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Thread: Yin Yang of Genjokoan

  1. #1

    Yin Yang of Genjokoan

    I just read this article in Tricycle https://tricycle.org/magazine/dogen-genjokoan/ where one of the central themes of the article is the influence of Daoist thinking on Dogen’s writings in Genjokoan

    Example

    To make this point, Dogen alludes to Daoist ideas about yin and yang. The concept of yin and yang is very dialectical. You’re either on one side or the other. And if you go too far to either extreme, you can flip to the other side. Yang is the active, masculine principle, and yin is the receptive, feminine principle. Daoism would say that you should dwell on the yin side as much as possible, because it’s receptive and can see the other side. When we are on the yang side, we tend to be blind and act out in ways that are unbalanced. We need to use this male energy to be in the world, but once we’ve accomplished the task at hand, it’s wise to return to the yin side.

    Dogen builds his entire argument around this central metaphor of the dark side of the mirror that reflects the buddhadharma. Later on he uses more opposites and pairs: Fish and birds, Buddhist enlightenment and delusion, shore and the boat, firewood and ash. He’s using these metaphors constantly throughout the Genjokoan, and he says the same thing over and over and over again: be on the yin side. He’s saying this: To get over yourself, appreciate what is other than you and get on with living, being liberated, free of the karma that we create. Trust the universe and let it carry you along.
    Based on our discussions here at Treeleaf this interpretation just didn’t sit right with me. I never read Genjokoan believing that Dogen was saying anything about living in the “light side” (yang) vs “dark side” (yin). Nor did I believe he was specifically drawing out opposites when talking about fish and birds, shore and boat, or firewood and ash. This feels like a discussion that is directly pointing to a divisiveness. Perhaps I am totally of base here so I’d be interested in hearing Jundo’s and our other sangha members’ take on this.


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  2. #2
    Looking forward to this conversation. Thank you for sharing Tairin.

    Sat
    Jim

    Sent from my SM-G970U using Tapatalk

  3. #3
    I did not care for the David Brazier book that is the inspiration for the article, and I think David pulled this idea out of his own "yingyang." (I am trying not to overstep the Precept here on criticizing other Buddhists except to the degree necessary for purposes of education and interpretive comparison ... as well as to make a little funny).

    I don't see many traditional yin-yang symbols and perspectives in Dogen's writings, and he rarely mentions such beliefs. Yes, he lived in the 13th century, when such beliefs were a quite common in Japanese culture, but his use of symbols ... such as the mirror ... do not seem to be anything like this:

    ... yin is the receptive, feminine principle. Daoism would say that you should dwell on the yin side as much as possible, because it’s receptive and can see the other side. When we are on the yang side, we tend to be blind and act out in ways that are unbalanced. We need to use this male energy to be in the world, but once we’ve accomplished the task at hand, it’s wise to return to the yin side. ...
    I don't see this.

    In a brilliant new book, called The Zen Master's Dance: A Guide to Understanding Dogen and Who You Are in the Universe, which you should all read for sure [then kindly review on Amazon, but only if feeling drawn to do so], the very talented, charming, witty and handsome author looks at this a bit differently ... samely yet differently. It is more about the "relative" world of divided things (you, me, this, that, birth, death) and the "absolute" in which all division and separation is dropped away into the flowing wholeness of Emptiness. Here is how that book so insightfully describes those opening paragraphs of the Genjo ...

    When things are seen as separate in the Buddha’s teachings,
    there is human delusion, there is distant enlightenment,
    and there is Buddhist practice to move us from the
    former to the latter, there is birth and there is death, and
    there are Buddhas and sentient beings that stand apart.



    That is the view we hold, especially when first starting on the Buddhist path, when the world seems mostly divided. We desire to climb from our present fallen state to the height of perfection and the freedom of a Buddha. But Master Dōgen then points us to another way of experiencing truth:

    [Genjo Koan]: When the myriad things are realized as each without an individual self,
    there is no delusion and no enlightenment,
    no Buddhas and no sentient beings, no birth and no death.


    This is the truth of “emptiness,” in which categories and names for separate things are swept into wholeness. We can encounter the world this other way too, without making judgments of near or far, flawed or flawless, perfect or imperfect, high or low, and without applying mental categories and thoughts of separation. Then the division of ordinary beings and Buddhas evaporates, and the strife of this world vanishes too. Buddhas and sentient beings are then experienced as not apart, not separate. Enlightenment is never hidden—even in the world of confusion—once we learn to see. We can drop away our ideas of coming and going, birth and death, and instead experience an ongoing continuity and wholeness beyond time, beyond birth and death.

    Yet we must not stop there, for we must keep living in this world that is also separate things, coming and going:

    [Genjo Koan]: In the Buddha Way, we must leap clear of and right through both the view of fullness and the view of lack;
    thus there are again birth and death, delusion and enlightenment, sentient beings and Buddhas.


    We can experience this life and world in both of the foregoing ways at once. The result is a bit tricky to get one’s head around, but it is based on wisdom. We learn to see through all the divisions and seeming imperfections of the world, even as they appear to continue to exist. For example, we see many flaws in life and society, yet we also learn to drop all judgments about what is flawed or flawless. Instead, all things become just what they are without our criticism, each a shining jewel in its own way, even those things that we usually resist or find abhorrent.

    However, that does not mean that we simply tolerate those flaws either: the uglier and more abhorrent something is, the more deeply buried and hard to see is that shining light. Thus, although this world and all things may shine from within (and so, from that perspective, they do so without need of polishing to remove the grime which obscures), we still have to keep polishing in our practice to bring out that shine. Although Buddhas and ordinary sentient beings are not apart, if ordinary beings continue to think and act ignorantly, they will not realize this truth. We have to think (and nonthink, putting aside divisive and judgmental thoughts) and act more like Buddhas would act, freeing ourselves from excess desires, anger, and divided thinking in order to make the presence of Buddha appear before our eyes and in our hearts. This is Dōgen’s path of “practice-enlightenment,” in which we practice acting as a Buddha now in order to realize that Buddha has been here all along. Even when we don’t think and act like it, the fact is that we are still Buddha nonetheless, although our ignorance and poor behavior will keep that truth hidden from us and cause suffering.

    Yet, even with all our insight and wisdom, even when realizing this hard world as shining Buddha, this world remains hard nonetheless. So, Dōgen writes:

    [Genjo Koan]: Yet even so, the beloved flowers still fall to our regret and
    sorrow, the weeds still grow though we wish it were not so.


    Delusion and enlightenment, ordinary sentient beings and Buddhas, are apart yet not apart from one another; the same, yet not at all as they were before realization. But even with such wisdom and insight, even while seeing something beyond the flaws of this sometimes very hard world, we remain human, fragile, sometimes heartbroken.

    This world may have aspects of a dream, but it can often be a very hard dream. For example, I may tell someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one that death is not all that meets the eye when we realize a timeless reality which flows on and on. Still, that does not keep their heart from aching. I cannot tell soldiers and hungry children that violence and injustice are caused by the delusions of anger and desire, and that they should simply see through it all to a vision in which there is nothing to fight for and nothing lacking. Although there is such an insight to experience, doing so does not end the very real bloodshed and hunger. We still have to work to end the war and feed the children.
    As to the mirror ...

    [Genjo Koan]: When one sees the forms or hears the sounds of the world
    fully and wholly with body and mind [free of judgment,
    free of mental categories, transcending “me, my, mine”],
    one intimately understands without separation. Then, it is
    not like some object and its reflection in a mirror, and it is
    unlike the moon and its reflection in distant water, whereby
    one side is illuminated and the other side is left in the dark.


    Most of us feel cut off from life much of the time, as if our self and the rest of the world were separate. Frictions and disappointments
    come out of this sense of separation. But there is a way to experience life so unified, so intimate, that such frictions and disappointments drop away. It takes a sense of separation to have tumult and trouble. So, let’s just stop feeling that separation! Give up sticking so stubbornly to this sense of our separate selves via our Buddhist practice. Then, one sees both sides at once, wholeness and separation, completion and lack, as two sides of a single no-sided coin, and all is illuminated.
    Later in the Genjo, Dogen shows this wholeness of the the moon and its reflections in the countless individual things of the world ...

    [Genjo Koan]: Our enlightenment is like the moon reflected in the water.
    The moon does not get wet, the water is not broken.
    Although the light shines wide and vast, the moon is
    reflected in a puddle a foot or an inch wide. The entire
    moon and the whole sky are reflected in countless dewdrops
    upon the grass, and even in a single drop of water.


    This understanding comes when we learn to see and experience this world in all its variety and complexity, its division and separation, as variations and expressions of something wonderfully all-embracing, something beyond broken pieces and friction. Imagine that moon again, its light shining on and within all things. This moon represents the light of Buddha, what we call enlightenment. This moonlight shines from within you too, as you. And you don’t even need to do anything to make it so.

    [Genjo Koan]:Enlightenment does not divide a person, just as the moon does not shatter the water.
    We cannot obstruct enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not obstruct the moon in the sky.
    The depth of each drop is the measure of the height
    of the moon. No matter how long or short the duration of
    each reflection, it expresses the largeness or smallness of the
    dewdrop, yet completely holds the boundlessness of the
    moonlight in the heavens.


    Not only you, but all people, things, and events are the moonlight shining: long things shining as long, short things shining as short; happy events are the moon shining happily, sad times are but the moon illuminated in sadness. All are the one moon. Nonetheless, although this light is always shining, our practice is to uncover that light within.
    Rev. Althouse is correct that Dogen was all about moving gracefully through this life,

    Here, he’s bringing in a Confucian element, the principle of li, which means to perform rites correctly so that heaven and earth remain in balance along with the natural right ordering of daily life. This includes just doing your duties, like if you have a family member who’s sick and you have to take care of them instead of going out to a party.
    I think he is right that Confucian values like these flow all through Zen as it developed in China and came to Japan and Dogen. However, I don't see the gosh dang "yin yang" so much.

    Sorry for running long.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-15-2020 at 01:31 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    Hi Tairin

    Thank you for sharing that.

    I agree with Jundo that David Brazier's arguments are really unconvincing and his notion that Genjokoan is built around the principles of yin and yang really misses the point of that entire fascicle and try to shoehorn it into his own ideas.

    You could make an argument for the emptiness and form aspects that Dogen refers to in Genjokoan being echoed in earlier Taoist thought but even then we know that there are sources for that in the prajnaparamita literature that predates Buddhism's arrival in China.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  5. #5
    I always interpretted Yin & Yang to represent the idea that light can't exist without darkness and darkness can't exist without light, and that no matter how much light or darkness you have, there is always the other within it. The whole idea that they're "not two" and such.


    Evan,
    Sat today, lah
    Just going through life one day at a time!

  6. #6
    Barbara O'Brien directly calls out modern attempts at connecting Zen and Daoism in her recent book Circle of the Way:
    In the twentieth century, Western Zen aficionados such as Alan Watts promoted the notion that Zen was at least as much Daoist as Buddhist, if not more so. Today the Zen-Is-Daoism theory pervades many Western views of both Daoism and Zen. But more recently, some knowledgeable people have concluded that the influence of Daoism upon Zen has been exaggerated and that the similarities are more about style than substance. I believe this view is the more accurate one.

    Yes, early Chinese Buddhism, and not just Zen, borrowed vocabulary from Daoism and also Confucianism to translate Sanskrit words. Dharma became dao, for example. But that doesn’t mean that what the Buddhists meant by dao was identical to the Daoist understanding of dao. Further, the historical record does not show us a simple, linear influence of Daoism that uniquely influenced Zen and not other schools of Chinese Mahayana as well.

    China already had a deep and sophisticated tradition of philosophical inquiry and scholarship when Buddhism arrived, and the new religion was absorbed into that. It’s true that some of the Chinese scholars who first studied Buddhism had a background in Daoism, but all of them had a background in Confucianism, which functioned as a pervasive civic, philosophical, and religious worldview. Further, the Chinese did not assume that truth had to reside in only one religion or school of thought, and they were brilliant at syncretization. This is not to say China in the first millennium was a religious melting pot; the three traditions often engaged in heated rivalries and robust name-calling. Even so, the three major religious/philosophical traditions of China—Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism—influenced each other on many levels, and this influence can be found in schools of Buddhism other than Zen. Chinese Buddhism—by which I mean the Buddhist traditions that emerged in China and eventually spread to Korea, Japan, and beyond—is subtly distinctive from the Buddhism of Southeast Asia and Tibet for that reason.

    So, although Zen and Daoism do share points of agreement, Zen is best understood within the context of Mahayana Buddhism. Although Zen in China sometimes adopted Daoist vocabulary and iconography, it’s important to be aware that the perspectives behind the words and images differed from Daoist ones. I believe making too much of the Daoist-Zen connection gets in the way of understanding Zen, and no doubt it gets in the way of understanding Daoism as well.

    Kenny
    Sat Today

  7. #7
    Thank you Jundo and others who responded. I felt something was a little off.

    As for the “Zen Master’s Dance” .... I am hoping Santa brings me a copy this Christmas


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by gaurdianaq View Post
    I always interpretted Yin & Yang to represent the idea that light can't exist without darkness and darkness can't exist without light, and that no matter how much light or darkness you have, there is always the other within it. The whole idea that they're "not two" and such.
    An interesting aspect of this "light/darkness" that is a bit backwards for many English speakers is this: Traditionally, "dark" is a symbol for wholeness in Chinese/Zen symbolism, while "light" is a symbol for division into separate things, i.e., ignorance. (Think of a room filled with the clutter of lots of separate stuff seen when the lights are on, but all that stuff disappears into wholeness when the lights are turned off and the room becomes black). Western people usually think that "light" must be the "enlightenment/illumination," but it is kinda backwards. We tend to think in western languages that "shining a light in the dark" is bringing wisdom to ignorance, when the meaning in many Zen writings is actually the other way. However, it does not really matter, as we learn that actually the different stuff is still the wholeness, and the wholeness is still the stuff (for is emptiness, emptiness just form) This is seen in the famous phrases from the Sandokai (The Identity of Relative and Absolute) ...

    The subtle Source shines clear [even in] in the light;

    The branching streams flow [even in] the dark.

    To be attached to things is primordial illusion;

    To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.

    ...

    The dark makes all words one;

    The brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases.

    ...

    Light is also darkness,

    But do not think of it as darkness.

    Darkness is light;

    Do not see it as light.

    Light and darkness are not one, not two

    Like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.
    Shunryu Suzuki Roshi talks about this a bit more on page 178 here:

    https://books.google.co.jp/books?id=...ght%20&f=false

    We also had another recent book mentioned this week that argues that "Zen is just Taoism" disguised as Buddhism. I also said that the book way, way overstates its case. Maybe I feel that there was perhaps a slightly stronger influence than Barbara O'Brien implies in her book, but more because there happened to be some common ground. Zen is Buddhism with some Taoist and Confucian flavoring here and there.

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...l=1#post277212

    Sorry to run long ... shining a light in the dark!

    Gassho, J

    STlah
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-16-2020 at 04:03 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  9. #9
    Adding a bit of Christian flavoring to the discussion of Daoism's influence on Zen - absolute perfection!


    Nate
    Sat today

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    An interesting aspect of this "light/darkness" that is a bit backwards for many English speakers is this: Traditionally, "dark" is a symbol for wholeness in Chinese/Zen symbolism, while "light" is a symbol for division into separate things, i.e., ignorance. (Think of a room filled with the clutter of lots of separate stuff seen when the lights are on, but all that stuff disappears into wholeness when the lights are turned off and the room becomes black). Western people usually think that "light" must be the "enlightenment/illumination," but it is kinda backwards. We tend to think in western languages that "shining a light in the dark" is bringing wisdom to ignorance, when the meaning in many Zen writings is actually the other way. However, it does not really matter, as we learn that actually the different stuff is still the wholeness, and the wholeness is still the stuff (for is emptiness, emptiness just form) This is seen in the famous phrases from the Sandokai (The Identity of Relative and Absolute) ...



    Shunryu Suzuki Roshi talks about this a bit more on page 178 here:

    https://books.google.co.jp/books?id=...ght%20&f=false

    We also had another recent book mentioned this week that argues that "Zen is just Taoism" disguised as Buddhism. I also said that the book way, way overstates its case. Maybe I feel that there was perhaps a slightly stronger influence than Barbara O'Brien implies in her book, but more because there happened to be some common ground. Zen is Buddhism with some Taoist and Confucian flavoring here and there.

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...l=1#post277212

    Sorry to run long ... shining a light in the dark!

    Gassho, J

    STlah


    I love this, the idea of darkness representing wholeness. I never liked the idea that darkness was something to be feared/avoided, yet at the same time we need the light as well. I believe you mentioned that book to me when we had our 1 on 1 talk.


    Evan,
    Sat today, lah
    Just going through life one day at a time!

  11. #11
    Thank you Jundo. You are correct. The influence from Daoism on the integration of Buddhism into China since the Three-Kingdoms era is more than just "Daoist vocabulary and iconography".

    Gassho,

    SAT

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