance as well. When the self advances, the self turns the dharmas. And when the dharmas advance, the dharmas turn the self. This is also Dogen's understanding.

We don't live in a vacuum. We live in relationship. When we engage things, when we turn the dharmas, we are in the assertive position and the dharmas are in the submissive position. When the dharmas turn us, the dharmas are in the strong position and we are in the submissive position. And we have to know how to engage in each moment. It is selfless Dharma play, turning with things and allowing ourselves to be turned by things, to drive the wave and ride the wave at the same time. Dancing with life, life creates me, and I bring life to life. It's not a matter of which is delusion and which is enlightenment. This is how we practice as Zen students. When a teacher observes a students' behavior, the teacher is always looking at how the student creates harmony in this way. Is the student being too pushy, throwing their weight around, coming on too strong? That person needs to make an effort to allow herself to be moved by things more. And when someone is only moved around by things and doesn't assert himself, then you want to encourage him to take more initiative.

There are those who have assertive personalities and those who hold back. So we would like those who hold back to come out more and the assertive ones to restrain themselves. This often comes from fear of asserting ourselves due to lack of confidence, or overly asserting due to fear of being restrained. How to find that balance is an aspect of practice. When we have that balance everything falls into place and we are less apt to be submissive to our self-centeredness.

Then Dogen goes on to say, "It is Buddhas who enlighten delusion. It is creatures who are deluded in enlightenment." When we realize what is delusion, that's enlightenment. People ask, "What is enlightenment?" It is important at this point to understand that although there is no way to definitively explain what enlightenment is, there are limitless ways to express it. One expression of enlightenment is realizing what delusion is. But Dogen says, "It is creatures that are deluded in enlightenment," and yes, within enlightenment, within our enlightened life there is delusion.

So what is delusion and what is enlightenment?Delusion is actually a term for this ephemeral, dualistic realm of activity. It is partiality driven by greed and ill will—the inability to perceive the underlying reality. Just the very fact of life, this dream we live in, is delusive because we believe in it too much. An enlightened person is able to see clearly through the facade of the samsaric play, and at the same time, to play out their part in the drama free of attachment. As a Buddhist, we have to somehow enter into this play out of compassion for others as well as our self without being engulfed by it. This is a form of enlightened practice. The enlightened person enters into delusion with all beings, not holding aloof, and becomes thoroughly drenched in delusion, thoroughly one with this deluded life. At that time delusion is enlightenment. We can't escape our life by pulling away. We can only find our freedom by entering, and then it's not an escape. When we enter, willingly opening ourselves to the pain, it no longer has to be suffering.

When we find our true home in zazen, we will not be lost regardless of the circumstances. We have an opportunity to help people in a fundamental way. Dogen continues, "Further, there are those who attain enlightenment beyond enlightenment and there are those who are deluded within delusion." Attaining "enlightenment beyond enlightenment" is beyond the duality of enlightenment and delusion. There is enlightenment and there is delusion, and this is a duality. There is something beyond that duality. It is enlightenment beyond enlightenment. At that point one is no longer concerned about delusion or enlightenment. It is not indifference, but rather Unity attained, as in Master Dongshan's "Fifth rank of the seeming and the real." Those who are "Deluded within delusion" refers to when totally deluded, which is the same as when "Enlightened beyond enlightenment."

Dogen says, "When Buddhas are truly Buddhas, one need not be aware of being Buddha. However, one is the realized Buddha and further advances in realizing Buddha." Both delusion and enlightenment are aspects of Buddha Nature. Rather than eliminating delusion in order to have enlightenment, we must establish our practice within our delusion. If we wait until there is no delusion before we begin to practice, no one will be practicing. Delusion is the environment in which enlightenment flourishes. As it is said, "We live in muddy water with purity like a lotus." The lotus grows in muddy water, but the mud does not stick. Suzuki Roshi said that our delusions are like compost. We put them around the base of the plant for nourishment.

Dogen continues, "When Buddhas are truly Buddhas, one need not be aware of being Buddha, however, one is the realized Buddha, and further advances in realizing Buddha." It is Buddha who is sitting zazen. As my old teacher said, "We are half Buddha and half ordinary being." Because we are Buddha, we can actualize Buddha. Because we are ordinary, we can actualize ordinary. Buddha is one with me and I am one with Buddha. During zazen I am totally absorbed in Buddha. In daily activity Buddha is totally absorbed in me—one person sometimes called Buddha and sometimes called ordinary being. Our practice is to be Buddha-centered instead of self-centered. We just sit without thinking about it as something special.

Then Dogen says, "Seeing forms with the whole body and mind, hearing sounds with the whole body and mind, one understands them intimately, yet it is not like a mirror with reflections, or like water under the moon. When one side is realized, the other is dark." There is no gap. Seeing sees, hearing hears, directly, without the reflex of comparative thinking. Whole body and mind is the important point here. The understanding of non-duality revolves around this point of not separating body and mind. Seeing forms with the whole body and mind means to engage totally. Dogen uses the term, gujin, which means thoroughness. Specifically, he's talking about zazen, but he's also talking about all of our activity—to do one thing thoroughly. He is asking us to engage in a seemingly insignificant task with the same attention, focus, and thoroughness as we would a seemingly vital and important one—this is not to be confused with becoming overly fussy and meticulous. Suzuki Roshi said, "You people have a saying, ‘To kill two birds with one stone.' Our practice is to kill one bird with one stone."

Then Dogen says, "It is not like a mirror with reflections, nor like water under the moon. When one side is realized, the other side is dark." Here he seems to be talking about birth and death. The mirror and its reflection are two things. But, he says, it's not like two things. It's like, at the time of birth there is just birth, and death is concealed. At the time of death there is just death, and birth is concealed. But they're not two things. There are two things from one point of view, but from another they are not. One does not turn into the other. It's like looking at the moon. When we see the light side of the moon, we don't see the dark side. When the moon is dark, we don't see the light side. But the light side is there and the dark side is there at the same time. Suzuki Roshi says that there is one thing. Sometimes we call it birth and sometimes we call it death. Because there is only one thing there is nothing to be reflected, like the moon on the water. He uses that analogy later to make a different point, saying that it is like the moon reflected in the water, but that's not a contradiction, it's a different simile.


© 2005 Sojun Mel Weitsman