Gyobutsu Iigi, continued
Well, we are slowly working our way through this 14 page text. After 2 talks now, we are inching onto the third page. This is maybe a good Soto Zen pace.
This next section is really quite thorny. But Dogen does introduce here one of the central if not the central teaching in our ancestral way, and that is the idea of “practice-enlightenment.” I wish to just concentrate on introducing this, especially as it might be a new idea to some of us.
From Dogen’s perspective, most Buddhist or religious teaching that he had encountered before meeting his true heart teacher suffered fundamentally from some dualistic idea, no matter how subtle or how obvious. For instance, if you think Buddha exists solely outside of you at some remove, this is a problem. If you think you have attained Buddha, and no longer feel as if you are on a path investigating “the vital process on the path of going beyond buddha,” this likewise can be a problem.
I think as Buddhism and many other yogic traditions are being introduced into our materialistic paradigm, they are finding themselves prone to certain misunderstandings more or less particular to our time and place. Though he’s hardly the only one to point it out, Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was especially eloquent and adamant in his warnings that “spiritual materialism” is the greatest threat Dharma faces in the modern world. He understood our tendency to superficially grasp things, and to perhaps move along when faced with deeper challenges to our self-idea. We don’t get to the heart of our grasping, our deep and abiding stuckness in limited conceptions of the self, from which stems so much suffering for ourselves and others.
So I think we can look out and see that there is this flowering of interest in meditation, “mindfulness”, yoga, and the like. And all of this can’t help but to be a good thing. But there are pitfalls on the path, and I can from personal experience relate that encountering good clear teaching is not so common.
So this teaching of “practice-enlightenment” is good medicine. I think it is in fact essential. Dogen certainly said as much. I find I am often reflecting on the question of what is essential on our path. Today, driving down 12th St, just by the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center in fact, I had the thought “sitting quietly upright (zazen) is essential; the teaching of the emptiness of all dharmas is essential; taking refuge is essential; and practice-enlightenment is essential.” I could add other things (precepts, the okesa, etc), but maybe they stem from these, I don’t know; I’d maybe have to think about that one some more.
So I think we all completely and fully already understand this point, because we are all here and not for the first time. We just sat for 35 minutes (our first night extending our time a bit, by request), and we fully experienced the vital process of going beyond any idea of what zazen might be, and just investigated what was occurring on our cushion in the moment. My first Zen teacher, Seung Sahn, used to preface many responses to questions with “you already understand!” I think this is so true; but sometimes we ask because we need to hear it from another mouth.
We deeply understand that coming together and sitting and bowing and reciting sutras and carving out some space to honor awakeness is in itself a good, noble, wholesome business. It is the path, and the goal. We know that if it were to supposedly occur somewhere else, sometime else, that this is would simply be another dualistic problem in itself, when in fact we come to sit to wholly resolve those dualisms in our surrendering to presence.