Rohatsu Sesshin Talk Number 4
by Josho Pat Phelan
Once Zenkei Blanche Hartman was talking about the traditional art of
archery, or Kyodo, practiced in Japan. She said, "...as in zazen,
the training is in the form: the careful attention to body, breath and
mind." She said that archery practice begins first by "sitting and
gathering the mind, then standing carefully, putting the bow in
position, placing an arrow on it, placing the hand just so, raising the
bow and lowering it as the string is drawn. In all of this, the
attention is on the form of body, breath and mind. There is no
concern about hitting the target. Again and again [the practice is]
perfecting this form... of standing with the bow fully drawn and
breathing, allowing [the bow] to release on its own with the
understanding that if body, breath, and mind, bow, arrow, and target are
all in perfect harmony, the arrow will find its mark." This is such a
wonderful analogy for zazen practice. Then she told a story about Kobun
Chino, a Zen priest who was also trained in archery. The story took
place in the Big Sur area of California at Esalen Institute which
overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Kobun Chino was at Esalen with his archery
teacher who was visiting from Japan to demonstrate Zen archery. First,
the teacher "demonstrated a shot ... and then handed the bow and arrow
to Kobun and invited him to demonstrate his skill. So Kobun took an
arrow and the bow and, Zenkei said, with complete
concentration...attention and care, he drew the bow and released the
arrow into the ocean! When it hit the water he said, ‘Bull’s eye!’" This
is a good example of how in Zen practice, our attention is 100% with our
effort without looking forward to or anticipating a result.
Even though I had heard this idea for years, it took a long time for it to penetrate. In zazen, our effort is with being upright, open and present, and that’s it. But most of us begin practice with a purpose in mind. When practice itself becomes a commitment to purposelessness – to non-doing – it shifts from self improvement or from something we do to benefit ourselves to religious practice or a commitment to something wider than for our own self-interest. When zazen is no longer a means to accomplish something, our moment by moment practice, our intention and effort, and the awareness they foster right now is our "reward." So in Zen we don’t look for a result outside this moment of practice because any anticipation beyond our experience right now divides and disperses our awareness.
I want to continue talking about the "Fukanzazengi" by going on to the
next line, If you want to attain suchness, you should practice
suchness without delay. This refers to Ungo Doyo (Ch. Yunju Dao-ying)
who was a disciple of Tozan Ryokai. One day Ungo addressed his assembly,
"If one wants to attain the essence of thusness, one must become a
person of thusness. But one is already a person of thusness; so why
should one be anxious about the essence of thusness?" A translation on
the Antai-ji website says it this way, "If you want to get in touch with
things as they are, you – right here and now – have to start being
yourself, as you are." The Japanese word immo was originally a
Chinese colloquial expression meaning "this," "that" or "in this way."
But Dogen used it to mean "suchness" or "thusness" which refers to
"being-as-it-is," all-inclusive reality, limitless truth, or the
fundamental nature of reality. If we want to actualize the fundamental
nature of reality, we should practice the fundamental nature of reality
right now. The question for many of is, How? In a sense the rest of the
"Fukanzazengi" addresses this.
The next line is, For sanzen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. The word sanzen is another word for dokusan – a private meeting between teacher and student. The first character "san" means to practice or examine carefully, and sanzen literally means penetrating Zen. But in this passage Dogen used sanzen to mean zazen. By doing this, he equated the importance of our daily zazen with meeting a teacher face-to-face, implying that zazen is our teacher. Tatsugami Roshi said that Dogen even used just the first part of the word "san" for zazen, and he said that you should never judge your practice in terms of your small senses.
Then Dogen wrote, Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. Do not think good or bad. Do not administer pros and cons. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thoughts and views. This doesn’t mean to freeze your mind, keeping thoughts and ideas from entering; it means don’t intentionally think or use zazen to work on something else – to write a poem or to plan project. For Dogen, the practice of zazen meant not interfering with thoughts as they come and go, neither engaging and developing them nor trying to stop them. Carl Bielefeldt, who began practicing with Suzuki Roshi and is now a Buddhist scholar, said that this passage should be viewed more as a "comment on the true meaning of suspending worldly affairs which is that worldliness is within, and what must be relinquished... is not merely ... ties" to the external world but [to] "the internal mechanisms that lead us to... believe in such a world." In Zen, renunciation is not just letting go of our of worldly entanglements, what’s emphasized most is letting go of our attachments to and entanglements with, our views and beliefs.
This section ends with, Have no designs on [or plans for] becoming a buddha. Sanzen has nothing whatever to do with sitting or lying down. This expresses Dogen’s belief in inherent enlightenment, which treats practice as an expression of our inherently enlightened nature, rather than a method to cultivate enlightenment. Even though Zen stories are generally about historical people and situations, they were presented in such a way as to support a particular point. So, in effect, there is no "true story." Dogen is well known for rewording traditional Zen stories and even a passage from a sutra to illustrate a particular teaching."Have no designs on becoming a buddha" referred to a story about the 6th Ancestor’s disciple, Huai-rang, and Huai-rang’s disciple, Ma-Tsu or Baso.
The story begins with Ma-Tsu, who had been practicing in Huai-rang’s community for some time, meditating very seriously and intensely, when one day Huai-rang came to Ma-Tsu’s hermitage while he was sitting and asked him, "What do you seek by doing zazen?" Ma-Tsu said, "I’m seeking to become a buddha [or I’m trying to wake up]." So Huai-rang picked up a roof tile that had fallen to the ground and began rubbing or polishing it, which was meant to imitate Ma-Tsu’s activity of cultivating or refining his practice. The character that is translated as polishing also means effort and in a Buddhist context, it refers to practice. After awhile, Ma-Tsu asked, "Master, what are you doing?" Huai-jang replied, "I’m polishing this tile to make it into a mirror." The mirror is a metaphor for enlightenment or the still, reflective quality of mind that reflects things just as they are when consciousness is no longer distorted by our conditioning and delusions.
Ma-Tsu then asked his teacher, "How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?" Huai-rang shot right back saying, "How can you make a Buddha by sitting in meditation?" Ma-Tsu asked, "Then, what shall I do?"[Or, if I don’t practice and meditate, how do I get enlightened?] Huai-rang responded with what seems like a non sequitur, "When you are driving a cart, if the cart doesn’t go, should you beat the cart or beat the ox?" Then he said, "Are you practicing sitting meditation, or are you practicing sitting Buddhahood? If you are practicing sitting meditation, meditation is not sitting or lying down. If you are practicing sitting Buddhahood, "Buddha" is not a fixed form. In the midst of transitory things, one should neither grasp nor reject. If you keep the Buddha seated, this is killing the Buddha, if you cling to the form of sitting, you’re not reaching its principle. At this point, Ma-Tsu had realization and continued practicing with Huai-rang for ten more years, deepening his understanding.
The apparent implication of this story was that crossing our legs and sitting still, taking the posture of a buddha, doesn’t make us into a buddha anymore than polishing a tile will make it into a mirror. A buddha, or awakened mind, has no fixed form and clinging to a form is a hindrance to liberation. Enlightenment is realizing – actualizing – inherent enlightenment, not just holding still. It isn’t something developed gradually over time by refining zazen practice or consciousness, nor is practice limited to what happens in zazen. If you leave your practice behind when you stand up after zazen, you are dividing your experience into practice and non-practice.
In the book Each Moment is the Universe, Katagiri Roshi wrote about this exchange using Dogen’s commentary on it from his fascicle, "Zazenshin." To Huai-jang’s statement, "Buddha is not a fixed form or no solid form," Katagiri commented, "Dogen says that ‘no solid form’ is Buddha.... Your basic nature is no solid form." I see a difference between saying that "Buddha is no solid form" which characterizes Buddha, and Dogen’s comment, "no solid form is buddha" which characterizes the nature of reality. Katagiri said, "When no solid form appears in your gassho...you manifest the form of gassho and also something more – emptiness. At that time you cannot avoid Buddha and you manifest...gassho as it really is." He said, "If one person manifests the whole universe, one person saves all sentient beings." "If you believe that saving all sentient beings is a ridiculous idea, your life is already rigid. Then no mater how long you practice, there is no space to be flexible, no space to manifest the unknown world through the form of your zazen....We have to manifest the unknown world simultaneously with the known world.
Katagiri Roshi said that the phrase "killing the Buddha" was a favorite of Zen masters in China, but he said that this doesn’t mean to really kill something. "It means total actualization and manifestation with no gap, no space to let something extra get in." He said, "If you sit zazen, you are melted into zazen."I really like the image of melting into zazen. It reminds me of the way we make candles by taking the trimmings from many candles and melting them together to make a new candle so that the individual shavings disappear. "If you sit zazen, you are melted into zazen," and the activity of zazen and you become one. Try to melt yourself into zazen, so there is no difference between you and zazen, no gap for anything extra to enter.
At the end of this exchange, Huai-rang said, "if you cling to the form of sitting or zazen posture, you’re not reaching its principle." Katagiri Roshi said that people think that not clinging to the form of sitting "means that you don’t need to be concerned about the form or posture of zazen, because you cannot attain enlightenment that way. But this is a misunderstanding." Dogen meant that "we have to abandon our usual understanding of the zazen posture and touch the heart of zazen." Katagiri said, "the zazen posture is really painful, creating lots of stiffness, just like climbing a mountain. But you love something that is at the heart of your life. In order to climb the mountain that is called life, you have to carry a form. It bothers you, but you do it anyway. Then you touch the heart of form..."
Katagiri used the analogy of diving from a high cliff into the ocean. He said, "At that time of diving, the divers are directly connected to the space around them: the cliff, the ocean, their state of mind, and the practice they have done in the past. You cannot see those things because they are completely melted into the form of a dive....Without the form of the dive, you would not be able to see the beautiful unity of space, cliff, ocean, and diver – you would not be able to see anything at all." He said, "The same is true for the form of zazen. If you practice zazen by throwing away the usual sense of zazen form and touching the heart of zazen form, you see something beautiful. At that time there is nothing to actually see, nothing to actually touch. There are no principles of practice, no training, no discipline, no truth; there is only form." He said, "Detachment doesn’t mean you should ignore form; it means you have to attach to form through and through. A form may bother you but you need form because you love truth, you love peace, you love life itself." Through form we meet emptiness as well as the totality of everything that preceded that moment.
Katagiri said, "When you touch the heart of zazen form, and manifest maturity...All your practice and hard work in the past disappear completely, leaving nothing to depend on....There is a chance to manifest the maturity of all the practice that you have done in the past. How? Jump! Then the whole existence – past, present, and future – comes together and works together. This is called moment." "Moment after moment you must be free from the beautiful form you created, because the moment in which that form existed has already gone, and the next moment is coming up. ...You cannot stop it, not even for a moment, so you have to keep going. You must keep practicing to create this beauty again and again." "So, what is this zazen practice that we do?" He said, "It’s not doing zazen. If you believe it’s doing zazen, then practice is just a task, and that task becomes a really big burden for you. That’s not true understanding of practice. Buddhist practice is to constantly create beauty. Beauty is the functioning of wisdom."
Going back to polishing the tile, the exchange between Huai-rang and Ma-Tsu criticized systematic or methodical practice which is used in some Buddhist traditions in which practice and insight are developed in stages. Instead, this story is supports the idea of sudden enlightenment – that enlightenment occurs instantaneously by seeing directly into the nature of mind. At the beginning of the exchange, according to Dogen, "What do you seek by doing zazen?" is expressed more accurately when it is read as a statement, "Zazen is that seeking which is the Absolute." which expresses Dogen’s view of the seamless unity of zazen practice and enlightenment. The foundation of Soto Zen is that we are already Buddha, that we are inherently enlightened, and it is actually the Buddha we are that enables us to practice in the first place. For Dogen, practice was a manifestation of ultimate reality working through us. In his teaching, Dogen tended to use the terms "manifestation," "actualization," "authentication," and "verification" instead of "enlightenment" or kensho. These terms connote an activity or process rather than a destination.
When Huai-rang asked, "What do you seek by doing zazen?" Dogen expressed Ma-Tsu’s response "I seek to become a buddha" as "seeking is buddha-actualization" and then Dogen commented saying, "...zazen is always that ‘buddha-actualization’ which is one with ‘seeking’; zazen is always that ‘seeking’ which is none other than ‘buddha-actualization’" The way the wording is changed equates seeking or practice with buddha-actualization. In this sense, the first period of zazen we sit, the zazen we do after years of practice, and our zazen during a long sesshin are all zazen. Whenever we sit whole-heartedly, we engage our whole being. Whole-hearted zazen is a complete act. Each time we totally engage in "just sitting," we practice absolutely; and absolutely means completely, totally, with all inclusive activity. So there is nothing left over or left out of our zazen. Each point in time, our zazen is buddha-actualization; and there is no progress because there is nothing outside that moment of total engagement to compare it to. For Dogen, zazen practice and actualization are dynamically united and reaffirmed moment by moment.
When Huai-rang was polishing the tile and Ma-Tsu asked "What are you doing?" Dogen commented, "Polishing a tile has been present in the Absolute" indicating that the activity of Absolute reality is "tile polishing" or practice, and "tile polishing never ceases." According to Dogen, practice is how we express the Absolute or non-dual nature of reality. Dogen went on to say, that "tile polishing" or practice is not "mirror-making" because the practice of zazen is not a method for producing enlightenment.
For Dogen, again, practice is total, complete and self-sufficient, and when there is complete engagement, there is no anticipation of enlightenment. If we do zazen now, thinking about a possible future enlightenment, we aren’t doing zazen. We are thinking about the future. In this practice, there isn’t room for anything else, no room for future, no room for enlightenment, Buddha, or even insight. There is only room for one activity: total engagement in immobile sitting, instant after instant; and total, non-dual engagement is realization. There is no room for the two activities of total engagement and realization. Total engagement is realization. This total engagement is the activity of throwing our whole body and mind into our activity without looking outside the present for a result. Our practice, our very presence, is unique and non-repeatable, and each moment of being is complete just as it is.
Dogen taught that practice is how we manifest inherent enlightenment, not how we transform ourselves from a neurotic human being into a buddha. Likewise, the tile doesn’t become the mirror because the tile already is the mirror. If you are practicing zazen in order to get something, some wonderful state of mind or quality, that you think you don’t already have, that is delusion. By reaching out for it, you are reaching away from your own inherent completeness.
Try to melt yourself into zazen so that there is no zazen, no you, so there is only this ... just this.
© Copyright Josho Pat Phelan 2010