This week, Japanese Lineages of Soto Zen celebrate the 811th BIRTHDAY OF MASTER DOGEN! YEA! YIPPEE!
But in some ways, MASTER DOGEN IS VERY OLD AND OUT OF DATE!
Oh, don't misunderstand! So many of Dogen's Teachings are FOR ALL TIMES AND ALL PLACES. In fact, his vision of Time and Timelessness, BEING-TIME, is ALL TIME IN EVERY TIME, THIS TIME AS TOTALLY THIS TIME AND THAT TIME, ITS OWN TIMELY TIME, EACH TIME OR HALF TIME JUST A WHOLE TIME, A WORMHOLE-TIME, A RABBIT HOLE TIME ...THE WHOLE HOLY TIME. Dogen once-upon-a-time wrote this ...
Do not think that time merely flies away. Do not see flying away as the only function of time. If time merely flies away, you would be separated from time. The reason you do not clearly understand the time-being is that you think of time only as passing. In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments. Because all moments are the time-being, they are your time-being. The time-being has the quality of flowing. So-called today flows into tomorrow, today flows into yesterday, yesterday flows into today. And today flows into today, tomorrow flows into tomorrow.
In my way of reading the old boy, DOGEN IS A RIFFING JHANA JAZZ MAN-POET, free expressing-bending-unbinding-reexpressing-releasing the 'standard tunes' of the Sutras and Koans, making time and keeping time in syncopation of time ...
Zen master Guixing of She Prefecture ... taught the assembly:
For the time being mind arrives, but words do not.
For the time being words arrive, but mind does not.
For the time being both mind and words arrive.
For the time being neither mind nor words arrive.
Both mind and words are the time-being. Both arriving and not-arriving
are the time-being. When the moment of arriving has not appeared, the moment
of not-arriving is here. Mind is a donkey, words are a horse.
Having-already-arrived is words and not-having-left is mind. Arriving is not
"coming," not-arriving is not "not yet."
That's Dogen-Time, Man! Digg It!
But sometimes Dogen is JUST A MAN OF HIS CULTURE AND TIMES, preaching about things with limited relevance today. You can take Dogen out of ancient samurai Japan, but you cannot take the ancient Japanese samurai out of Dogen. I find him sometimes obsessive, sometimes grumpy, sometimes naive and ill informed, sometimes perhaps downright wrong in his advice then and now (as in this guidance to a prospective monk on leaving his old infirm mother to fend for herself)
A monk inquired,
“My aged mother is still alive. I am her only son. She lives solely by my support. Her love for me is especially deep and my desire to fulfill my filial duties is also deep. ... If I leave the world and live alone in a hermitage, my mother cannot expect to live for even one day.
If you abandon your present life and enter the Buddha-Way, even if your mother dies of starvation, wouldn’t it be better for you to form a connection with the Way and for her to permit her only son to enter the Way? Although it is most difficult to cast aside filial love even over aeons and many lifetimes, if, having being born in a human body you give it up in this lifetime, when you encounter the Buddha’s teachings you will be truly fulfilling your debt of gratitude. Why wouldn’t this be in accordance with the Buddha’s will? It is said that if one child leaves home to become a monk, seven generations of parents will attain the Way.
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(Also, to the mention of "many lifetimes" I offer another agnostic 'Hmmm'.)
At other times, Dogen spoke out of Both Sides of His No-Sided Mouth, for example, sometimes saying this about the practice of lay folks (usually when writing to lay folks, as here in Bendowa)
Q: Can a layman practice this zazen or is it limited to priests?
A: The patriarchs have said that to understand Buddhism there should be no distinction between man and woman and between rich and poor. ... It has nothing to do with being either a priest or a lay man. Those who can discern excellence and inferiority will believe Buddhism naturally. Those who think that worldly tasks hinder Buddhism know only that there is no Buddhism in the world; they do not know that there is nothing that can be set apart as worldly tasks in Buddhism. ... All this tells us that worldly tasks do not hinder Buddhism. ... In the age of the Buddha, even misguided criminals were enlightened through his teachings. Under the patriarchs, even hunters and woodcutters were enlightened. And others will gain enlightenment. All you have to do is to receive instructions from a real teacher.
At other times, later times in his life, Dogen changed his tune. When speaking to his band of "all boy" monks in a 13th century monastery in the snowy boondocks, you can often hear him, in talks from this period, dealing with real "human to human" issues in the monastery. A lack of donors and hard economic times, rough food and no money to fix the roof. From what we know of the Eiheiji monks, a hodgepodge of refugees with various spiritual and personal backgrounds, Dogen's work was sometimes like herding cantankerous cats. You can hear in his voice the coach or commander, trying to keep up the sometimes flagging morale among his "men" ... men probably sometimes wondering why they'd left the comforts of home life and town to live and sit through the hard, cold, long, lonely winter days in a monastery in the middle of nowhere. No easy task, unless you preach a little "fire and brimstone". He would say such things as (in Shobogenzo Shukke)
Clearly know that the attainment of the way by all Buddhas and ancestors is only accomplished by leaving the household and receiving the precepts. ... None of those who have not left the household are Buddha ancestors
Breaking the precepts as a home leaver is better than keeping them as a layperson. You cannot experience emancipation by keeping the precepts as a layperon."
If Dogen had not been driven out of town with his small band of monks, his ecumenical dreams a bit tarnished, forced to take retreat in the lonely cold and snow of remote Echizen Province ... would he have later become so seemingly closed to lay practice? I wonder. But, no matter ... for Dogen was a man of many moods and visions, and even Dogen is not the "final word" on what Soto Zen is or is not, and who can practice and who cannot, on what "home leaving" is or is not.
Dogen was a genius, beyond doubt. He was also a man with strong, personal views and opinions. Although someone may be truly gifted in some aspects, and have All the Answers ... be it spiritual or otherwise ... he/she need not have all the answers in every part of their life, having every answer to every life question. Mozart, a genius, was nonetheless not so on all matters and all music for all times. It is enough for me that Dogen, or any of the Buddhas and Ancestors, pierced to the heart of how this mind-self-universe works ... even if their particular social or scientific views, or views on daily conduct or how to treat one's mother ... can be taken with a grain of salt. One need not live in a 13th century Japanese monastery to find the heart of these Teachings!
Master Dogen was sometimes just a man of his place and time, with views not necessarily always right for our times.
(OH, AND PLEASE WELCOME OUR NEW BABY DAUGHTER, WHO JOINED ME FOR PART OF TODAY'S TALK! DOGEN DIDN'T PRACTICE 'PAPA ZEN' EITHER!)
Today’s Sit-A-Long video follows at this link. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 15 to 35 minutes is recommended