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Thread: "Each Dharma Dwells in its Dharma Position" (是法住法位)

  1. #1

    "Each Dharma Dwells in its Dharma Position" (是法住法位)

    An often overlooked, but powerful teaching of Master Dogen and Soto Zen is that of Ho-i” (法位): that all things and beings and moments are, each and all, always each in their own special “Dharma Position,” each perfectly doing its thing as that thing. It is as if each individual thing or happening is experienced as the only thing or happening in the whole world, and there exists not one other thing or happening in the whole world except that thing or happening when it is happening (although that is true for all the other dharma positions too).

    Any single dharma position –is– the whole universe with nothing left out. While each is perfectly exerting itself as itself, just by being itself, it is also perfectly embodying the whole of reality, and perfectly contains each and every other thing, being and moment too without omission (as if the universe contains all atoms or seconds, but also, each tiny atom physically contains the whole universe, and each ticking second holds all of time!) What is more, each thing or person or moment, whether great or small in size, is also boundless, measureless, for it is unique and there is nothing else apart to compare.

    Sitting Zazen is an act in its own Dharma Position, complete and whole just by sitting Zazen, Zazen embodies all space and time, the whole of reality, and is timeless too. This is not some arm-chair intellectual idea, but is tasted and profoundly experienced in Zazen as we sit in faith and conviction that there is not one other thing to do, no other place to go, nothing lacking and all is fully contained in and fulfilled by Zazen during the time of sitting. A moment of sitting is boundless, measureless when we drop all goals and measures, and deem in our hearts that every instant of Zazen is whole and complete with no end or beginning and nothing outside it. When sitting Zazen, we drop the idea that there is anything outside of, and not included in, Zazen.

    In fact, this teaching of “Ho-i” is not original to Dogen, but derives from the Tendai teachings in which he first trained, the Lotus Sutra which he always cherished, and is echoed in Hua-yen and many Mahayana and Zen teachings. It may sound too abstract to some, too philosophical, but actually it is the most practical of medicines to summon insight and liberation in one’s experience of the world. Furthermore, failure to thoroughly pierce and experience this teaching leaves one half-Zen-baked.


    Most human beings experience Samsara, this ordinary world, as so lovely but also hard and painful, filled with troubles in our daily lives, problems and conflicts in the world. In turn, we suffer “Dukkha” because this life disappoints, takes away or denies us what we wish, terrifies us with its threats and saddens us with its tragedies. As the ultimate medicine for life’s suffering, Zen and Mahayana Buddhism offer the realization of “emptiness,” through which all separate things and moments are emptied of separate self-existence, whereby you and me, this against that, gain and loss, friend or enemy, and even birth and death are washed away within the flowing Wholeness of all reality. The tensions and conflicts, ups and downs of this world reveal themselves as dreamlike theatre: one cannot fight wars when no two sides to fight them, nothing can be lacked or gained in a universe whole beyond measure, and even birth and death are partial views when we experience an aspect to reality which does not come and go. In Zazen, one can experience the dropping of all such separation, conflict and measure, as the borders of self and others, past, present or future, this and that, come to soften or fully fade away, whereby all tensions, sadness, fear and suffering drops away. There is nothing apart to fear or fight or lose, and no separate us to fear or fight or lose it.

    And yet, so long as we are alive in these bodies and this world, we will continue to witness and experience horrible events, wars and violence, children dying, sickness and terrifying threats, social injustices, the deaths of loved ones and dread for our own very lives. Is the message of Buddhism simply that it is all somehow not real, just delusion, that we are merely to see all events as “empty,” thus to transcend this world and leave it far behind? No, for while all is empty with a dreamlike face, that is not the full message.

    Experience of enlightenment that is “lost in emptiness” has never been considered a complete realization as professed by Zen teachings. Such an experience and insight quits at the mere realization and experience that all separate phenomena of the world have aspect as dreamlike phantoms, are false faces of the wholeness of it all. Some Zen folks become stuck there, not knowing the trick of reuniting such clarity, peace and wholeness as this beautiful but often ugly, rarely peaceful, often broken world with its countless sharp and bloody pieces.

    Master Dogen. in his writings such as "Flowers in the Sky," taught that “emptiness” (the flowing wholeness of all reality which we may call “Buddha” or by 1000 other names or no name at all) is not merely a sweeping away of all separation and things, revealing each for its falsehood. Rather, the wholeness of emptiness simultaneously is manifesting -as- all moments of time and things, which are each thus reaffirmed and known as precious! Each and every "dharma" (meaning here, every “phenomenon” of reality that is every moment or thing or happening whatsoever) is always abiding in its own "Dharma Position" where it fully embodies its own perfection and the wholeness of all. Each is fully Buddha manifesting as Buddha by manifesting as this thing:

    Those who misunderstand the Buddha's message] say, “the sky originally has no flowers.” How pitiful, that they know nothing of the occasion, from beginning to end, of the sky flower spoken of by the Tathagata. ... they do not know that the whole vessel world “abides in its Dharma Position” because of the dharmas. They see only that the dharmas exist because of the whole vessel world. (Kuge)

    This includes both the phenomena in the world we welcome and, alas, those which we do not welcome at all, the beautiful and the ugly, the happy and the sad. We find ourselves alive in a complicated world, up to our necks in gain and loss, sometime violent storms, joy and sadness, peace and war, love and hate, yet all is now known, experienced and assessed very differently from before. Each and all is in its rightful Dharma Position, even though some of those things are so very wrong, unpleasant or heartbreaking. Each and all is Buddha, a Wholeness manifesting even when so much covered in ugliness and anger, greed and grief that "Buddha" is quite hidden to the naked eye, and the broken and bloody pieces of this world make the Wholeness hard to see.

    It is something like saying that the universe becomes known as a jigsaw puzzle of magnificent scope and size, with each single piece in its rightful place, not one piece missing from the whole. Nonetheless, some of those pieces show pictures of beauty and some pictures which disgust. It is like knowing the world as a vibrant theatre of improvisation, with a billion trillion actors each speaking their lines and moving about, some performing comedy and some tragedy, some in scenes of romance and some of violence, with each single actor playing their part and standing in their proper place, fully exerting their talents even if in unwelcome or tragic scene. It is like rich and fertile ground from which springs forth both sweet fruits and poisonous fruits, flowers and weeds. The total puzzle, the grand theatre, the fertile soil is all Buddha, a Good and Beauty, Peace and Clarity that is also the canvas and stage and soil upon which manifests all the good and bad encountered in human life. Our Practice allows us to know to the marrow the Good, Beauty, Peace and Clarity of the soil and foundation, even as we witness the tangled complexity of this divided planet which springs forth.

    However, “Ho-i” is not some invitation to complacency, an excuse to let the ugly and violent just be as they are. The Buddhist Teachings and Master Dogen together call on us to change the ugly and violent. While both the good and the bad are each in their particular Dharma Positions, our power as human beings is to create good where we can. We can take a hateful or greedy Dharma and replace it with a loving and generous Dharma, which is then fully in its new Dharma Position, exerting itself as generosity and love. We sentient beings have the power to paint our life pictures, act our scenes, plant our seeds to create the cruel or the gentle, the healthful or the harmful, which each then occupies its Dharma Position caused by our choices and acts. And while one individual may be limited in their power to change much beyond their little life, if we work together, sentient beings joining together in great numbers, we may someday make this planet a gorgeous and harmonious scene, a lovely story, a rich garden. The whole planet would then be in its lovely and peaceful Dharma Position. It is our power to choose.

    Further, know this in your own personal life, with your own ups and downs. For example, please learn to know moments of sickness as just moments of sickness, resting in their Dharma Position as sickness, the whole universe perfectly exerting itself as your sickness in this moment. Bow to it, honor it, for it is just life doing its sickness thing. Nonetheless, take your medicine and try to get better! Then, should you regain your health and strength, that would also be the whole universe perfectly exerting itself as your health and strength in that moment. Learn to approach all the ups and down of life, as well as the serious problems of this world, in like fashion: Bowing to each, bowing to what cannot be changed, but fixing what one can. For each instant of time is completely its complete Dharma Moment, and encompasses all time and all Dharma Moments, no matter that this moment brings joy or tears.

    Master Dogen wrote the following about life turning to death, the ultimate human problem, but it can just as easily apply to moments of sickness or health, other ups and downs, and all events of life. He said that, though time passes, each is its own complete moment of time:

    Birth is a situation complete in this moment. Death is a situation complete in this moment. They are the same as winter and spring. We do not say that winter becomes spring, nor do we say that spring becomes summer. (Genjo-Koan)

    Just understand that only life and death themselves are nirvana, there is nothing to be avoided as life and death, and nothing to seek and aspire to as nirvana. Then, for the first time upon realizing this, you are free from life and death. It is a mistake to think that we move from birth to death. Birth is a state of one time with its own past and future. For this reason, in the Buddha’s teachings, it is said that life is not life, birth itself is unborn. Death is also a state of one time with its own past and future. That is why it is said that death is not death. Thus, in the time that is called life, there is only life. In the time called death, there is only death. Thus, when life comes there is just life, and when death comes just actualize death. Thereby, do not fight them, do not serve them, neither need you wish for them. (Shobogenzo-Shoji)

    Each thing and person and moment, whether welcome or not, can be known as boundless and complete, as real as real can be, encountered as the embodiment of the whole of this life and world happening, each timeless yet just this place and moment of its happening, each Buddha and each a shining jewel of its own that fully contains the "Whole Thing," the "Whole Catastrophe" that is our world. And hand-in-hand, let us do our best to make a life and world that is as healthy and nurturing as possible, even as we accept and honor all outcomes as their own Dharma Position in this Dharma Moment.

    Gassho, J


    "The Dharmas Dwell in their Dharma Position" [是法住法位] by Ishikawa Sodo, a noted Soto Zen priest of the 19th Century

    Last edited by Jundo; 07-04-2022 at 02:15 PM.

  2. #2
    Profound teaching Teacher, thank you! I do have a question. I thought Dharma is a righteous, positive thing. How can evil be a Dharma position?






  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by JohnS View Post
    Profound teaching Teacher, thank you! I do have a question. I thought Dharma is a righteous, positive thing. How can evil be a Dharma position?



    The word "Dharma" has several meanings in Buddhism, each rather different although interconnected.

    One is a Teaching by the Buddha about reality, thus the Buddha "teaches Dharma."

    Another meaning is something like "the laws of the universe" about which the Buddha is Teaching.

    But a third (often indicted to distinguish with a small "d") is very close to the English term "phenomenon," a thing or event which happens in the universe. So, a chair is a dharma, a volcano is a dharma, you are a dharma, every hair on your head is a dharma, every event is a dharma. It is every thing, person or happening in the universe. In this sense, these "phenomena," things, people and events, can be judged good and bad to our human eyes.

    Gassho, Jundo


  4. #4
    I am 70 and Have been a teacher since I was 27, and 37-years old, The Dharma, dharma, teaching I have professed is good communication, and as I moved through my teaching career, helped by many people, I refined my teaching to good writing. My daughter has followed in my footsteps and has been asked to submit a good poem to a good magazine. As she left for her distant university this morning around 7:30 a.m. I told her how much I love her, many times I told her this, and how we have spoken of taking care of her mother when I am gone. This is the first time I have ever told her that I love her as an adult, Today as she left to complete her education as writer and professor, I remember that a few weeks ago I told my father I love him, He is 91, and I have followed in his footsteps. Why did it take my so long to tell him I love him; better late than never, and our daughter is 33. I am not being too late, and I have told her mother I love her many times. I do love my brother, and I will tell him before it is too late. My Dharma, dharma, in my old age is to be love. I won't write again today Jundo, and I know this is a little long, but I have and am willing and able to be a communicator of a Dharma of what the Buddha taught us, or loving kindness. Why did it take me so long to learn this Dharma myself? This is my little family, and I was not too latte with my mother. I am filled with loving kindness this morning.
    sat/ lah
    Kindness, Ubasoku, Calm Poetry, I seek always to support.

  5. #5
    Wonderful teaching Jundo!
    This precious Dharma teaching.
    The explanations of everything are absolutely brilliant wisdom.

    Thank you, Jundo for everything !

    Deep Bows,

    安知 Anchi

  6. #6
    Thank you, Jundo.
    Emptiness as openness, open to all Dharma positions.
    Very liberating and freeing and still compassion and responsibility arising from experiencing them in this body and life.

    Kotei sat/lah today.

    義道 冴庭 / Gidō Kotei.
    Being a novice priest doesn't mean that my writing about the Dharma is more substantial than yours. Actually, it might well be the other way round.

  7. #7
    Beautiful exposition, Jundo.

    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.

  8. #8
    Thank you Jundo

    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  9. #9
    Thank you Jundo.
    This is just what I needed today.


  10. #10

  11. #11
    Sat today

    Sent from my SM-N975U using Tapatalk

  12. #12
    Such a wonderful teaching. Thank you Jundo! I will read this many times.


  13. #13

    Thank you for sharing, Jundo


  14. #14
    I might not miss death next time. Brain damage or nick of knife and I am not here. For now I enjoy telling you about my close call with death.

  15. #15
    Much too long to tell you that now I am being love. Death taught me to be friends with death and love taught me to love.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Tai Shi View Post
    Much too long to tell you that now I am being love. Death taught me to be friends with death and love taught me to love.
    so I don't think it was fun to cheat death. I think I might die. I am afraid to die.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Tai Shi View Post
    so I don't think it was fun to cheat death. I think I might die. I am afraid to die.
    Death in its Dharma Moment, Love in its Dharma Moment.

    Gassho, J


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