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Thread: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

  1. #1
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Dogen has the reputation to have left a very dense tapestry of poetic and challenging teachings that seem to baffle most people. He displays a very subtle and often paradoxical flow and waves of thoughts, images and it generally doesn't make sense. In front of this chaotic and inspiring movement, words in action, we might take the position of a scholar, digging the ground, looking for a well hidden system which would, beneath the agitated and moving surface, support and structure the whole work. Knowledge and intellectual finesse are the trademark of such an endeavour. Not my cup of tea anymore, although very useful I must say.
    We might also take another route, and choose to apply, in the light of the Buddhist understandings, a system of decoding and reading, when Nishijima looks at the Shobogenzo using the four realities, he does that exactly.http://www.dogensangha.org/articles.htm#Understanding .The issue I have with with this kind of approach is that it can become very systematic, automatic, almost obscessional. Both methods seem to have something in common: to rescue the reader from the wreck, to help us out of the stormy waters.
    And this is precisely what I think we should not always be doing...

    In a recent dokusan with one of my students, he said to me: I don't get it...It was said with a pinch of frustration, a good amount of respect and a feeling that this Shobogenzo was definitely a bit too much for him. And I answered that that was it, the point is NOT TO GET IT. Do you get a jazz improvisation, a miraculous and transparent movement of a dancer, do you get the sound of trees in the wind, should you get this and that and always be in control...We don't like to be in the position of not understanding, that leaves us with the bitter taste that something somehow is missing, and we feel like a fool. "Not getting it" can also be a sheer enjoyement of what is. To understand Dogen, is it to make sense of it all or to enter and live the reality he is talking about? How do we live in the flesh the teachings rather that playing with concepts and ideas? To drop all views is the Buddhist path and that monk who appeared somewhere in Medieval Japan is showing the way inviting us to give life to the teachings. In other words, to appreciate Dogen just for Dogen is merely a loss of time. To fully live what he was pointing act and speaking from, which is believe it or not YOUR LIFE is what he is all about. Read Dogen and chew the silence after the words. Take the shobogenzo into your life, take it in your blood, walks, eyes, take it so intimately that don't even know or care about it. Reading the Shobogenzo really starts when you leave the book behind and live your life. "Not getting it" is the pessimistic take on NOT KNOWING. Dogen challenges our logical perception of the world and ourselves, his teaching breaks through the tight fabric of beliefs so we might just STOP for a while.

    To let Shobogenzo resonnate in/with our lives is the key. As the hammer hits the bell, the sound that blooms touches everything. And as you strike the bell again an again, the sound will open same and different. You will never read the same chapter of fragment of Shobogenzo, because, every moment you are different, ever changing reality. So if you don't get it, well that''s very good already. All you may do is stop worrying about it.

    gassho

    Taigu

  2. #2

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Gassho!
    what if you get it.

  3. #3

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Dear Taigu--I've been one of those that 'doesn't get it' or even didn't think I could if even if I tried real hard. So, honestly, I never tried very hard. But, your description here struck a very familiar chord with me, and, if you'll permit it, a very peculiar but intriguing comparison.

    I've been a huge fan for decades of 'Finnegan's Wake' by James Joyce. This book is considered by most to be unintelligible. The language is English, but also a composed sort of language borrowing words from 60 or 70 other languages. It's been described as "a language which, like poetry, uses words and images which can mean several, often contradictory, things at once" and "
    language as a new medium, breaking down all grammatical usages, all time space values, all ordinary conceptions of context".

    In short, it's not a story with a linear plot like most books...less a book and more an experience. I've always taken it for granted that I would not understand any of it. So, with that freedom given to my brain to play rather than to understand, I pick up the book from time to time and open it to any random page, and begin to read. I discover something new every time, just like you said.

    So, now that I remember how this approach goes, and how much fun it is, now I can try Shobogenzo again, applying the same approach. Also, one famous trick to getting through the 'Wake' is to read it out loud---the text, music of words, rhythm etc seem to make more sense when 'heard' out loud. I can try that with Dogen also--

    In the mass of words that is the Pond of the 'Wake', I just dive in and start swimming around, thoroughly enjoying the waterwords. Dogen is another Pond. Now, rather than being intimidated, I'm excited to explore the new waters, with the same swimming strokes that I already know, from the 'Wake' Pond.

    Gotta go--time to dig out my swim suit and get ready to splash around in new waters. Thanks much and much Gassho, Ann

  4. #4

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    I get so frustrated reading it too!! But I was thinking about what you said in one of your sit-a-longs which is what you say here. Just read it. Just let it sink in naturally. You don't always have to get it.

    Thank you Taigu sensei.

    The Dharma crashes down,
    on my stone head,
    nothing penetrates,
    then cracks in my mind,
    slowly drops come in
    Crash!

    Gassho,

    Cyril

  5. #5
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Ann,

    Thank you for your post. You see, the most inspiring zen teacher Tenryu Steve Allen, heir to Issan Dorsey and a great original teacher, compares Dogen to Joyce...Dogen experimented with language and displayed in doing so an incredible freedom. It is so funny to notice how we get wrapped up in rigid interpretation, stuck in the will to be right, see right, read right...Please watch this, the guy is amazing and vibrant, and what he says is so close to the mark:

    http://www.livestream.com/sfzc/video?cl ... 9d87b9eaf9

    Yes, you are right, one of the best ways to read Dogen is to read at random. When I was a literature lecturer in the French University ( a long time ago :lol: ) I used to advise my master degree students to give up linear reading from time to time, open a page and give it a go. Give it a voice too. Reading it loud. Whispering it. Shouting it. Spiting it. Loving it. Playing with it and in the process listening, over and over again listening.
    From time to time, it is good to get through a whole chapter too. And then choose and pluck a particular sentence again and again like a guitar player would pluck a string or play with chords. Something like that.

    gassho


    Taigu

  6. #6

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Dogen is no easy read, that is for sure. I'm lucky to get tiny glimpses here & there. Eventually, with a lot of other reading, some of it makes a bit more sense (I've been reading Dainin Katagiri's Each Moment Is the Universe, which has also shed some light on Dogen's "being-time"). I find it best to read him in small doses, at least for now, and not get to hung up on not getting everything. At first I was somewhat exasperated, but I just don't think this is something to rush in understanding, so I've just been going at a slow pace with Dogen. What's the rush after all? At least for me, I think this is really an important thing to bear in mind.

    I just started Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen's Shobogenzo by Shohaku Omukura which has been a HUGE eye opener for me, however (and I'm only on chapter 6!). I'd highly recommend this book if you find Dogen a hard nut to crack: http://www.treeleaf.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3121.

    I understand reading him in the original Japanese is just as unusual-- apparently he did to Japanese what Heidegger did to German!

    () josh

  7. #7
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Hi Ojosh,

    Sorry to say but Dogen's Shobogenzo is not a hard nut to crack. Shobogenzo is not a jigsaw that would gradually makes more sense as you put the pieces together. Shobogenzo does the opposite, it breaks us into pieces. In a way it deconstructs our vision of reality and invites us to let go of the self. So I have to challenge your understanding.

    It sometimes takes a long time to really learn how to read. It took me a long time.

    Yes, Realizing Genjokoan is a great book.


    gassho


    Taigu

  8. #8

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    The hardest nuts to crack are balanced precariously above our shoulders. Thank you for this teaching and encouragement. I need to expand my library (among other things).

    Gassho,
    Peter

  9. #9
    Treeleaf Unsui Kyrillos's Avatar
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    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    And I answered that that was it, the point is NOT TO GET IT. Do you get a jazz improvisation, a miraculous and transparent movement of a dancer, do you get the sound of trees in the wind, should you get this and that and always be in control..
    No, I don't "get it", rather I let it get me! The moment of a Stan Getz riff, a series of fantastic jettes across the stage, the movement high in the trees of the wood across from my house, far from my control...get me. They grab me sometimes suddenly, sometimes subtly, sometimes loudly, sometimes imperceivably quiet. Sometimes I smile, sometimes I cry; but all times my heart is engaged. I have no control over this. I used to feel like a sap, but no longer. Now I let the thing happen."River run, past Eve and Adam's..."

    Gassho


    Seishin Kyrill

  10. #10

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    An excellent study is Zen Action, Zen Person by T. P. Kasulis. Although an academic study, it is very accessible and insightful. The couple of chapters on Dogen are extremely helpful. It is a fundamental study.

    From Chapter 7 "Dogen: Person as Presence":
    Enlightenment is the direct recognition of what one most fundamentally is: the purity, the unity, and responsiveness of prereflective experience.

  11. #11

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Quote Originally Posted by chessie
    So, with that freedom given to my brain to play rather than to understand, I pick up the book from time to time and open it to any random page, and begin to read. I discover something new every time, just like you said.
    Hi Ann,

    You know, FW has no start or end? It begins in mid-sentence, and ends in mid-sentence (but the last sentence is the first half of the first sentence, the first sentence is the last half of the last sentence!). It's a circular book, and I think Shobogenzo is the same way; read it 'round and 'round and 'round, each time it can peel off a layer, sink deeper in (at least for me).

    I'm actually pretty excited about the new translation, once it's available; if Nishijima/Cross is nuts and bolts accurate, and Tanahashi is tonally (for lack of a better word) accurate, I think it will be very interesting to read them side by side; maybe it will let this non-Japanese speaker get a little closer to the message behind the words!

    Thank you, Rev. Taigu for this lovely topic, and thanks to everyone else for their wonderful posts.

    Metta,

    Perry

  12. #12

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    This talk by Steve Hagen called "Dharma Words" asks us to hear (and read) the Dharma not as more concepts, but as pointers or signs to experience things as they are. I think the spirit of the talk is very much in agreement with what Taigu wrote.

    Audio HERE (MP3)
    Or can be found for download HERE under "Recent Sunday Talks"
    ---
    After I wrote this I've been listening to Taigu's teachings of the "Ten Oxheading Pictures," and in the "2nd picture" episode" Taigu said that the finger pointing to the moon is the moon, just like the snow prints of the ox are not just a sign of something missing but Reality itself, complete and total.

  13. #13

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    There are quite a few times when I read Dharma texts that I feel that “I don’t get it”. At first, I was upset about that, because I thought that “getting it” was the first step to understanding and living it. I believed that, in order to live something or do something, really in order to know or understand something, I had to know the “why” of it. Why does it work that way? Why does the Eightfold Noble Path free us from suffering? Why is zazen, shikantaza inparticular, so central to our Way? Why, why, why?


    It took a while for me to “get” that I was not put on this earth to “get it”. That I do not exist simply to understand, and that things are as they are whether I understand them or not. I read Zen Master Raven, Sayings and Doings of a Wise Bird, by Aitken Roshi, from cover to cover, most often with a puzzled look on my face. Then I had a thought. I decided that I would practice and come back to ZMR every now and again, but I would simply open it to a passage at random and re-read it. Sometimes I’d still have a puzzled look after reading it, but sometimes I would say, “Ahhh, so that’s what that meant. Now I see.” I now appreciate the lines I read much more, and their meaning became clearer to me at exactly the same time that I was ready to understand them. Some passages, I may not ever understand, and I’ve come to be ok with that being a possibility. It is the same with the Shobogenzo, and Transmission of the Light. I may not always “get” the teisho in the chapter I am reading, but I don’t need to get why changes in barometric pressure make the wind blow in order to appreciate the feeling of it on my face, or the sound it makes in the trees. Maybe one day I’ll even “get” that, but I don’t think it will change the enjoyment of a breeze on a hot day, or the music it makes in the leaves.

    Sometimes, trying to “get it” is like taking a ball and trying to push it through a square hole. Sometimes “getting it” is a matter of just letting the ball drop and bounce around a while until it finds the round hole on its own. Even now, I’ve been practicing our Way for a while, and like we all do, I think, I will catch myself “trying” to sit zazen, and I will sometimes make things even worse by “trying” not to “try” to sit zazen. The most deeply profound times are when I just sit, and let zazen sit itself. The best lessons I learn, I do so when I politely ask my mind to excuse itself for a bit, and just experience the lesson.

    Not always easy,
    But neither is life.
    Not always sunny,
    But neither is every day.
    Not always clear,
    But neither is every pool of water.

    However life is not the same each day,
    And the weather is always changing.
    The water is never the same,
    Each time I pass it by.

    Beauty can be graceful or savage,
    Perfection found in broken glass.
    Each day, sunny or wet, happy or tragic
    Is a gift,
    As long as one remembers
    To live it.

    P.S. Yes, I really felt like using the italics button today.
    :lol:

  14. #14

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Hi Taigu!
    Thank you for sharing this with all of us!
    It is exactly what we somtimes need to hear when we feel submerged by the Shobogenzo! ... a lot of times to be honest!
    A good help to "get back on the horse"!

    gassho,
    Jinyu

  15. #15

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    Hi Ojosh,

    Sorry to say but Dogen's Shobogenzo is not a hard nut to crack. Shobogenzo is not a jigsaw that would gradually makes more sense as you put the pieces together. Shobogenzo does the opposite, it breaks us into pieces. In a way it deconstructs our vision of reality and invites us to let go of the self. So I have to challenge your understanding.

    It sometimes takes a long time to really learn how to read. It took me a long time.


    ops:

    Thank you, Taigu!

    () josh

  16. #16

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....


  17. #17

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    I just read an interview to Portuguese novelist Antonio Lobo Antunes and he stated there that:

    "the books I like are those that start in me when I finish reading them... We, readers, open books with the key of our own experience, but every good book has its own key and teach yourself how to read it."
    I'd say that Dogen texts are exactly like that. As long as they start something within us, we don't need to get everything.


    For those of you who can read Spanish, here's the link to the interview to Lobo Antunes

    http://www.elcultural.es/noticias/LETRA ... queda_nada

    Gassho

  18. #18

    Re: Shobogenzo? I don't get it....

    Thank you, Taigu, and everyone. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

    Gassho,
    Jikyo

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