Talks on the Fukanzazengi by
Eihei Dogen Zenji:

Universal Guidelines
for the Practice
of Zazen

Part VI

This is the last talk on the Fukanzazengi which begins with, This being the case, intelligence or lack of it does not matter; between the dull and the sharp-witted there is no distinction. This reminds me in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, when Suzuki Roshi talked about the four kinds of horses. He explained that the first horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driver's will, before it sees the shadow of the whip; the second horse runs as well as the first, but just before the whip reachers its skin; the third horse will run when it feels pain on its body; and the last horse runs only after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. Suzuki Roshi said, "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. ...those who find great difficulties in practicing Zen will find more meaning in it. So, intelligence or cleverness is not necessarily an advantage in this practice.

When something is difficult, if we can face the difficulty, then we have the opportunity to work with it. Our problems, help us, or sometimes force us to stop and face our pain, face ourselves, at a deeper level. Likewise, people 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 don't feel enough of a challenge. The point of practice is not to perfect ourselves, but to know ourselves — every aspect of ourselves — through and through. And it isn't so important to know the forms well or to sit in lotus position. What's important is a sincere desire to practice.

Next, Dogen wrote, If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is negotiating the Way. "Single-minded effort" is another way of talking about the shikan of shinkantaza. Shikan is just doing whatever you are doing wholeheartedly and completely, with nothing left over, like a good bonfire that burns itself out. Whatever we do, if we do it with our undivided attention, with our life's energy, whether we are driving or standing in line at the grocery store, it can be practice, or negotiating the Way. But to "concentrate your effort single-mindedly" doesn't mean one-pointed concentration that excludes everything but the one object of concentration. Single-minded effort is bringing the full awareness and energy of your body and mind to the task at hand. In zazen it means bringing your whole attentiont to being present with your whole being, within and without.

Going on, Dogen wrote, Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Here Dogen is repeating his earlier reference to the exchange between Huai-rang and the sixth ancestor Hui Neng who taught that practice and enlightenment are not separate or not defiled by dualistic separation. 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.

The text continues, Going forward [in practice] is a matter of everydayness. This line refers to an exchange between Joshu or Chao-chou and Nansen or Nan-chuan, in Case 19 of the Mumonkan. At the time the story takes place, Joshu was about 20 and had recently dropped his intellectual pursuit of Buddhism to begin monastic practice with Nanchuan. The story goes:

One day, the young Chao-chou asked, "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 don't 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?" And 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, mind before discursive thinking and discriminating consciousness are engaged. It's important to understand that Nan-chuan was not referring to consciousness any way you happen to find it, or to everyday mind with its conditioned habits of thought. It means mind-just-as-it-is, unclouded by our conditioning and delusions.

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, "If you try to direct yourself, you betray or undermine your own practice." We can't reach the Way or fundamental truth through conscious control or by willfully directing ourselves, as if realization were a clearly defined goal. Treating enlightenment as a goal is to approach it through ordinary, dualistic or karmic consciousness. Kaz Tanahashi pointed out this paradox saying, "...isn't freedom from attainment an essential element for achieving break throughs?" When Chao-chou asked, "How can I know the Way if I don't 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 comparing, judging, rejecting and grasping — 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, Mumon's commentary added, "Even though Chao-chou may be enlightened, he can truly get it only after practicing for 30 more years." And "30 years" is a metaphor meaning no fixed time or forever. There's practice before we are conscious of realization and there's practice as an expression of realization, these can't be separated from each other. They mutually support and inform each other in an ongoing, endless process.

Directing ourselves or making effort and not making effort are opposites. One is defined by comparing it to the other. Not making effort can exist because effort exists. Like all pairs of opposites, they always arise together. But original mind is outside the realm of opposites, it's neither thinking nor stopping thought, neither making effort nor ignoring effort. "Knowing" and "not-knowing" are involved in the everyday mental functions of discriminating, comparing, categorizing, labeling, and so on.

In his commentary on The Mountains and Waters Sutra, Shohaku Okumura wrote, "Zen Master Nanquan said, 'The Way is not concerned with knowing or not knowing.'" And Okumura Roshi commented, "Our actual function, activity, and practice is more important than whether we know it or not. This is a critical point in Dogen's teaching." Okumura Roshi continued, "What [Dogen] he is saying here is that to know or to not know is not most important. To do, to practice, to work is important." Everyone is at a different place in their practice and each of us has strengths and weaknesses. And what Dogen emphasized is pure-hearted practice, not the level and degree of realization one may have. I think that some of the most "realized" people are some of the most humble, some of the most ready to lend a hand.

In Zen Mind Beginner's Mind, Suzuki Roshi talked about making effort, with an interesting slant. He said, "Strictly speaking 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 an 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.

Next, Dogen wrote, 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. I think the phrase, total engagement, is the key to Dogen's zazen. Kaz Tanahashi said that the term "Buddha-seal" means the Buddha-mind seal or Buddha's mind of enlightenment. The Chinese character for "seal" is mudura in Sanskrit. The literal meaning of mudra is a stamp or seal, and it also means to stamp or to imprint. It also has the meaning of a bodily or hand position used in meditation and other ritualistic activities, as well as being found in Buddhist iconography to identify particular Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

In esoteric Buddhism, such as Shingon Buddhism, mudra also means imprinting certain qualities on the practitioner through the imagery used in meditation or visualization, "just as a seal leaves an impression on clay." Mudra, as a hand gesture, is sometimes seen as helping to actualize certain inner states in the practitioner. The way each detail of the zazen position, including the hands, is considered to contribute to the total experience of zazen is also a clear indication of Dogen's belief in the non-duality of body and mind. Suzuki Roshi said something like when the body is upright, the mind is upright. Dogen also used the phrase Buddha-seal" in the Jijuyu Zammai where he wrote, " sit properly in samadhi, imprinting the Buddha-seal [or "Buddha's mind of enlightenment"] in deeds, words and thoughts, each...thing is the Buddha-seal and all space without exception is enlightenment."

Continuing, 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,"the seat that exists in your home" refers to the diamond seat where Shakyamuni sits, which is our zazen. The very zafu on which we sit is the diamond seat and the seat of Buddha, so we don't need to go anyplace. "Dusty realms of other lands" refers both to traveling elsewhere and to the six dusts or the objects of our senses. When we are conditioned by what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think, they become dust. "Dusty realms," can also refer to the parable of the lost son in the Lotus Sutra which is pretty similar to the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the New Testament. Next, If you make one misstep you go astray from (the Way) directly before you. This is reminiscent of the first section where Dogen wrote, "And yet, if there is the slightest discrepancy, the Way is as distant as heaven from earth."

Next, Dogen wrote, 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 extremely difficult and rare in Buddhism. This is illustrated in an early sutta where Buddha said, "Suppose someone threw a sea yoke with one hole in it into the sea, and the east wind carried it to the west, and the west wind carried it to the east, and the north wind carried it to the south, and the south wind carried it to the north. Suppose there was a blind turtle [at the bottom of the sea] that came up to the surface once at the end of each century. What do you think, would that blind turtle put his neck into that yoke with one hole in it?" A monk answered, "He might sometime or other at the end of a long period." Buddha went on, "The blind turtle would take less time to put his neck into that yoke with a single hole in it than a fool, once gone to perdition (rebirth in the animal realm) would take to regain the human state. Why is that? Because there is no practicing of the Dharma there, no practicing of what is wholesome..." (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta, 129) Now we have a human mind and body and access to Buddhist teaching and practice — so, make the most of this precious opportunity. We don't 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!, Don't waste time." The theme of impermanence continues in the "Fukanzazengi," 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 — 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 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.

Continuing, 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 get to know what an elephant is by each man feeling a different part of it. 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; the man who felt the side of the elephant, thought it was like a wall, and so on. This illustrates how having a partial or one-sided understanding can be very far from the reality of a thing or situation.

Do not be suspicious of the true dragon. In Zen, a dragon can be 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 who loved dragons, or at least images of dragons. In Asian mythology, dragons live in underwater palaces and swim through water and clouds, and they are considered a symbol of good fortune. This man had collected paintings and carvings of dragons which were displayed throughout his home. Hearing of this man's love for dragons, one day a real dragon descended from the sky to visit him. 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 are enough — jump in and taste the truth for yourself through your own living practice. There is a saying in Zen, pictures of rice cakes cannot satisfy hunger.

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 ancestors' samadhi. [The "ancestor's samadhi" is jijuyu zammai which Dogen discussed in his text, Bendowa.] 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 the fundamental truth of all things.

Dogen's teaching in the "Fukanzazengi" illustrates his love of zazen and his view that just sitting, total engagement in immobile sitting, is the activity of Buddha mind. Dropping body and mind, or dropping all barriers and obstructions brings us face-to-face with our awakened birthright, or Treasure store. This is available when, moment by moment, we are able to bring our whole being, to what we are doing. In Sounds of Valley Streams, 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." So, in Dogen's Zen, once is not enough — we have to live enlightenment, rediscovering and reconnecting with boundless mind, boundless heart, moment after moment.

I would like to end now by quoting another passage from Kaz Tanahashi's introduction to Moon in a Dewdrop, "Although one person's practice is part of the practice of all awakened beings, each individual practice is indispensable as it actualizes and completes everyone's activity as a Buddha" When we are able to just practice, whether we feel enlightened or not, our effort supports and becomes part of everyone's effort to wake up.

© 2020 Taitaku Josho Pat Phelan