Dogen’s Zazen Instructions, part 3

Dogen’s third instruction is succinct: “Sometimes I spring quickly leaving no trace, simply wishing you all to drop off body and mind.”

We talked about Dogen dropping his whisk recently. It’s the 13th c. formal zen version of dropping the mike and walking off stage. But unlike Kanye, Dogen dropping the whisk and “springing quickly leaving no trace” is not a celebratory assertion of personal genius, but rather the ultimate prayer for every being to realize for themselves their beautiful, inherent, liberated uprightness, fundamentally unobstructed by conditions or any other beings.

When Dogen leaps clear, we leap clear. In the Korean Zen tradition, short intensive practice periods are called yong min jong jin, or ‘to leap like a tiger while sitting.’ This is like our playing freely and going wild on our cushion.  The practice of dropping off body and mind is a radical letting go. So radical it may not even be recognizable to us as letting go. True letting go is often experienced as being with, or abiding in. Our letting go is not a nihilistic or fearful running from, but instead is a courageous turning toward and settling into. It can be a subtle business; but it can have aspects of decisiveness that Dogen alludes to here.

Our decisive agreement to awaken with all beings together forever, we may notice, is for most of us not about running off to India to feed the poor, or off to a monastery to be a monk. Sometimes it can be that too. But for most of us the challenge is to be in the midst of the conditions of our life as it is, and carefully investigate what hurts, what wants, what impulses are dragging us around – and what isn’t. Sometimes, we are reminded that the mechanisms of our craving and confusion are built of pretty insubstantial stuff, and we glimpse “the one who is not busy.” Actually, daily zazen practice puts us in much needed regular contact with that person, who has already dropped off body and mind. We ourselves leap clear, and join Dogen out there in the radiant field beyond self and other, this and that.

Peter and ox in field


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