Genjo-Koan: Actualization of Reality, part 3

This is the last in a series of three lectures given by Rev. Shohaku Okumura on the first chapter of Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo during Stillpoint’s April 2000 sesshin in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is being reprinted here from Stillpoint’s newsletter. In the following section, Dogen discusses delusion and realization/enlightenment, and buddhas and living beings as a relationship, the way we relate or connect with all beings. “Therefore, flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them. Conveying oneself toward all things to carry out practice/enlightenment is delusion. All things coming and carrying out practice/enlightenment through the self is realization. Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded in realization are living beings. Furthermore, there are those who attain realization beyond realization and those who are deluded within delusion.” There are things we like and things we don’t like. Here, Dogen uses two examples – flowers and weeds. The flower is a symbol of something we like. The weed is something we don’t like. Flowers and weeds are not so different: They are all plants. We pick weeds and we try to grow vegetables. We need vegetables to eat. They support our life. There are some things we have to grow, and some things we have to pull out and throw away. That is our human condition. We cannot eat weeds, so we have to pull the weeds. When I was in Massachusetts, since I had grown up in the city, growing vegetables was a new experience for me. In the beginning, I couldn’t tell which were vegetables and which were weeds. We have to make a distinction. We need wisdom to discriminate between which we grow and which we don’t need. And we have to pull the weeds. That is our practice when we take care of a green garden. But somehow, I felt guilty pulling the weeds, because vegetables and weeds are not so different. But because we need vegetables, we hate weeds. We don’t hate weeds or dislike weeds when they grow in the mountains or in the meadow, but when they disturb our purpose – that is, growing vegetables to keep us alive – weeds become something we dislike. Because we hate weeds, it seems they grow more quickly, and almost always are stronger than vegetables. In the case of our practice, weeds are like delusion, and flowers or vegetables are enlightenment. We love enlightenment. We dislike delusion. So we try to weed or pick out delusion or deluded ideas. But the more we try to take them away, the more they grow. So Dogen said, “Therefore, flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them.” This is the reality we are living in. When I lived in Massachusetts, the first year we cut the trees and took out the stumps, and made the piece of land into our vegetable gardens. The very first year, even weeds didn’t grow. We had only a little spinach. The soil was not so rich. At that time I found that weeds are also a crop. When we pulled weeds to make them into compost and put the compost back into the soil, the weeds made the soil rich. So actually, weeds help the vegetables to grow if we work hard to make them into compost. Our delusive ideas or desires, or poisonous mind, are like weeds. Poisonous mind is not really poisonous. It’s poisonous when we misuse it. The poisonous mind is also part of our life force. If we know how to take care of it, the poisonous mind can also help us to live in a healthy way. But in order to do so, we need to work hard. When we sit in our zazen, our greed and anger/hatred come up. Each time we try to let go. If we try to pick them up and put them into compost, our three poisonous minds – greed, anger and ignorance – makes our life sweet, rich and healthy. I’ve talked about the sweet persimmon and astringent persimmon. Astringent persimmon is like a weed or delusion or poisonous mind. But in order to make sweet persimmon, we need astringent persimmon. Weeds and vegetables are the same. Menzan Zuiho, one of the Japanese Soto Zen masters (1683-1769), said when we use greed as an energy to practice, greed becomes a vow of saving all beings, or studying the dharma, doing good things. We use greed to do good things. Anger becomes the vow to avoid bad things, or evil karma. Ignorance functions as nondiscrimination between self and others and embracing all living beings. Our practice is not to eliminate or kill those three poisonous minds, but pick them and put them in the compost, and those things will enrich our life. When we spray, the weed dies, and it destroys the environment. If we kill the three poisonous minds, there’s no way to live. We should think and practice how we can use three poisonous minds as nutrition in our life. Anyway, there are flowers or vegetables, things we can eat, things we love, and things we don’t like, things we can’t eat, things which are not valuable. That is our life. Our life is in relationship with all beings. When we talk about all beings, often we forget we are included in that “all beings.” We think we are subject and all beings are objects. That is one cause of the problem. We think “This is flower; we love them. And this is weed; we don’t like them.” We separate or categorize ten thousand dharmas into two categories. We forget we ourselves are part of ten thousand dharmas. We are not separated from these things. Ten thousand dharmas are not outside. We are part of the network of ten thousand dharmas. In the next sentence, Dogen says, “Conveying oneself toward all things to carry out practice/enlightenment is delusion. All things coming and carrying out practice/enlightenment through the self is realization.” This is Dogen’s definition of delusion and realization. He defined delusion and enlightenment as the relationship between self and all beings. Self is not subject, and all beings are not objects. That expression “practice/enlightenment is a translation of ” shu-sho”. “Shu” is “practice” and “sho” is “enlightenment” or “realization,” or in Japanese, satori. “Sho” as a Chinese character, means evidence or proof. ” Shu-sho” is an abbreviation of a longer expression, a compound of four Chinese characters; “mon-shi-shu-sho “, that mean “to hear,” “to think,” “to practice” and “to verify.” That means when you hear someone’s teaching, you think about it. And if you think it might be true, you trust the teaching and try to put into practice. This is intellectual understanding. When we hear the Buddha’s teaching, we try to understand it intellectually and if we think it might be true, we put it into practice. And through practice, we find what Buddha taught is really true. That is enlightenment or verification. To believe in the teaching as a verbal expression is not needed anymore, because we know it’s true through our own experience. That means practice is a cause and enlightenment is a result. When Dogen says practice and enlightenment are one, that means within our practice there is verification. We don’t need verification from some other person. Practice is itself verification. But somehow we think our practice is not enlightenment. We think that after a certain period of practice, we attain something called enlightenment. We separate practice and attainment of enlightenment. We feel practice is difficult and often so painful but we have to go through it. When we practice in the way we convey oneself toward all beings, there’s a separation between things and us. We try to carry this person, the self, toward the object, all other things, the rest of the world, and try to figure out what things are. We are a kind of observer, and try to see the truth or reality as a kind of object. There is a separation between subject and object. We try to get something from outside. When we study dharma, we often have this attitude. We want to find the truth and make it our possession, and become an enlightened person. That is how we usually think about our practice. When we know nothing about Buddhism, our goal is to become an enlightened person. That is how we usually understand the process of step-by-step practice toward enlightenment. It’s like when we get our driving license. First we study how the car works and how to operate it. And we start to drive. We practice. We get used to driving, and we get a license. Then we can drive. We think our practice of dharma is something like that. But according to Dogen, our practice is not like getting a driving license. Based on such an attitude, our practice is nothing other than delusion. That is his basic definition of delusion. We think there is some kind of truth or reality objectively, and since we are deluded, we ought to get to that reality. In order to do so, we have to study and get rid of our delusion. Then we can get that reality or truth. Such a practice is based on our basic delusion of separation between self and all beings. We try to control all beings, and we try to control this person. Dogen said, “All things coming and carrying out practice/enlightenment through the self is realization.” In this case, the self is a part of all beings. In that network of interdependent origination, we are supported by all beings, we are produced by all beings. Since we human beings are born in a very immature state, we cannot survive the first years without protection from our parents or our community. We need to learn many things. We learn how to think, how to express our feelings, how to understand things. This is kind of a present from all beings. We can live as human beings only as a part of the network of interdependent origination. We are produced by all beings, and we become part of all beings, and we maintain the network of all beings. Whether we understand that reality of interdependent origination or not, we are part of it. When we study dharma, as Dogen said, we need to forget the view of separation between self and others. That means our way of thinking and feeling is created by all beings. So our practice is actually done by all things. We are part of the universe. When we see the universe, the universe sees the universal itself. When we see all beings, all beings see all beings. We are a part of all beings, like eyes are part of our body or mind is a part of our being. The way we see is the way the universe sees things. Our practice is done by all things, not done by this one individual person. The subject of our practice is not this person, but all beings. Our sitting practice is not my personal practice in order to make this person better, but all beings allowing this person to practice. The subject of the sitting is not this person. The subject of this practice is all beings. Sitting is not for the sake of this person getting something better, but within this sitting practice, we are open to all beings, and we let go of whatever comes up in our mind. When we grasp, I am Shohaku and I am a Buddhist priest. But when we let go, I am not a Buddhist, I’m not a priest, I am not Shohaku. When we sit facing the wall, without comparing ourselves with anything else, then I’m really nothing. By sitting in this posture, I’m letting go of whatever thought comes up. We become part of the network of interdependent origination, of all ten thousand dharmas. So our practice in a sense allows us to actively participate in the network of interdependent origination. There’s no attainment, no gain, but just be there, one hundred percent. That is the meaning of being mindful. The Chinese character for mindfulness has two parts: The lower part of the character means “mind,” and the upper part means “present moment.” So, mind within present moment. Our minds can be sometimes in the past or sometimes in the future. I think about something I did yesterday and I think what I should do tomorrow. To be mindful means we are a hundred percent right now, right here. When we sit, we just sit a hundred percent. When we eat, we just eat. When we work, just work. When we sit, we can let go of everything and really just sit. When we work in our daily lives, we can’t let go of everything. But we should think only about what we are doing: so we let go of distractions and focus on what we are doing. That is mindfulness in our day-to-day activities. In zazen, to be mindful means to sit one hundred percent and let go of whatever comes up in our mind, even our aspiration to become enlightened. Just be there. According to Dogen, that is enlightenment. This action – sitting in the zendo – is not my personal action, but through this person’s sitting or practice, all beings sit zazen. We are sitting together with all beings. That’s why Dogen Zenji used the analogy of moon within a dewdrop. Within the tiny dewdrop, the vast moonlight is reflected. It’s not a matter of us attaining the moonlight. The moonlight is reflected by itself, because we are part of the moonlight from the beginning. The next two sentences are Dogen’s definition of Buddha. He said, “Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded in realization are living beings.” When he says the buddhas are those who greatly realize delusion, that means they see delusion as delusion in practice. He is talking about the buddha way we are practicing. So here, Buddha is not some group of people who have already finished practice and become enlightened and are living in buddha-land. When we see delusion as delusion, that is realization. Our realization does not eliminate the delusion. Enlightenment is not like spraying and killing the weeds. We pick up the weeds and put them into compost, and the weeds help us to enrich our life. We don’t kill delusion. We need that delusion. We need our aspiration, we need our desire to study dharma. But he said buddhas are those who greatly realize delusion. When we see that is delusion, that doesn’t mean we stop doing it. We realize that delusion and keep practicing. In order to keep practicing, we need our motivation. Our mind is also a part of all beings: it came from the universal life. If we personalize it and grasp it as my individual possession, then we are deluded. When we realize that is delusion, then we are buddhas – not we, but our practice. Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. The relationship between self and all beings becomes complicated. When we are deluded within realization, when we understand that we are part of all beings, we study and practice the way all beings are and participate with it: that is realization. But we are deluded within this realization and we think, “I have to practice, I have to study. I want to be enlightened or attain something.” That is delusion. But this delusion is also within the buddha way. So by using the words such as realization and delusion, or living beings and buddhas, Dogen tries to see the relationship between self and all beings in more detail, in a more complex way. Basically, whether we understand it or not, we are part of the interconnected origination. Even when we act against that, still we are within the interconnection. But when we act in that way and live in the selfish way, somehow we feel our life is not OK. So we try to find the way of life based on that reality. That is our motivation to study not only Buddhism or Zen, but to study some kind of spiritual or philosophical teachings. That is the way we convey ourselves into all beings. According to Dogen, that is delusion. But without this delusion, we can’t really start to practice. We need it. And when we see that is delusion, he said, that is realization. When we start to study and we think we understand what Buddha says, when we see the reality of interconnectedness of all beings, then we feel we’ve found the truth and we want to practice. When we think in that way, and grasp that this is a wonderful way of life, then Dogen cautions us and says, “that is delusion”. But without this delusion, we cannot practice. So we should keep practicing without grasping that this is enlightenment or this is buddha. We should keep studying, deepening our understanding, and participate in this relationship. When we think this is good or true or I am doing a good thing, then we are already in the trap of self-centeredness. What Dogen wanted to show us is – keep practicing moment by moment, without grasping. We don’t need to say we are deluded. Keep practicing without evaluation. Keep practicing, making an effort to follow the Buddha’s teachings. Then our path becomes the buddha way. And Dogen says, “Furthermore, there are those who attain realization and those are deluded within delusion.” There are so many different conditions within our practice. Each moment, we have to really let go of even our understanding or our aspiration to practice, or to become buddhas, and become this moment, right now, in which we are really living together with all beings. That is enlightenment or realization and that is buddha. When we practice with such an attitude, we are buddha, or our practice is buddha. But when we think this is buddha, then we miss it. So what we do is keep opening the hand, or letting go of whatever thought arises. That is Dogen’s definition of practice and enlightenment, and delusion and enlightenment, and living beings and buddhas. What Dogen really wanted to say in Genjo-koan is that those things are not something fixed, but are within our life, in which we have relationship with all other beings and are part of.

Part two

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