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Thread: How a Buddha Shovels Snow

  1. #1

    How a Buddha Shovels Snow


    At ZFI, I wrote an essay about Zen Practice in the Soto way, using a metaphor that someone put up about how Rinzai people and Soto People shovel snow, the importance of "Kensho" and some similar topics ...

    For those new to all this, and who may not get the snowy symbolism ... "snow" probably means "delusions" and obstructions, "a clean driveway" or "getting from the front door to the sidewalk" means "enlightenment" and "shoveling" means 'Practice".



    I would like to echo the wise words of Rev. Nonin ... for we are of one mind ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Nonin
    Dogen's statement that practice and enlightenment are one and the same (shu sho ichi nyo) means that awakening (bodhi) is manifested through practice. By practicing the Buddha Way, we manifest the Buddha Way. If we don't manifest it, we are not living the awakened way.

    That is not to say that we don't have direct experiences of either clarity, emptiness, spaciousness, non-duality, no separation, etc., for by those experiences, we see into our true nature (kensho), and those who practice either Soto Zen, Rinzai, Seon, or Ch'an do have these experiences.
    Allow me to use Genkaku's "clearing snow" image ... as I do not think that story had the Soto perspective on shoveling quite right ... (What I am about to say is certainly not a matter of "Soto vs. Rinzai", but how some folks in and out of those schools, intentionally or unintentionally, misperceive or mischaracterize each) ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Genkaku
    One man -- let's call him Mr. Rinzai -- clears a shovel-width path from the street to the garage. He has attained his objective, but there remains the rest of the driveway to clear so he returns to the street and repeats the exercise.

    The other man -- Mr. Soto, perhaps -- clears his driveway from side to side. Back and forth and back and forth until he reaches the garage.
    I would phrase the "Mr. Soto" perspective as that there is much shoveling to be done, and we proceed ahead ... yet each scoop by scoop is the drive-way totally realized and clear. Oh, yes, there is much work to be done, and we must make a path from door to the street so that we can get out of our house, just like all our neighbors ... yet the point is not only some destination, but constant realization and perfect arriving with each step and scoop (neither view excluding the other ... forward step by step / constant arriving, no place to go). In fact, each swing of the shovel is a Buddha's fully exerted shoveling, and each shovel full of snow is a snow white Buddha's fullness! It is a dance, one great function, with shovel shoveling snow, snow snowing shovel ... only a Buddha's shoveling Buddhas.

    In fact, the driveway was clear all along under snow ... though the snow seemingly hides that fact. Truly, driveway and snow are never apart ... and when seen in such way, snow is not the obstruction we thought. In a way, it was melted before it even fell! Also, snow and driveway one beyond one, not two.

    What is more (these tastes are all simultaneously true, not exclusive of each other) ... there is nothing "wrong" with the snow of delusion even as we work so hard to clean and clear it away ... it is pure, white and pristine in its way, yet still it is best cleared and gotten out of our way. In this way ... shovel by shovel ... we clear snow.

    The snow is lovely dark and deep ... but we have promises to keep ... so, lovely or not, perfect "just as it is" or not ... GET SHOVELING AND CLEAR IT UP! It may keep snowing, by the way, and the weather forecast is for a season of constant snow ... and, so, we may never arrive (so long as we live) at a driveway perfectly free of the obstructions of snow. NO MATTER, for the very act of shoveling is Perfect Liberation!

    In fact, how would we have something to give us the honor of shoveling if there were no snow? We could not live without the snow, so we should be grateful to it ... for being a reason to shovel.

    Snow falling falling falling ... day after day ... so shovel shovel shovel, day after day. Repeat endlessly, so long as we are alive ... for that is life itself. Obstructions will never end in this life, so constant care is required to clean them away because they obstruct us, obstruct Budda's work ... and in this way, the obstructions are no obstruction and never were at all.

    Snow is ever always perfectly empty from the start ... so shoveling and constant clearing is emptiness realized.

    And from such perspective, we get our driveway clean as much as our neighbors ... get to the car and drive away.

    Now, this is not something we "only understand intellectually", but is instead truly pierced and made one's own in the real act of living. with our whole body and mind in the act of snow shoveling ... the true act of living is just shoveling snow. GET YOUR BOOTS ON AND GET OUT THERE, grab a shovel ... don't just read weather reports in the news!

    Does that give a feel from "practice-realization", "practice as a Buddha's practice, a Buddha's realization", "practice as enlightenment itself"?

    In a sense, we might almost say that "getting the driveway clear, and getting from front door to street" is now almost besides the point.
    Yet, we go on with our work.

    Those who would mislead, saying that "Soto Practice is merely to sit in one's house, pretending the snow is not there ... or pretending there is no work required ... or content and self-satisfied with the snow and staying indoors all winter" and otherwise seek to mischaracterize Shikantaza and "Just Sitting" as"just sitting around" ("Just Shoveling" as just shuffling) ... DO NOT, in their wildest imaginations, understand the true art of snow removal.

    What I describe is not "dead practice" ... but practice as vibrant life itself!

    In a sense there is no "destination" in this life of practice (life of shoveling) ... which may be the main difference between "Just Shoveling" and forms of Buddhism which overly focus on a place to get to. We do not gracefully engage in balanced diligent shoveling (graceful, balance, engaged, diligent life) in order to clear the driveway ... but because "graceful, balanced, engaged, diligent" living/practice is Buddha realized. We shovel because Buddhas shovel ... that is what Buddhas do (we live because we are living Buddhas). The snow will keep falling so long as we are alive, winter by winter ... and we must keep shoveling.

    Now, do not mistake my point ... there is a world of difference between "graceful, balanced, engaged, diligent" snow shoveling and "distracted, unbalanced, lazy, negligent, confused" snow shoveling ... and how we shovel makes all the difference in the world. Practice is realization, but how we practice realizes realization, makes realization real. This was also Master Dogen's point about snow shoveling ... one cannot be a negligent snow shoveler (just saying "since the snow and I are Buddha all along, no need to shovel ... or even perfectly okay to do a half-assed job). Far from it! (That is the Naturalist Heresy, in Dogen's eyes)

    Buddha shoveling Buddhas requires shoveling like a Buddha would shovel ... and Buddha's get off their Buddha-asses and get to work, doing a careful job, when there is work to do.

    Let me try to address some other very big misconceptions about all this ...

    Obviously Dogen stressed the importance of practice/realization, but it seems that in reading things with a Rinzai bent(On Zen Practice,etc..) there seems to be a slightly derogatory attitude towards pure Soto practice. The main criticism as I read it is that those who only practice Shikantaza without koan study never have any kind of experiential realization and that this leads to dead practice or a practice that has only intellectual understanding. The explanation is that to truly begin zen practice one must have "kensho" and only then does zen practice begin.
    We also have Ken-snow moments in our "Just Shoveling" in which shovel, boots, snow, drive, house and snow fully drop away ... and what is tasted is/are all interconnected or all fully dropped away, perhaps both at once or not even that.

    But seeing is not doing. Seeing the "True Reality of Snowness" is not getting the job done. Kensho alone (or as the main point of practice ... or even as anything more than a mere point of reference in our shoveling) is a snow job.

    Seeing that "ultimately there is only a driveway and no snow" ... or mistakenly thinking "I must clear all this snow to get to the driveway, experiencing and living out our True Pavement at each moment" (when I finally see in Kensho and live upon the True Pavement, the snow out of the way and out of my eyes, then there is finally where is found Truth and Liberation) ... is a very different perspective from our Soto way of snow shoveling (described above ... the Snow-to Way). One of the great misconceptions about practice (and this is not a matter of "Soto vs. Rinzai", because some Soto people are as guilty of this as others) is that "Seeing True Nature" for a moment is anything more than a point of reference for getting on with the key act of snow shoveling. "Seeing True Nature" does nothing more than let one know a bit about the situation and the lay of the land

    Some silly guys treat this practice as if a moment of "Seeing the Driveway and the True Snow" melts all the snow right there, getting the driveway clear. Other silly guys think that we shovel in order to have these experiences of enlightened seeing. They each think that the point is to clear the snow in order to see the driveway!

    No! We have these "experiences of seeing" in order to be more enlightened shovelers!

    Nor is the point to be constantly aware, constant in touch with, constant living from our "True Nature" as realized in Kensho ... because that is not life. Life is shoveling, which is our True Nature made real.

    Forget what you may have momentarily tasted of snow and driveway as one beyond one, even that forgotten ...instead, toss "Kensho" into the pile with all the other trash ... stop day dreaming, and get back to the work at hand!

    Even Soto (or earlier Silent Illumination) teachers who teach that getting in touch with our Original Face will thus sua sponte turn us instantly in Buddha-like snow shovelers ... always knowing the right thing to do, the right place to head in life, our every step out on the ice graceful and true ... are full of shovels of shit.

    So long as we are just human snow shovelers who happen to be Buddhas (as opposed to Golden Buddhas shoveling snow) we will have to wrestle that tension between "graceful, balanced, engaged, diligent" snow shoveling and "distracted, unbalanced, lazy, negligent, confused" snow shoveling. That is the human condition until we each turn into one of the perfect "Snow Shoveling" Buddhas in the Buddhist story books (no more real or relevant, perhaps, than Santa and his Reindeer ... and no less real either, Virginia).

    And that fact of endless Buddhas endlessly shoveling Buddhas is true until, one winter, we turn our last shovel of snow ... suffer a coronary and fall over dead on our still half snow covered front lawn (perhaps to come back for more snowing in a future winter ... who knows?).

    But enough chatter ... I have a driveway to clear today.

    Gassho, J

  2. #2
    Treeleaf Unsui Kyrillos's Avatar
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    Oct 2009
    Montgomery Illinois USA

    Re: How a Buddha Shovels Snow

    Okay so when I shovel I make a clear lane from the garage to the street and then shovel side to side from that lane back up the drive to the garage. Does that make me Risoto???



  3. #3

    Re: How a Buddha Shovels Snow


  4. #4

    Re: How a Buddha Shovels Snow

    Beautiful post & essay, Jundo, gassho~

    I have become very intent on kensho as of late but I am aware that my desire to experience kensho is a new obstacle in the way of clear seeing. I have so many ideas of what it might be like, how could I ever recognize the real dragon, even if it's right in front of me?

    That said, from personal experience, I see and can appreciate the 'incompleteness' of an approach that elevates kensho and disregards the fullness of life before and after. I've known some folks who claimed kensho experiences who engaged in quite intricate delusions regardless. What I concluded was not that their claims were false, but that kensho can be meaningless if a person is not engaged deeply on the path of self-honesty before, during, and after, humble and open... For a while, then, as a result, I devalued kensho, believing it to be a worthless practice, if people could have such experiences and still be so deluded... but recent developments and experiences have illustrated for me the value of that direct experience of 'it,' and reawakened the old hunger... but I still hold all of that in the upturned palms of daily practice. Every single moment of this life is precious, even if one cannot even say what 'a moment' actually is. Even the deepest spiritual experiences do not necessarily mean that we have realized our lives...

  5. #5

    Re: How a Buddha Shovels Snow

    The thing that I love about my job is that every day is different.

    Denis, I am also a Risoto.

    Kensho, is that when birth and death becomes a non issue?

    I think I better go get my snow shovel ready. Snow is on the way.


  6. #6

    Re: How a Buddha Shovels Snow

    We had our first snow of the season today...perhaps this is why I feel less distress when shoveling.

    Thank you Jundo.


  7. #7

    Re: How a Buddha Shovels Snow

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    each scoop by scoop is the drive-way totally realized and clear.
    Oh, yes, there is much work to be done, and we must make a path from door to the street so that we can get out of our house
    Do we? :-)

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Kyrillos View Post
    Okay so when I shovel I make a clear lane from the garage to the street and then shovel side to side from that lane back up the drive to the garage. Does that make me Risoto???


    You really made ​​me laugh

    I wanted to do some study on Buddha this day, but had some work to do on the garden too.... I realized that the best way to study Buddha's Way was to actually do my garden's work with focus, attention... so I did for three or four hours in a small drizzle...then, a couple of hours later, my dobermann cub jumped a fence and made a mess in the garden, mud, broken plants and everything, all the morning's work lost....for some minutes, I got really upset... then, I realized: "This is life"...cleaned my dirty dog, smiled and gave her a cookie...tomorrow, more snow shoveling or, more precisely, mud shoveling

    Thank you Jundo, great post

    Last edited by Koshin; 06-17-2012 at 03:48 AM.
    Kōshin / Leo

    P.S. Yup, I know, my English sucks

  9. #9
    Thank you for the post. Very soothing.



  10. #10
    Thank you for this Jundo. Though it was a metaphor it was also very literal, and very appropriate right now too! Shoveled the mailbox out yesterday. Out there in the biting cold wind, inch by inch moving snow from a 5 ft. mountain to another 5 ft. mountain. The physical strain and freezing mustache... it wasn't bad haha. Just focused on the motion, accepted the wind and the strain as they are and let the "goal" just be the shoveling itself rather than getting the mailbox clear so that we can get the bills in.

    Gassho, John

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