The Fukanzazengi
Revisited: 2009

Rohatsu Sesshin Talk Number 7

by Josho Pat Phelan

This is the last talk the "Fukanzazengi." The last talk ended, Indeed, it [enlightenment or Reality] cannot be fully known by the practicing or realizing of supernatural powers either. It must be deportment beyond hearing and seeingĖis it not a principle that is prior to knowledge and perceptions? Dogen continued, This being the case, intelligence or lack of it does not matter; between the dull and the sharp-witted there is no distinction. In Zen Mind, Beginnerís Mind, Suzuki Roshi discussed four types of horses. He said that the first horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driverís will, before it sees the shadow of the whip; and the second horse runs as well as the first, but not until just before the whip reaches its skin; the third horse will run when it feels pain on its body; but the last horse runs only after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. He said that almost all of us want to be the best horse, but "If you think the aim of Zen practice is to train you to become one of the best horses, you will have a big problem. ...If you practice Zen in the right way it does not matter whether you are the best horse or the worst one....When you are determined to practice zazen with the great mind of Buddha, you will find the worst horse is the most valuable one. In your very imperfections you will find the basis for your firm, way-seeking mind. 

When something is difficult, if we can face the difficulty, then we have the opportunity to work with it. Our problems force us to stop and face our pain, to face ourselves, at a deeper level. Likewise, those who have physical difficulty in zazen, usually need to bring more effort and commitment to sitting than those who find that sitting comes easily. If it is too easy, especially physically, people tend to get bored and stop practicing because they donít feel enough of a challenge. The point of practice is not to perfect ourselves, but to know ourselves Ė every aspect of ourselves Ė through and through. So it isnít so important to know the forms perfectly or to sit in lotus position. Whatís important is a sincere desire to practice, returning to the present moment, again and again.

Next Dogen wrote, If you concentrate your effort singlemindedly, that in itself is negotiating the Way. "Single-minded effort" is another way of talking about the first part of the word shinkantaza which is often translated as "just sitting." Shikan is just doing whatever you are doing wholeheartedly and completely, like a good bonfire that burns itself out. Whatever we do, if we do it with our undivided attention, with our lifeís energy, whether we are driving or standing in line at the grocery check-out, it can be practice or negotiating the Way. But donít confuse "concentrate your effort single-mindedly" with one-pointed concentration. One-pointed concentration is a very focused attention that excludes everything but the object of concentration; whereas single-minded effort is to bring your whole effort, your full energy, your life energy, to the task at hand. In zazen it means bringing your whole effort or whole being to being present, within and without.

Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Here Dogen is repeating his earlier reference to the exchange between Huai-rang and the sixth ancestor Hui Neng on the non-defilement or non-duality of practice and realization. Carl Bielefeldt pointed out that for Dogen, the emphasis in practice was less on avoiding delusion or defilement and more on whole-hearted participation in practice which is inseparable from enlightenment.

Going forward [in practice] is a matter of everydayness refers to an exchange between Joshu or Chao-chou and Nansen or Nan-chuan found in Case 19 of the Mumonkan. One day Chao-chou asked his teacher, "What is the Way?" or "What is Tao?" Nan-chuan replied, "Ordinary mind is the Way." Chao-chou asked, "Should I try to direct myself toward it? Nan-chuan said, "If you try to direct yourself, you betray your own practice." Chao-chou then asked, "How can I know the Way if I donít direct myself?" Nan-chuan said, "The Way is not subject to knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is blankness. If you truly reach the genuine Way, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can this be discussed at the level of affirmation and negation?" With these words, Chao-chou had sudden realization.

In this context, "Tao" means the Buddha Way, the way of practice and enlightenment, as well as fundamental truth. Chao-chou was asking about the fundamental truth of Zen, and Nan-chuan responded with ordinary mind which actually means Original Mind or mind before discursive thinking and discrimination are engaged. Original or ordinary mind is not consciousness any way you happen to find it or everyday mind with its conditioned habits of thought. It means unconditioned nature or mind-just-as-it-is unclouded by discrimination.

Chao-chou then asked, "Should I try to direct myself toward it?" Or, how do I go forward in practice, how do I make effort? And Nan-chuan responded from the position of non-duality saying, "If you try to direct yourself, you undermine your own practice." We canít reach the Way or fundamental truth through conscious control, willfully directing ourselves as if it were a clearly defined goal. Treating enlightenment as a goal is to approach it through ordinary dualistic consciousness. Kaz Tanahashi pointed out this paradox saying, "...isnít freedom from attainment an essential element for achieving breakthroughs?"

When Chao-chou asked, "How can I know the Way if I donít direct myself or make effort?" Nan-chuan answered, "The Way is not subject to knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is blankness or complete ignorance." This kind of "knowing" and "not knowing" involves perception, association, categorizing, analyzing, labeling, naming, and so onĖthe functions of discriminating consciousness. Original Mind is outside the realm of duality, it involves neither thinking nor stopping thought, neither making effort nor giving up. Nan-chuan said, "If you truly reach the genuine Way, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can this be discussed at the level of right and wrong?" With these words, Chao-chou had sudden realization. However, Mumonís commentary added, "Even though Chao-chou may be enlightened, he can truly get it only after practicing for 30 more years." Thereís practice before we are conscious of realization and thereís practice as an expression of our realization, and these canít be clearly separated from each other, they mutually support and inform each other in an ongoing, endless process.

In Zen Mind Beginnerís Mind, Suzuki Roshi talked about making effort, with an interesting slant. He said, "Strictly speaking [or from the Absolute] any effort we make is not good for our practice because it creates waves in our mind. It is impossible, however, to attain absolute calmness of our mind without any effort. We must make some effort, but we must forget ourselves in the effort we make. In this realm there is no subjectivity or is necessary for us to encourage ourselves and to make effort up to the last moment, when all effort disappears." When we "forget ourselves in the effort we make," there is only effort and no room for "my effort" or "me," and this is how effort becomes effortless effort.

The "Fukanzazengi" continues, In general, this world and other worlds as well, both in India and China, equally hold the Buddha-seal, and over all prevails the character of this school, which is simply devotion to sitting, total engagement in immobile sitting. Kaz Tanahashi said that the term "Buddha-seal" means the Buddha-mind seal or Buddhaís mind of enlightenment. The Chinese character for "seal" is mudra in Sanskrit. The literal meaning of mudra is a stamp or seal and it means to stamp or to seal Ė imprinting something. In Buddhism generally, it has the meaning of a bodily or hand position which is used in meditation and other ritualistic activities. In esoteric Buddhism, such as Shingon Buddhism, mudra also means imprinting certain qualities on the practitioner through the imagery used in meditation or in visualization, "just as a seal leaves an impression on clay." The way each detail of the zazen position, including the hands, is considered to contribute to the total experience of zazen is a clear indication of Dogenís belief in the non-duality of body and mind. Dogen used the term "seal" or Buddha-seal" in other teachings. In the Jijuyu Zammai he wrote, " sit properly in samadhi, imprinting the Buddha-seal in deeds, words and thoughts, each...thing is the Buddha-seal and all space without exception is enlightenment."

Next the "Fukanzazengi" says, ...overall prevails the character of this school, which is simply devotion to sitting, total engagement in immobile sitting I think the phrase, total engagement, is the essence of Dogenís zazen. This is mind totally engaged, body totally engaged, whole being completely engaged and unified, moment by moment, doing nothing else but the activity of the present.

Next, 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? Maezumi Roshi said that"the seat that exists in your home" refers to the diamond seat where Shakyamuni Buddha sits, which is our zazen. The very cushion on which we sit is the seat of Buddha, so we donít need to go anyplace else. "Dusty realms of other lands" refers to the objects of our six senses which is a way of talking about conditioned experience. "Dusty realms," also refers to the parable of the lost son in the Lotus Sutra in which the son of a wealthy man sets out to find his fortune, but instead becomes impoverished. After many years of wandering, he ends up at home, somehow without recognizing it. Through skillful means, the father seeing his sonís destitution and fear, hires him to take care of his pigs, then gradually gives him better and better jobs until at last he reveals to the man that he is his son and heir to his estate. This is a metaphor for our inherent enlightenment which we have always had, but which we need to recognize and actualize Ė making it real in our lives.

Next, You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not use your time in vain. You are maintaining the essential working of the Buddha Way. Being born as a human is considered to be extremely difficult and rare in Buddhism. Now we have a human mind and body and access to Buddhist teaching and practice, donít waste this precious opportunity. We do donít know what will happen next.

Impermanence is one of the most important and common motivations for practice, and the verse traditionally written on the wooden han is a reminder, "Great is the matter of birth and death, Life passes quickly, Wake up! Wake Up!, Donít waste time." The theme of impermanence continues, Who would take wasteful delight in the spark from the flintstone? Besides, form and substance are like the dew on the grass, destiny like the dart of lightening Ė emptied in an instant, vanished in a flash. These are metaphors for the swiftness and unpredictability with which human life comes and goes, and this is reminiscent of the well-known verse at the end of the Diamond Sutra: As stars, a fault of vision, as a lamp, A mock show, dew drops, or a bubble, A dream, a lightning flash, or cloud, So should one view what is conditioned.

Next, Please honored followers of Zen. Long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not be suspicious of the true dragon. This refers to the well-known story of six blind men who try to understand what an elephant is by each feeling a different part of an elephant. The man who felt the trunk thought the elephant was like a snake; the one who felt the tail, thought it was like a rope; the man who felt the ear, thought it was like a fan; the one who felt a leg, thought it was like a tree trunk; and so on, illustrating that having a partial or one-sided understanding can be very far from the reality of the thing or situation.

In Zen, a dragon is often used as a metaphor for zazen or for the enlightened person, and it also refers to a story about a man who lived in early China and who loved dragons, or at least images of dragons. In Asian mythology, dragons lived both in underwater palaces and dwelt in clouds with the power to cause rain, and they were considered a symbol of good fortune. This man had collected paintings and carvings of dragons which he had throughout his house. One day when a real dragon heard of the manís love for dragons, he came to visit. But when the real dragon appeared, the man was terrified. This reference is an encouragement not to be fooled into thinking that reading about Buddhism and fantasizing about Zen practice are enough Ė jump in and taste the truth for yourself through your own living practice.

The "Fukanzazengi" ends, Devote your energies to a way that directly indicates the absolute. Revere the person of complete attainment who is beyond all human agency. Gain accord with the enlightenment of the buddhas; succeed to the legitimate lineage of the ancestorsí samadhi. Constantly perform in such a manner and you are assured of being a person such as they. Your treasure-store will open of itself, and you will use it at will. Treasure store is another metaphor for Buddha nature or the enlightenment inherent in all things.

Dogenís teaching in the "Fukanzazengi" illustrates his love of zazen and his view that just sitting, totally engaged, is the activity of our inherent enlightenment. Dropping body and mind, dropping all barriers and obstructions, brings us face-to-face with our awakened birthright, which is available when we are able to bring our whole being, to what we are doing. Francis Cook said that "...Dogen was not so concerned with ... one-time enlightenment, which presumably continues on to pervade all subsequent experience, as he was with a strenuous effort to evoke an enlightened response with each fresh occasion." For Dogen, once was not enoughĖwe have to live enlightenment, rediscovering and reconnecting with boundless mind, boundless heart, over and over. I would like to end now by quoting a passage from Kaz Tanahashiís introduction to Moon in a Dewdrop. He wrote, "Although one personís practice is part of the practice of all awakened beings, each individual practice is indispensable as it actualizes and completes everyoneís activity as a Buddha" When we are able to just practice, whether we feel enlightened or not, our effort supports and becomes part of everyoneís effort to wake up.

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

óKeizan Zenji

© Copyright Josho Pat Phelan 2011

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