The Fukanzazengi
Revisited: 2009

Rohatsu Sesshin Talk Number 1

by Josho Pat Phelan

Clear as pure light, no inside or outside ó
Is there any body or mind to be shed?


I feel really grateful to be sitting sesshin here, now, with you. I would like to express my deep gratitude to everyone who put in the time and effort to get sesshin up and running, including clearing time from your jobs and other responsibilities to be here.

Dogen wrote, "In the buddha-dharma, practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginnerís wholehearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment." The unity of practice and enlightenment is characteristic of Soto Zen. The words original enlightenment, inherent enlightenment, Buddha nature and unconditioned nature, are used interchangeably as our fundamental nature Ė as the most fundamental characteristic of who we are. Soto Zen considers inherent, original enlightenment as what enables us to practice or what does the practice, when we are able to step out of the way and allow it.

This sesshin I want to focus on Dogenís way of practice as taught in the "Fukanzazengi." But first I want to talk about Dogen. Dogen was born in Japan in 1200 into an aristocratic ruling family; but when he was two years old, his father died and five years later his mother died. As he sat with his motherís body, he noticed the incense smoke rise and curl and disappear into the air which reminded him of the impermanence of life. From this deep sense of impermanence, he decided to become a Buddhist monk and left home and entered a Tendai Buddhist monastery when he was about thirteen. As a child, Dogen was unusually precocious. When he was four years old, he read not only Japanese, but also Chinese characters including Chinese poetry written in classical Chinese; and when he was nine, he read the 8-volume Abhidharmakosa which is a detailed explication of the very philosophical teaching of Buddhist psychology, which he also read in Chinese. If Dogen lived today, he would be considered a child prodigy.

When he was fourteen, after having practiced in the Tendai monastery for about a year studying both Mahayana and earlier Buddhism, a deep doubt surfaced which took the form, "If all people are endowed with Buddha Nature, as the sutras teach, why do we have to train so strenuously to realize Buddha Nature?" His Tendai teacher was unable to respond in a way that satisfied his question, and Dogen was referred to Master Eisai, a Rinzai Zen teacher. Rinzai Zen became established in Japan with Eisaiís return from practicing in China in 1187. Before that several Japanese monks traveled to China and practiced Rinzai Zen, but when they returned they were not able to establish a lineage, so Zen practice disappeared when they died. Eisai also brought the tea plant back when he returned to Japan and began cultivating it.

Dogen brought his question to Eisai, "If all people are endowed with Buddha Nature, why do we have to train so strenuously to realize it?" Eisai replied, "All Buddhas in the three times are unaware that they are endowed with the Buddha Nature, but cats and oxen are well aware of it indeed!" This is taken to mean that the Buddhas, precisely because they are Buddhas, no longer think of having or not having Buddha-nature, that only the animal-like or grossly deluded think in terms of having Buddha-nature. Based on this exchange, Dogen had his first realization and decided to stay and become Eisaiís disciple; but, unfortunately, Eisai died the following year. Or this is the story that was accepted as history until recently; but more recent scholarship hasnít been able to confirm whether or not Dogen actually met Eisai before he died. However, about this time Dogen did begin studying with Eisaiís disciple Myozen which he did for 9 years, until they both decided to make the dangerous trip to China seeking a mature teacher, when Dogen was twenty-three.

After arriving in China, Dogen visited different teachers before finding Ryu Jing or Tendo Nyojo who was to be his main teacher under whom Dogenís practice and insight matured. One morning when Ryu Jing was circumambulating the zendo, at the beginning of zazen, he found a monk dozing. Dogen heard Ryu Jing scolding the dozing monk, saying, "The practice of zazen is the dropping away of body and mind. What do you expect to accomplish by dozing?" We donít know if Ryu Jing was aware of the ripeness of Dogenís mind and was deliberately trying to stimulate his realization. Iíve heard that when Suzuki Roshi wanted to correct or point something out to one student, that sometimes he would do it indirectly by saying something to a nearby person instead. But in any case, when Dogen heard this, he had a realization and went to Ryu Jingís room and offered incense and bowed. When Ryu- Jing asked why he was doing this, Dogen said, "Body and mind have been dropped, that is why I have come!" Ryu Jing approved saying, "Body and mind have been dropped; you have dropped body and mind! But Dogen, perhaps thinking that Ryu Jing was being too agreeable said, "Donít give me your sanction so readily" And Ryu Jing said, "I am not sanctioning you so readily." I used to find this role reversal, of Dogen a foreigner in China, at age twenty-four or twenty-five, scolding his eminent Chinese teacher for not being strict enough...rather strange, and I felt suspicious about whether it actually happened like this. According to the story, Dogen then said, "Show me that you are not sanctioning me too readily." And Ryu Jing approving Dogenís realization said, "This is body and mind dropped." Dogen bowed again and Ryu Jing added, "That is dropping dropped."

This reminds me of Dogen writing in the "Genjokoan," "no trace of realization remains and this no-trace continues endlessly." In Buddhist practice, not only do we drop our delusions, we also let go of our realizations, leaving us with no place to get stuck or with anything to attach to, so no trace of realization is left. Sometimes when people arenít mature in their practice and experience an early or partial realization, they may feel pride which is referred to as the stink of realization or the stink of enlightenment. Zen values ordinariness. After this experience, Dogen continued training with Ryu Jing for two more years. In Zen, practicing with a teacher both before and after realization is considered important for a practitioner to mature.

Recently I read that this exchange between Dogen and Ryu Jing first appeared, not in Dogenís diary from his time in China as had been assumed, but in the book Transmission of the Light, a collection of the enlightenment stories of the Zen ancestors whose names we chant in service. This was written by Dogenís fourth generation successor, Keizan Zenji who was born after Dogen died. Although it is unlikely that this exchange is historical, I find Keizanís presentation or creation of it encouraging because it is such a good expression of Dogenís teaching of nonduality and "traceless enlightenment;" and it indicates that Keizan understood and was continuing Dogenís Way. Keizan ended this account with a verse: Clear as pure light, no inside or outside ó Is there any body or mind to be shed?

In this dialogue Dogen used the phrase shinjin datsuraku which has been translated as, "dropping body and mind," the "falling away of body and mind," "shedding body and mind," and "freeing body and mind;" and Dogen used it frequently in his teaching. Katagiri Roshi said that the second character, "datsu" means emancipation or freedom, like a snake shedding it skin. Sometimes when people hear this expression, they imagine some kind of literal, physical metamorphosis in which the body falls apart or disintegrates during enlightenment, but thatís not what Dogen meant. Uchiyama Roshi uses the metaphor of opening the hand of thought for this. He said if we open the hand of thought, the things we make up inside our head fall away, this is the "the falling away of body and mind." Letting go of our conceptualizations or conceptualized world, is how we drop body and mind. What we are dropping is separation, the self that separates itself from everything else. When we let go of the artificial separation created by discriminating consciousness, the boundaries of our own body and mind as well as the boundaries we perceive outside fall away, and we are left with our direct, unmediated experience.

Shohaku Okumura Roshi said that we grasp our selves or define our selves through categories such as rich or poor, capable, competent, or incompetent, a mother, father, husband, and so on. He said, "These are the selves created by karma. When we sit in zazen and let go, all these self images are ungrasped....all these concepts drop off. Our body and mind are released from karmic bonds. This is what "datsuraku," or dropping, means." When Dogen was in China, he asked Ryu Jing, "What is the mind of a bodhisattva?" Ryu Jing replied, "It is soft, flexible mind..." "... [it]is the willingness to let go of body and mind."

In 1227, when Dogen was twenty-seven, he returned to Japan to teach what he called the "true Buddhism" he had learned from Ryu Jing. Japanese Soto Zen is considered to have begun with Dogenís return. Soon after this, Dogen began writing the "Fukanzazengi" or " Universal Guidelines for the Practice of Zazen." This two-page teaching is Dogenís main meditation manual and it is the most cherished text in Soto Zen, coming close to being treated as a sutra. In Japanese monasteries it is traditional to chant it each night at the end of zazen. Even though it is a short work, Dogen considered it important enough to continue working on for almost twenty-six years until it reached the form we now chant.

According to Maezumi Roshi the "Fukanzazengi" actually began with a phrase that was commonly used as a formal opening in Buddhist writings at this time, but which is not included in our translation: "After searching exhaustively, he came to realize...." If we add this the "Fukanzazengi" would begin, "After searching exhaustively, he came to realize that the Way is basically perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent upon practice and realization? The Dharma-vehicle is free and untrammeled. What need is there for concentrated effort? Indeed, the Whole Body is far beyond the worldís dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart form one right where one is. What is the use of going off here and there to practice?

Dogen began with these four questions that restate his own early doubt, "if enlightened mind is inherent, why do we have to work so hard to realize it?" These opening questions, have several references to earlier Zen literature. In the first, the word "Way" means original awakening, enlightenment, or Reality, and so the first line means, "Reality is fundamentally perfect and complete, unhindered and all-pervading." How could it be contingent upon practice and realization? Katagiri Roshi brings another nuance to this line. He said that it means the"origin or root of the Way," which he said means "the Way is the origin of existence" or truth itself.

This refers to a dialogue between Huai-rang and his teacher, the Sixth Ancestor, Hui Neng, or Daikan Eno Daiosho. After Huai-rang had already been practicing for some time, and his practice was fairly mature, he met Hui Neng. During their first meeting, Hui Neng asked, "Where are you from?" Huai-rang replied, "From Mt. Song." Hui Neng asked, "Who is it that thus comes?" referring to original nature. But Huai-rang didnít have a response, and he continued practicing for eight years, when one day he had an insight. He went to Hui Neng to respond to the question, "Who is it that thus comes? saying, "Speaking about it wonít hit the mark." (or any explanation misses it.) Hui Neng then asked, If so, is there practice and enlightenment? Or "Is ... (original nature) contingent upon practice and realization? And Huai-rang replied, "It is not that there is no practice and realization, itís just that they cannot be defiled." In Zen the word "defiled" refers to duality, so this means that practice and enlightenment arenít stained by dualistic separation. Hui Neng has the last word saying, "Itís just this non-defilement (or non-duality of practice and enlightenment) that all buddha ancestors maintain."

Original nature or inherent enlightenment does not increase or improve with practice, nor is it diminished by our ignorance of it or lack of practice. Original Nature itself is not dependent upon practice Ė our awareness of original nature may be strengthened by practice, but original nature itself isnít changed by practice. Dogenís teaching of the non-dual nature of practice and realization is based on this story, and he comments on it in "Bendowa" saying, "You should know that in order not to defile realization, which is inseparable from practice, Buddha ancestors always caution not to be slack in your practice. If you release the inconceivable practice, original realization fills your hands; if you become free from original realization, inconceivable practice is upheld with your whole body." I canít say what this means but I think it is indescribably beautiful.

Dogenís third question, The Whole Body is far beyond the worldís dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? refers to a story about Hui Neng and his teacher, the 5th Ancestor, Daiman Konin. "The Whole Body" means the Whole Body of reality or Buddha Nature. "The worldís dust" refers to delusion or conditioned states of mind that experience things as objects. This story is from in the Platform Sutra which begins with what is presented as an autobiography of Hui Neng who was a young man from Southern China which was considered the frontier, far away from the center of civilized China. Hui Nengís father died when he was a child, and he supported himself and his mother by gathering and selling firewood. One day when he was at the market place, he heard a monk reciting the Diamond Sutra and he had sudden realization when he heard, "A bodhisattva should develop a pure, lucid mind that doesnít depend upon sight, sound, touch, flavor, smell, or on any thought that arises in it. A bodhisattva should develop a mind that functions freely, without depending on any thing or any place." This is sometimes referred to as an "unsupported thought." When Hui Neng asked the monk where he had gotten this sutra, he was told, from Daiman Konin. Hui Neng is depicted as a poor, illiterate peasant, who, when having heard the Diamond Sutra, was so moved that he walked hundreds of miles to meet the 5th Ancestor.

According to the legend, when Hui Neng arrived at the monastery, the 5th Ancestor asked him, "What do you want?" and Hui Neng replied, "I want to be a Buddha" (or awakened). The 5th Ancestor asked, "How could someone like you from the south become a Buddha?" Hui Neng replied, "There may be north and south among people, but hereís no north and south in Buddha nature." When the 5th Ancestor heard this, he knew that Hui Neng was a "vessel of the Dharma," but he didnít tell Hui Neng, "Now you should get ordained and practice Zen with me." Instead he sent Hui Neng out in back of the monastery to work with other peasants husking rice.

The story continues with the 5th Ancestor deciding to retire and needing to choose a successor. So, he called his monks together and asked each of them to write a poem to express their understanding, and he would choose his Dharma Heir based on the insight of the poem. The head monk of the monastery had been studying with the 5th Ancestor for a long time and all the monks thought he was the obvious heir. So the other monks didnít even try to write a poem. But supposedly the head monk was not so confident, so he wrote his poem on a wall during the night without signing it. His poem was, "The body is the bodhi tree, The mind a bright mirror standing. Constantly strive to brush it clean, not allowing any dust to collect."

This poem also has contains a number of references. The word "bodhi" means awakening or enlightenment, and the tree that Buddha was sitting under when he awakened was later called a Bodhi Tree. "The body is the bodhi tree" means that this very body, our own body is the place of enlightenment. "The mind is like a bright mirror" refers to the reflective quality of the enlightened mind which sees things as they really are without the distortions of our hopes and fears and individual conditioning which infers that our own mind is the enlightened mind of Buddha. "At all times we must strive to brush it clean or polish it so dust cannot collect" describes the work of practice as striving to keep the mind clear, free of delusion and distraction.

According to the story when the 5th Ancestor saw the poem, he told everyone that it was pretty good and asked the monks to memorize it and put it into practice, but secretly he had doubts. Hui Neng, while in the kitchen storeroom, heard a monk reciting the poem and asked the monk if he would take him to the wall where the poem was written so he could pay homage to it. When they got to the wall, Hui Neng, who was illiterate, asked the monk if he would write a poem for him to commemorate the head monkís poem. Hui Nengís poem actually refuted the head monkís poem, "Originally Bodhi is not a tree, The mirror also has no stand, Buddha Nature is always pure and shining, Where is there any room for dust?" "Originally Bodhi is not a tree" means that enlightenment has no fixed point or location. "The mirror has no stand" means that the clear, reflective quality of awakened consciousness is neither contained by a frame nor dependent upon anything for support. "Buddha Nature is always pure and shining" means that from the beginning, original nature Ė Buddha nature Ė is undefiled or nondual, how could the dust of delusion effect it?

When the 5th Ancestor read Hui Nengís poem, he had it painted over to hide it, and he went to Hui Neng in the kitchen storeroom and gave him a signal to come see him in the middle of the night. Because of the hierarchy within the monastic community of which Hui Neng was at the bottom, the 5th Ancestor arranged a secret meeting when everyone else was sleeping. Hui Neng received Dharma Transmission, and was given the robe and bowl of Bodhidharma. I believe that this is the basis for the current ceremony of Dharma Transmission which begins at midnight. This myth, of the 5th Ancestor entrusting the dharma to an illiterate peasant, passing over the head monk who had been his disciple for many years, illustrates the idea of Zen being a face-to-face transmission, outside the scriptures ----

----- Now, for the next period of zazen, for these seven days, all you need to do is whole-heartedly settle into the stillness of this moment, accepting this body and this mind with no reservations, and embrace this breath as your only breath. I leave you with the following:

Clear as pure light, no inside or outside Ė
Is there any body or mind to be dropped?

(To be continued.)

© Copyright Josho Pat Phelan 2010

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