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Thread: Dogen's most helpful instruction

  1. #1

    Dogen's most helpful instruction

    I have found the following to be the teaching from Dogen I have found the most helpful and remember the most frequently:

    "You should therefore cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest. If you want to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay."

    I had a bit of an "a-ha!" moment with this last July, thanks to reading a talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold in The Art of Just Sitting (pp. 167-173) featuring similar instructions from Yangshan ("Reverse your thought to think of the thinking mind") while on an intensive solitary retreat. It's only deepened since. And I've found that this is a more effective and direct way to still the mind than actually trying to still the mind. When, instead of watching the breath or whatever else, one simply turns awareness toward the activity of the thinking mind, it is remarkable. The mind cannot sustain the same degree of chatter under the fire of attention.

    And, as someone who experiences bliss on the cushion from time to time, I find that this practice brings almost immediate sensations of bliss. And I'm not talking about something occult. It feels good in the same way it feels good to set down a heavy load you've been carrying a while. It's just that in this case it is the load of self. The chattering mind does not have to grow perfectly quiet for one to experience stillness. One just has to look at the mind that looks, think at the mind that thinks, and this simple self-reflexive act creates an enormous sense of spaciousness and well-being. Not to mention shedding light on the process of self.

    "The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma-gate of repose and bliss, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Traps and snares can never reach it. Once its heart is grasped, you are like the tiger when he enters the mountain. For you must know that just there (in zazen) the right Dharma is manifesting itself and that from the first dullness and distraction are struck aside."

  2. #2

    Re: Dogen's most helpful instruction

    I should make note, though, that the difficulty I have had with this practice is how difficult it can be for me sometimes to remember how to do this on the cushion. It's a very subtle turning of mind that took me quite a while to "get." And while it seems that experiencing this once would be enough not to ever forget how to do it again, this has not been the case with me. Sometimes I can sit on the cushion just totally lost until I remember, and then it's like, "Duh." :lol: Then there are times I forget completely.

    Being human is weird!

  3. #3

    Re: Dogen's most helpful instruction

    Sometimes I can sit on the cushion just totally lost until I remember, and then it's like, "Duh." Then there are times I forget completely.

    Dogen Sangha Modern Interpretation:


    The authentic form of this practice, which is
    known as Zazen, is sitting in an upright posture. Although we each
    have the natural state, if we do not return to it in this practice, it does
    not show itself, and if we do not experience it, we do not realise what
    it is. It comes to us and fills us as soon as we give up our intentions,
    and is not a discriminative state.

    Shasta Abbey:

    They treat this method of Theirs—namely, the practice of seated meditation—as the proper and most straightforward Gate for entering the Way.
    People are already abundantly endowed with the Dharma in every part of their being, but until they do the training, It will not emerge. And unless they personally confirm It for themselves, there is no way for them to realize what It is.
    The Actualization of Enlightenment(Genjokoan)
    by Eihei Dogen
    Written in mid-autumn, 1233
    Translated by Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens

    ... do not think that our perception is necessarily understood by the intellect. Although enlightenment is actualized quickly, it is not always totally manifested [it is too profound and inexhaustible for our limited intellect].


  4. #4

    Re: Dogen's most helpful instruction

    Thank you guys. Those are lovely ways to express things.

    Sometimes I think trying to describe this Practice of balance in body-mind in words is rather like trying to describe some other act of balance in words, for example, something as simple as bike riding or swimming. For example, if I say about " how to" bike ride "Ah, it is simple ... all one must do is stay centered on the seat and remember to move one's feet around and around" ... well, it is true that the act is simple, but the words somehow do not capture the total reality of the simple act. That is how it is sometimes with phrases such as (from Nishijima Roshi's version) "Learn the backward step of turning light and reflecting. Body and mind naturally drop off, and the original face appears".

    As Will's quote from the Bendowa says in a slightly different context, "if we do not experience it, we do not realise what it is." But you know when you are riding a bike or swimming when you are.

    And one thing I can see from here is that Steph seems to be riding her bike very nicely these days, and Will seems to be having an easy swim. That is good.

    Gassho, Jundo

  5. #5

    Re: Dogen's most helpful instruction

    Such a delight to read your words Jundo.


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