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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Gakudo-yojin-shu (6) No. 5 It is very important for us to select the true Master.

(The translation of the original text)

The meaning of the title above is that reading words of Masters in the past, they say that if the first attitudes of pursuing the truth are not ture, even though we might make our efforts of practice so hard, eventually we have to supply our enormous efforts for doing useless effects at last.
It is necessary for us to say that this teachings are eaxactly ture. It might be true that effects of Buddhist practice must be decided by the difference whether the leading Masters are true, or not.
It seems that the difficulty of educating Buddhist students can compare to an example that whether the materials of fine arts are good or bad, and in such a situation we can think that the standpoint of the teachers are similar to the position of fine artists, who utilize the stuff.
Even if the materials were so excellent, when it is difficult for materials to get excellent artists, it is completely impossible for those materials to get good works of art.
Even if we have to use some strangely-winded materials, when we can meet an artist, who is so excellent in his ability, then we can get so excellent works of art from the strange materials finally.
In the case of pursuing the Buddhist truth, there are serious differences, whether their conclusions are true, or false, relying upon whether their teachers are true, or not.
However, in our country, in Japan, it seems that the true Buddhist Master hasn't manifested himself yet.
With what reason, can we grasp such unfathomable facts?
We can suppose such kinds of unfathomable facts by reading the descriptions, which Buddhist teachers wrote in the past.
The situations of our supposition are similar to the facts that we can research the situations of water at the upper part of a river by investigation of scooping water at the lower part of the river.
Even in our country, since the ancient time until now many numbers of Buddhist teachers have edited Buddhist books, teached students, and guided people and gods on the earth and the heaven, but the words, which they expressed, seems to be too young, and their expressions are very immature, and so they have not arrived at even the top of the intellectual research, and so how is it possible for them to arrive even at the vicinity of practical experience at all?
They pass on only words of sentences to their students, or have their students recite only titles of Buddhas', or sutras, without getting any merit so much as a penny, as if they were calculating property of others.
The responsibility of Masters in the former ages were like that.
In some cases they teach others that a right conclusion exists at the place, where there is no mind, and in some cases they teach others that we should reborn in the different world other than this.
From those situations of their teachings, which we can perceive clearly, miscellaneous kinds of perplexities and confusion occur, and many kinds of wrong ideas are also related with those facts closely.
For example when a doctor gave very excellent medicine to a patient, if the docter does not know the method to restrain the side effects of the medicine, the excellent medicine might become serious cause of another sickness, and so it would be much more worse for us than to drink some kind of poison itself actually.
Generally speaking in Japan it seems that there were no doctor, who has been able to give good effective medicin to a patieht from the ancient time at all, and an able Master, who could give his students excellent teachings to cure the poisonus wrong teachings, hasn't appeared at all yet.
From those situations, it was so difficult for Japanese teachers to throw away the diseases, which occured from the causes, which I described above, and so it seems that how is it possible for them to avoid suffering from aging and dying?
Those inability of Buddhist teachers in Japan, all belong to their own inferiority, and it does never come from inferiority of students for their own worse nature at all.
The reason, why I insist such a kind of opinion, comes from that people, who have ability to become Masters of others, have tendency to recommend their students throwing away the fundamentally important problems, and having their students pursue the trivial problems, and so such a kind of unhappy effects have occured.
Those teachers have their common tendency that, before they have grasped the fundamental Truth by themselves exactly, utilizing their own immature ideas one-sidedly, and they have others fall down and enter into the wrong states without any reason at all.
It is actually very pitiful situation, but even the teachers, who have been talented becoming teachers for others, recommend their students to pursue getting the enlightenment, which does not have any relation with mental function, or recommend their students to make their efforts to become reborn into the world, which is different from this world. In such a situation, how is it possible for their students to recognize whether it is completely wrong, or not, for them to pursue the true enlightenment at the place, which is perfectly irrelevant to mind, or whether it is completely wrong, or not, for them to be reborn into the perfectly different world from this world?
It is very sad facts that in Japan, even though it is a very small country far remote from the civilized countries, Gautama Buddha's teachings are not so much purvaded throughout the country yet, and the true Masters haven't appeared in it.
If we would like to study the teachings of Gautama Buddha, which are the highest teachings of the world, it might be very nice method for us to visit excellent priests in the Sun Dynasty of China.
It is very nice method for us to reflect the world of action, which is far distant from mental functions. In the case, when it is impossible for us to get the true Buddhist Master, it might be much better for us not to study Buddhism at all.
Generally speaking, a person, who is called the true Master, is not related whether he is old, or not, or whether his career in Buddhism is long, or not. The true Buddhist Master is called a person, who has become perfectly clear in understanding the true contents of Gautama Buddha's teachings, and who has received the distinct certificate from an authentic Master.
Knowledge of letters is not so important, and the theoretical understandings are not so important. But the true Buddhist Master has excellent power, which is much superior to ordinary people, having unusual determination, without being restricted by his own opinion, without hesitation in his own emotional viewpoint, but whose action in his daily life is perfectly identified with his own understanding Gautama Buddha's teachings, is just the real situations of a person, who is called exactly the true Buddhist Master.


In the nearest part of the end in this chapter, Master Dogen says that "In the case, when it is impossible for us to get the true Buddhist Master, it might be much better for us not to study Buddhism at all." The meaning of the sentence is that if it were impossible for us to get a true Buddhist Master, it is much better for us not to study Buddhism at all. And this idea is very important. To study Buddhism is just our own efforts to pursue the Truth by sacrificing our own life totally, and so if it is just the Truth, which we are pursuing, then we are very happy, but if it is not the Truth, which we are pursuing, it might be very serious, because we have to pursue the wrong teachings throughout our whole life believing as if it were the Truth. In the latter case we have to lose our long whole life for pursuing the wrong theory, and so we have to sacrifice our whole life, which is just only one life for us, to pursue something completely wrong.
Therefore Master Dogen proclaimed that we should never study Buddhism under a Master, who does not understand Buddhism truly and exactly, because by doing so we have to lose our total life by making our efforts for completely wrong or useless aim.
Thinking about such concrete and real examples, we should think about the problems sincerely, and we should never study Buddhism under a wrong Buddhist teacher.


Since 15th September I have lengthened the time of Zazen pracice in the morning from 30 minutes to 45 minutes, and I am enjoying the good effects of it.


Blogger Mike Cross said...

The original meaning of “sacrifice” is to make sacred (from the Latin sacrus = sacred + ficere to make).

I think that the life of a tiger before its mountain stronghold, or the life of a man who dies while sitting upright, is fearless and real -- beyond profane and beyond sacred.

10:41 PM, October 31, 2006  
Blogger Lone Wolf said...

Gudo Nishijima- Based on the information that I have learned from you and Brad Warner, would it be possible for me to sit in the correct posture of Zazen everyday and experience the truth of the universe?

10:04 AM, November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Master Dogen proclaimed that we should never study Buddhism under a Master, who does not understand Buddhism truly and exactly, because by doing so we have to lose our total life by making our efforts for completely wrong or useless aim."

That's like asking the blindman to find light...

8:29 PM, November 01, 2006  
Blogger oxeye said...

kumakouji - You are right.. that is a sticky point for many potential Buddhists.. You never know whether a teacher completely understands what he is attempting to teach or not, at least in the beginning. I guess all you can do is pay attention, do the work and trust your intuition.

1:46 AM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger roman said...

lonewolf, I think your question is very important. I hope master Nishijima will reply soon but let me think. You study and follow Brad's and roshi's teaching via internet. When you practice zazen, you are buddha, nothing is lacking. no problem with that. But even if you understand everything and practice zazen everyday, you probably miss something that is beyond words and is only experienced when you face a teacher in the real life. THere is something about face-to-face teaching that is not possible to evaluate or explain in words. You will only experience it when you experience it first hand. And learning from a teacher IRL will help you answer all important questions some day.

5:53 AM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger jundo cohen said...

Dear Ted,

You are, of course, being modest, your command of the literature is impressive, and my brother was a merchant marine. As well, my last post to you was far from elegant, and I would have hoped to have expressed things much better. The following is not an improvement.

Finally, please do not call me a “professional” Zen fellow. I am just another "Bozo on the Bus," trying to learn and discuss these things as best we both can.

This is not my blog (and I share the same concerns about taking up space here), so I hope Nishijima Roshi will jump in and correct me if I really make a muddle of things.

TedinAnacortes said...
First, I did not mean to imply that cessation was “the heart of Zen.” In fact, I tried to indicate that most of the meditation techniques of Buddhism fall into two modes, broadly described as “cessation” and “contemplation.” By that, I meant that most Buddhist meditation techniques could be generally ascribed to one of these two general classifications. I tried to explain that it seemed to me that Dogen’s teachings on nonthinking corresponded to the traditional methods of cessation. Do you disagree? If so, how do you see his teaching as different?

I suppose that your use of the term “cessation” is throwing me for a loop. It is a very powerful word, associated in my mind with certain types of Buddhism and meditation practices (often found in Indian, Southeast Asian and Tantric traditions) geared to fully stopping thought (i.e., “not thinking”) and stamping out/extinquishing the human emotions. The emphasis there is on a “nirvana” that is a "blow out" escape from the “prison” of mind and body. I see (I believe) that you are not using the term in that way, but it has that feeling in its usage.

Of course, Buddhists have been debating for thousands of years as to just what the Buddha preached, and interpretations of Dogen can vary too. The word "cessation" may even appear in Zen literature at various places as you point out (although beware of translators and translations, and anyway, our subject is Dogen, not other Zen teachers). All I can do is relate to you my own understanding of Zen practice, which is my understanding of Nishijima Roshi’s teachings.

In that view, Dogen was not preaching a “cessation” of thinking (“not thinking”), but instead, “non-thinking.” This “non-thinking” is to be present, awake, experiencing the moment (seeing with the eyes, hearing with the ears, etc.), but dropping judgments of good/bad, beautiful/ugly and as many other human assessments as possible (for example, staring at the wall without categorizing it as “good wall” or “bad wall” or sometimes even as “wall.”) As well, other categorizations can be dropped as the mind and body become still, including past/present/future, here/there, me/not-me, etc. (Sometimes many criteria are dropped simultaneously, sometimes only a few, depending on the moment … sometimes I have a strong sense, for example, of the future or the past, but just don’t think of the past as having been “good past” or “bad past”

[... By the way, this is what I refer to as Dogen's "Bag of Tricks," namely that, sometimes we experience a reality with no Past/Present/Future, sometimes we experience a reality with Past/Present/Future without "good/bad," sometimes we experience "good/bad" but by which Future flows into Present flows into Past ... etc. etc. etc. ... )

Thoughts are not encouraged or clung to, and are allowed to drift from mind as they appear, but never are we in an unconscious or trance-like state (I mean, I have been in states like that I believe ... that's what they seemed like, anyway ... but I would not describe them as the point of our practice or a way of life … my old teacher told me to get out of pursuing deadends). Ultimately, we drop so many self-ish judgments that we do not even think of “good Zazen” or “bad Zazen,” or that there is any goal to Zazen or something other than Zazen to be doing at the moment we are doing Zazen!

That is “just sitting.”

I often say that, even if this form of Zen practice is "wrong," I will keep it anyway. The reason is simply that it works in my life. (Because it works, however, I don't really think it "wrong.")

TedinAnacortes said...
I tried to indicate that I believe Dogen, in accordance with the sutras and shastras, urged a balance of cessation meditation (or nonthinking), with contemplation (or observation) meditation.

As far as I was taught, Dogen was preaching only one kind of meditation, and it is what I described. He did not preach, for example, “cessation meditation” first, to be followed by “observation meditation.” You cite a few passages, but they are highly ambiguous and don't seem to be making the "slam dunk" case. (I will get to that later on).

TedinAnacortes said...
I suggested that the phrase in Genjokoan “to get one dharma is to penetrate one dharma, and to meet one act is to perform one act” was one instance where Dogen was describing contemplation meditation. How do you read this line?

I read it as, ”to encounter on phenomena without judging/categorizing is to fully penetrate the phenomena, to perform one act while being fully present with the act is to fully perform the one act.” For example, I encounter a tree … I do not think it a good tree, bad tree, I do not compare it to other trees by saying it is not tall enough or not green enough … I just let that tree be that one tree … and I fully penetrate that Dharma.” Tea ceremony people drink tea that way, and archery masters shoot arrows like that.

TedinAnacortes said...
Don’t you too see “Your Own True Nature” as “emanating Light (brightness)” or do you think Dogen is “just overemphasizing the importance of” Light and “Your Own True Nature?” Talk about pouring on a gallon of fudge to make a sundae, Dogen seems to be using a whole barrel. He goes on:“The aforementioned ‘brightness of the Buddhist patriarchs’ is the whole Universe in the ten directions; it is the whole of Buddhas…Practicing and experiencing this brightness, they become buddha, sit as buddha, and experience buddha.”

Now here is the tricky thing about Dogen’s way of speaking about things, in my opinion. When you or I say that something is the “Cat’s Meow” or “the Bomb,” we don’t mean that it is actually a noise made by a feline or something set to explode. Dogen was rebelling against all the other schools of Buddhism that spoke of (++literally++) light-emitting Buddhas floating through the Universe in ten directions. Instead, his point was that his way of practice (as described above), if done the way he describes, is just as wonderful as any boring old light-emitting Buddhas floating through the Universe in ten directions.

Yes, when you do it, you ARE the Patriarchs, you are the Buddha, and you are the whole universe in the ten directions (100%, through-and-through, not the slightest gap). Sure! But, as I wrote yesterday, it is not that we literally go to “Tushita Heaven,” but we realize that every thing we do in life, every act and phenomenon, is more "Tushita" than even “Tushita Heaven.”

In addition, okay, Dogen was rather flamboyant and dramatic in his way of expressing things. He knew how to describe what he was describing with pizazz and WOW! What's wrong with that? It is experienced (and does sound better to the listener) when put as not simply “a nonjudgmental experience of rain,” but as something grander. In our practice of "non-thinking" every gesture of the hand we take IS the Buddhas and Patriarchs gesturing throughout the ten directions!!

TedinAnacortes said...
Sixth, you wrote, “While, of course, Dogen's writings are chock full of Koan retellings, there is no point where there is recommended by him the use of a Koan as a focus of concentration during Zazen itself.” This kind of throws me for a loop; are you sure we are talking about the same “Dogen?” His works are chock full of exhortations to “Study in practice” and “master in practice” the words of koans. What kind of “practice” do you suppose he is talking about?...
What does Dogen mean by “we consider [the story] by utilizing not thinking, and by utilizing non-thinking, effort on the cushion with Old [Master] Kyogen will naturally be present.”

I can only repeat what I have been taught, ask Nishijima Roshi for his input. However, I don’t see this passage as you describe it, and it is far from a clear case (pardon the pun). Dogen used hundreds of Koans in his teaching (Nishijima Roshi has translated his main collection, the Shinji-Shobogenzo). Once we sit Zazen in the manner I described, and learn to practice “non-thinking,” all the Koans dissolve as non-issues or become clear as points of Buddhist philosophy. This is true. However, they are not a focus of concentration during “just sitting” meditation as Dogen taught. We do not sit while repeating “Mu Mu Mu,” for example, as in Rinzai practice. We just sit, and when next the issue presents itself, the meaning of “Mu” is not such a puzzle. Got the difference? (This is also one reason I draw a distinction between the methods, if not outlooks, of Dogen and Hakuin).

I would ask for more evidence than what you present in order to change my traditional view on the issue.

TedinAnacortes said...
Dogen constantly urges us to make an “initial” breakthrough. He knew from his own experience, learning, faith, and knowing how to sit upright were useless for accomplishing the “task of a lifetime.” Fortunately, Dogen was burning with genuine aspiration and was able to achieve such a breakthrough

Yes, and the breakthrough is to realize that there is no breakthrough to make.

TedinAnacortes said...
What do you suppose Dogen meant by, “At last I vis-ited Zen Master Nyojo of Dai-byaku-ho mountain, and there I was able to complete the great task of a lifetime of practice.” He was what, 28 or 29 years old? How could he say that he was able to “complete” the great task of a lifetime? If this was not the result of some breakthrough, what was it?

Yes, when you realize that you life is complete, that there is nothing more to add or take away from it, you are done. He was done. When you are done, you're done.

Anyway, this is the point at which we should just give up all this silly talk, "angels on the head of a pin." Just sit.

If a something works, keep it. Do it, and you are done.

Gassho, Jundo

12:38 PM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear Jundo,

Thank you for your kind (relatively speaking) comments.

Yes, I agree, we should let this go now and give Master Nishijima back his blog. I will only address one issue that you raised in your comment, and try to keep it brief. The issue is the role of koans in Dogen's teachings.

I am familiar with most of the arguments that attempt to suggest that Dogen did not teach koan intospection (and even opposed it). And though I try to keep an open mind, most of them seem tenuous at best; many are simply untenable. But I will leave that for another day.

As to the argument that Dogen's teachings on koans corrospond to what you describe by saying:

"Once we sit Zazen in the manner I described, and learn to practice “non-thinking,” all the Koans dissolve as non-issues or become clear as points of Buddhist philosophy."

Although I am not sure what you mean by "non-issues" (if you mean "not essential" I disagree, if you mean that the wisdom contained within them becomes transmitted to us in nonthinking, I agree) but that they become clear as points of "Buddhist philosophy" is explicitly denied by Dogen in many places (unless your meaning of "Buddhist philosophy" is different than Dogen's, in which case I would have to admit I do not really understand your explanation).

It seems to me that Dogen's own records testify to the essential role of koans in Zen practice and enlightenment. The Shobogenzo itself cites nearly 200 koans. Koans form the central topic of many of the essays in the Shobogenzo, and throughout all his works, koans are analyzed, explicated, and even given authority through and by other koans.

Additionally, his records also seem to clearly indicate that if we are going to truly resolve a koan we will need to focus deeply on the words in "practice", which suggests to me in "zazen." Dogen constantly exhorts his readers/listeners to “study in practice,” “inquire into,” “maintain and rely on,” “master in practice,” “confirm in experience,” etc. the sayings of the Zen ancestors.

A random selection of Dogen’s statements is offered as a better presentation than I could hope to make. I urge you to read them in context (sources are given) from a "nonjudgemental" perspective, leaving all preconceived ideas and "teachings" aside. These teachings from Dogen-- one of the greatest Zen masters ever--, if approached without clinging to "views," I think, leave little doubt about the essential role of thoroughly mastering the koans and records of the Zen ancestors, as far as Dogen was concerned:

People who study the Buddha Dharma should first know the sayings of Buddhas and ancestors, without being confused by those outside the way.
Eihei Koroku, 4:312 Leighton & Okumura

Their stories appear one after another in Records of the Torch such as Den[to-roku], Ko[to-roku], Zoku[to-roku], Futo-roku, and so on. When they were liberated from the small vehicle view which is limited thinking about philosophy and precepts and they revered the great truth authentically transmitted by the Buddhist patriarchs, they all became Buddhist patriarchs. People today also should learn from the ancestral masters of the past.
Shobogenzo, Den-E, Nishijima & Cross

Remember, we attain the truth when listening to a four-line verse, and we attain the state of truth when listening to a single phrase. Why is it that a four-line verse and a single phrase can have such a mystical effect? Because they are the Buddha-Dharma.
Shobogenzo, Den-E, Nishijima & Cross

When Students of the Way are looking at sayings, you must exert your power to the utmost and examine them very very closely.
Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary

The great Master says, “I call this bamboo and wood.” We must completely master, both before it is voiced and after it becomes words, this unprecedented and unrepeatable snippet of an expression.
Shobogenzo, Sangai-Yuishin, Nishijima & Cross

With regard to the realization of this matter of secret talk, not only the World-Honored Sakyamuni has secret talk: all the Buddhist patriarchs have secret talk. A world-honored one always has secret talk. And one who has secret talk inevitably has Mahakasyapa’s state of nothing being concealed. We should learn in practice and should not forget the truth that if there are a hundred thousand world-honored ones there are a hundred thousand Mahakasyapas. “Learning in practice” means not intending to understand at once but striving painstakingly hundreds of times, or thousands of times, as if working to cut a hard object. We should not think that when a person has something to relate we will be able to understand it at once.
Shobogenzo, Mitsugo, Nishijima & Cross

Dig in the earth to search for heaven; meet with sun face and moon face buddhas. Dig a hole in the sky to plant the seed of a lotus that will blossom neither red not white [without and color]. Play with Linji’s lump of red flesh, and penetrate the width of Xuefeng’s ancient mirror. Furthermore, burn up Danxia’s wooden Buddha, and smelt a hundred times the iron ox at Shanfu. Don’t laugh when the cold ash is revived. Return for a while to a warm place [the meditation hall] and deliberate about this.
Eihei Koroku, 3:199 Leighton & Okumura

Beginners and later students who wish to learn in practice the non-emotional preaching of the Dharma should get straight into diligent research of this story of the National Master.
Shobogenzo, Muju-Seppoi, Nishijima & Cross

The truth expressed now in the founding Patriarch’s words “What people are able to hear the non-emotional preaching the Dharma” should be painstakingly researched through the effort of one life and many lives.
Shobogenzo, Muju-Seppoi, Nishijima & Cross

Without taking a step bow to the three government offices. The entryway that has long been locked is now wide open. Sit and cut through the billions of tangled vines to penetrate all of the ten thousand functionings and arouse the wind and thunder.
Eihei Koroku, 1:125 Leighton & Okumura

At the crown of effort, we should make still further effort. If the above is so, then practice and experience and pursuit of the truth also may not be [only] of one kind or of two kinds; and the ultimate state may be of thousands of kinds and myriad varieties.
Shobogenzo, Sansuigyo, Nishijima & Cross

Someone with an iron tongue and spike beak can bite through the model koans from ancient or modern times.
Eihei Koroku, 2:167 Leighton & Okumura

Neither of these venerable patriarchs is of humble ancestry: [Seppo] is a distant descendant of Seigen and [Sansho] is a distant descendant of Nangaku. That they have been dwelling in and retaining the eternal mirror is [evidenced] as described above. They may be a criterion for students of later ages.
Shobogenzo, Kokyo, Nishijima & Cross

National Master Daisho is an excellent disciple of the eternal Buddha of Sokei. He is a great good counselor in heaven above and in the human world. We should clarify the fundamental teaching set forth by the Nation Master, and regard it as a criterion for learning in practice.
Shobogenzo, Soku-Shin-Ze-Butsu, Nishijima & Cross

Don’t you see that someone said, “Atop Mount Wutai, the clouds are making steamed rice; below the steps to the Buddha hall, a dog urinates up toward the heavens. At the top of a flagpole, dumplings are cooking; three monkeys a sorting coins in the night.”

Brothers, if you can comprehend this saying, you will know the mind of the three vehicles and twelve divisions of the teaching. Do you want to clearly understand the meaning of the ancestor [Bodhidharma] coming from the west?

After a pause Dogen said: Pierce your nostrils for yourself. Search for the fiery lotus in the water of mind. Study this.
Eihei Koroku, 4:274 Leighton & Okumura

The sixth patriarch says, “people have south and north, but the Buddha-nature is without south and north.” We should take this expression and make effort to get inside the words. We should reflect on the words “south and north” with naked mind.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Nishijima & Cross

We should exhaust life after life investigating the intention of these words.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Nishijima & Cross

Good gentlemen, when you meet a teacher, first ask for one case of a [koan] story, and just keep it in mind and study it diligently. If you climb to the top of the mountain and dry up the oceans, you will not fail to complete [this study]. [Dazu Huike] standing in the snow to attain the Dharma and engaging the way for eight years was not in vain.
Eihei Koroku, 8:14 Leighton & Okumura

Though his works are full of these kinds of sayings, I know of only a few statements that could construed as arguing against koan study, but those seem more along the traditional lines of not becoming attached to any words. It is puzzling to me how anyone could read Dogen and fail to acknowledge that a deep and thorough grasp of koans is essential to authentic Zen practice and enlightenment, at least as far as Dogen was concerned.

Gassho, Ted

8:08 PM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger jundo cohen said...

Hi Ted,

Boy, it is pretty amazing, your ability to pull up quotes at will!

Nobody is denying the importance of Koans to Dogen. That would be foolish. What makes you think that anyone is saying that? They are central to his explication of Buddhist teachings, and are found on nearly every page of his writings.

It is just that he did not support their use as a central focus during the non-doing of Zazen (as was and is done in the Rinzai school). We do not sit with our mind wrapped around "the cypress tree in the courtyard." If you can refer me to -any- Dogen scholar, historian, expert or teacher who disagrees, please tell me. I will reconsider. None of the quotes you provide need be read as anything different from that.

Nor is that to say that, just because Koans are not the central point of Zazen, the non-thinking, non-attached, flexible mind found in Zazen is not to be applied to Koans. It is! In most Soto Zen temples and Sangha I have been to, we sit Zazen then, in its own time, listen to a talk on Shobogenzo, then sit more Zazen, then get on with our lives of washing dishes and doing the laundry. Although I may bring the pliable Zen mind to doing the dishes (non-doing the dishes, I suppose, for what is there ultimately to clean?), I do not do the dishes while doing Zazen either!

Anyway, you may be trying to force Dogen into a very personal interpretation of your own.

Now, I am off to sit (the dishes having been done, and the washing machine on automatic cycle).

Gassho, Jundo

10:53 PM, November 02, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...


Master Dogen promised you that if you get the intention which he expressed in Fukan-zazen-gi, you will be like a tiger before its mountain stronghold.

Not like a four-eyed Ph D in Buddhist studies who strayed by mistake into a tiger’s den, carrying a heavy bag of books. Like a tiger. How much interest might a real tiger have in the koan problem which is worrying you so much?

There are no words in any book anywhere in the world, the reading of which will be sufficient for you to get Master Dogen’s intention.

To get Master Dogen’s intention means to authentically succeed to the samadhi of the ancestors. For that, it is necessary to meet face-to-face with a true teacher.

Having been an integral part of Gudo Nishijima’s Shobogenzo translation I can tell you without hesitation that its purpose was never to facilitate the kind of accumulation of intellectual knowledge which you demonstrate. The purpose of the translation was to facilitate the practice and experience of the samadhi of the ancestors. It is utterly impossible for you to succeed to this samadhi only by reading books or reading blogs, even if the words therein were written by a true teacher.

Still less is it possible for you to succeed by reading the words of James Cohen. I do not hesitate to say publicly that James Cohen is not a true Buddhist teacher. You should not ask any kind of question to him. Meeting a true teacher and throwing away the vain effort to grasp the truth intellectually, you should try to understand why I criticize James Cohen so strongly for never having seen the body-mind of Gautama Buddha even in a dream.

James Cohen is a monk of the kind that Master Dogen described in Shobogenzo chap. 73, Sanju-shichibon-bodai-bunbo. He presumes to write about the mind which does not want to get anything, without knowing his own mind, much less the body-mind of the man he advertizes so shamelessly as his Buddhist teacher. I think that if there were any true tiger in Dogen Sangha they might roar their disapproval of James Cohen. Of course, there may be a tiger who does not roar, or who has not roared yet. But so far I have not heard any kind of tiger’s roar, other than my own.

There may be a tiger who does not roar. But I think that a tiger who is afraid to roar is not a true tiger. For example, Michael Luetchford. Taijun Saito. Gabriele Linnebach. Jeremy Pearson. Denis Le Grand. Luis. Herve. Brad Warner. Et cetera. Et cetera. I would like to prod all those so-called tigers, and notice their response.

4:33 AM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear Jundo,

I thought you said we were going to let it rest. Ha!

Jundo wrote, "Boy, it is pretty amazing, your ability to pull up quotes at will!"

The day before, Jundo wrote: “I can only repeat what I have been taught, ask Nishijima Roshi for his input.”

After reading your comment, as well as the comment by Mike Cross, I think I have come to understand the basis of our conflicting views on Dogen and the Shobogenzo. I think we are simply speaking from two entirely different perspectives. Therefore, rather than challenge your any of your specific views I will just try to clarify my own perspective.

First, let me remind you that I am not a Zen Buddhist, and I am not challenging institutional or religious doctrine. I am discussing the Shobogenzo as a text, within its context of the literature of Buddhism and the personal impact of its methods and teachings on my own particular spiritual path.

It seems to me that the records of Dogen, more than most religious texts from that time, have suffered from what I think of as “selective discrimination.” As I am sure you know, at least three versions of the Shobogenzo have exponents that claim them as the version “intended” by Dogen. All have been subjected to numerous revisions, editing, and transcriptions (by Dogen himself as well as others). To make matters more difficult, the various editions have often been used as sources for even more selective anthologies, which in turn are “cherry-picked” by others and used as authority for supporting arguments across the board. For instance I have seen the words “To study the self is to forget the self” (from Genjokoan, Shobogenzo) quoted, out of context, by a number of English language “teachers,” each using them as authority for totally different arguments.

Obviously, the mere familiarity of a few lines from the Shobogenzo is not adequate for an accurate understanding of any particular essay in the Shobogenzo (much less to qualify one as a Dogen specialist!). Any worthwhile approach to the Shobogenzo, I believe, requires first, a complete and active reading of all the fascicles that make up the various versions of the Shobogenzo, as well as Dogen’s other works. What I mean by “complete and active reading” is the kind of reading (and re-reading) which allows us to fully incorporate the text. Only when we possess it in our mind, in its entirety, are we in a position to truly appreciate any particular aspect of it. This simple rule, required for a true grasp of any literature, is more than many Dogen “authorities” seem to follow. Indeed, relative to their importance as revelatory of the Buddhadharma, the bulk of the fascicles that make up the Shobogenzo may be the least studied texts in all the literature of Buddhism. Part of the reason for the failure to apply this rule is surely due to the fact that, for most of us, a complete and active reading of Dogen’s works will be measured in years if not decades. Nevertheless, I believe that if someone is not willing to fulfill this basic requirement, they should abstain from presuming to “interpret” it for others.

I am surely not qualified to do so! All I have to offer is my own present understanding (which will probably change by tomorrow!), and the basis of its reasoning. When others present their own understanding to me, I only ask them for the same courtesy; what is the basis of their reasoning? If their reasoning is based on what somebody else told them, religious dogma, biased views, etc. then I am being asked to accept its validity on blind faith, which just does not work for me.

In my own enjoyment of the Shobogenzo over the years, I have sought out and studied the commentaries on it by contemporary authors. Most of these deal with only a single fascicle or a particular theme of Dogen’s thought. Although some of these where helpful and insightful, many, in my opinion, resort to a certain amount of reductionism, often positing expressions from particular topics or essays as universal rules of Dogen’s thought. Such “rules,” though usually plausible in the specific topic or essay at hand, often break down in the context of the other topics or essays included in the Shobogenzo. This method of approaching the Shobogenzo seems antithetical to my own experience of discerning literature, especially religious, mythological, and poetic literature.

As I mentioned above, I believe that truly grasping the meaning of a text requires active reading that incorporates the text in its entirety. At the same time, I think we need to have a thorough understanding of the text’s literary context, as well as any relevant information on the author’s biography. Only when this is accomplished can we expect to accurately form a true sense of the intentions of the text. This kind of approach to literature is what Mortimer J. Adler calls, “coming to terms with the author.” In his classic, How to Read a Book, he puts it more succinctly than I could hope to paraphrase:

“Unless the reader comes to terms with the author, the communication of knowledge from one to the other does not take place. For a term is the basic element of communicable knowledge.

A term is not a word—at least, not just a word without further qualifications. If a term and a word were exactly the same, you would only have to find the important words in a book in order to come to terms with it. But a word can have many meanings, especially an important word. If the author uses a word in one meaning, and the reader reads it in another…they have not come to terms. Where there is unresolved ambiguity in communication… at best communication must be incomplete.

…We speak of a community as a group of people who have something in common. Communication is an effort on the part of one person to share something with another… It succeeds only when it results in a common something…that the two parties share.

…When there is ambiguity in the communication… all that is in common are the words that one person speaks or writes and another hears or reads. So long as ambiguity persists, there is no meaning in common between the writer and reader. For the communication to be successfully completed, therefore, it is necessary for the two parties to use the same words with the same meanings—in short, to come to terms. When that happens, communication happens, the miracle of two minds with but a single thought.”

Clearly, “coming to terms” with the author of Shobogenzo in this sense, would not be an easy feat. Aside from all the difficulties already touched upon, the Shobogenzo (in its various versions) is a long and extremely varied text. Just acquiring a working knowledge of the literary context of the Shobogenzo could require a lifetime of intensive study. I seriously doubt that anyone alive today could meet all of the qualifications I have already outlined. However, it should be clear why I believe that anyone who casually refers to the Shobogenzo or offhandedly tells others what Dogen “thought” or “meant” without having (at the very least) incorporated the entire Shobogenzo, is being naïve, presumptuous, or outright slanderous.

When someone does offer an idea or insight based on sound reasoning, I try to put it to the acid test, that is, I try to incorporate it into my life and give it a fair trial. If it works, I keep using it, if not, I let it go. The same thing applies to my own views; if they do not work today, I need to be willing to let them go. As another wise teacher once said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Ultimately, the authenticity of practice and enlightenment can only be verified by what truly works in our own lives here and now, don’t you think?

I hope my rambling has clarified my own perspective (at least a little).
Thanks again for your comments, and your time.
Gassho, Ted

8:46 AM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear Mike Cross,

Thank you for your comments.

Though I disagree with some of your statements, I do not dare to contradict someone that has made such a profound impact on my own life.

I would just like to take this opportunity to offer my heartfelt thanks for your efforts in co-translating the Shobogenzo into English. In my opinion, it is one of the greatest gifts to English reading Zen students ever achieved, and is THE greatest gift to English reading students of Dogen.


Nine Full Bows, Ted.

8:57 AM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger jundo cohen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:18 PM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger jundo cohen said...


If I may try a comment on my teacher's most recent posting ...

Gudo Nishijima views Buddhism as a philosophy of "Action," of "Just Being." This means, in Nishijima Roshi's teachings, that we are to live life moment-by-moment, with balance of mind-body. But more than Buddhism as a mere philosophy or proposed ideal written in the pages of some dry book conerning how we "should live life" (which is what most philosophies never go beyond), Zazen is the practical means allowing us to live and experience such actual moment by moment balance in our own lives. In our doing so, all mental turmoil and worldly tumult that can disturb balance slips away in the pure act of Zazen (the anger, hate, greed, clutching, petty resentments etc. etc. that usually clutter our minds and lives). This is what he means when he writes, so matter of factly, "Zazen pracice in the morning ... I am enjoying the good effects of it."

For all the fancy language and perspectives in the Shobogenzo, Nishijima believes that the practice comes down to this:

Living our lives, instant by instant, here and now, with balance.

He decries efforts to turn Buddha, Buddhist teachings, Dharma, Dogen, Shobogenzo, the words of Shobogenzo or any of it into a "Religion of Idealism," objects and totems of religious fetish which we dip in Gold and Jewels then carry as a banner. If any way of describing Buddha, Dogen (or even Nishijima) smacks of that, sounds to the ear like religious fundamentalism, turns the teachings into one more high ideal suitable merely for tigers in caves and not ordinary human beings, and (most importantly) is expressed through words and emotions that drip with anger, hate, greed and clutching ... then the central point has been lost, the balance has been lost. For all Dogen's fancy words and mind-body blowing perspectives on Reality (in Nishijima's view), that central balance and refusal of religious idealism (and fundamentalism) is the core ... lose that, and all the rest is lost.

One of the strangest things I have witnessed has been the tendency among some to idealize (and turn into a "religion of Idealism") Roshi's own teachings decrying "religions of idealism." It is possible to lose balance, and thus miss Roshi's point about balance of body and mind, just sitting, just being, about living in the golden jewel of just-this-moment that is the "Religion of Action." In the end, even that is dropped aside in the moment-by-moment of Zazen, we forget all words and philosophy, and "just do, just be."

We must not turn Buddhism into but another form of religious fundamentalism, a cudgel with which to beat the heads of those not as so-called "enlightened" as we are. The reason I trust in Roshi, and am his student, is his simple smile, and the balance he exhibits both in sitting and living. It is his way of life (his personal grace and balance as he translates his books, cooks his dinner and washes up, in his humble room). If he failed to have that, then his teachings would fail.

If anyone, even we long time students of Roshi, fails to maintain balance in our thoughts, words and deeds, we have lost the Way. We become a "Cult of Dogen & Shobogenzo," and we soon sound like all the other fanatics, more angry people in an angry world, another group of religious believers convinced of our own righteousness.

Thus, for me, the central test of our practice is just this: We must never speak of "balance" from a state of mind that is without balance, of living life without balance in life, and if our insistence on the righteousness of our position and ideals causes our heads to fill with anger and tumult ... we are not right in what we are teaching. We are preaching what we cannot practice. We cannot be angry and frustrated in insisting that we hold the "Truth" about a balanced life unburdened by anger and frustration (and why would we want such a "Truth" even if it is the "Truth?"). We cannot express Dogen and Nishijima's words in our own words filled with anger, hate, greed and clutching. If we do so, Dogen's "tiger before its mountain lare" is not the tiger of Zazen, but just another blood-thirsty, lusting, territorial, mean and terrified tiger out for its own, the kind of tiger that (unfortunately) fills the jungles of this world in which we reside.

For example, I recently wrote this to someone ...

I do not care about a supposed teacher's claimed subtle understanding of Buddhism, Dogen's words or alleged right understanding of Nishijima Roshi's message, or some self-styled mastery or desire to pursue the "Truth" --- The fact is that, if that person has never learned how to drop a grudge, does not know how to put aside old resentments and attachments to things that are denied him or her, cannot live this life without conflict with other human beings ... then the prime message of Buddhism and Zazen has been missed. A follower of the Buddha's Way should be generous, forgiving, gentle and wide minded. We all have faults, wounds should be healed. By choosing to carry animosities, we are the not those things. and seemingly their opposite.

This, for me (and for Nishijima Roshi, I believe) is the sign of the True Tiger, the Real Dragon. Does that person live his or her own life with peace, balance, freedom from hate, resentment, attachments, excess, extremism, etc? It is the first test (there are others), the "proof in the doing" of how the self-billed "teacher" lives his or her life, regarding whether one has encountered a true teacher of Buddhism or not.

Gassho, Jundo

4:23 PM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought I'd comment briefly on Koans.

They are not essential on the path of enlightenment, they are just one tool among many.

A koan works in the same way that throwing sand into a machine's works. It gives the mind something to work on which cannot be solved by the mind.

In Zazen by comparison you allow the cogs of the mind to spin until their spinning ceases.

In Mindfulness/Vipassana the effect is almost identical to Zazen - focussing on an object (the present moment) allows the cogs of the mind to stop spinning.

The key difference is that through Koans the intellect is active in it's 'destruction' and in Zazen/M/V the intellect is a passive observer.

In all cases the result will be cessation of 'conscious' thought - maybe for moments of maybe for longer.

If it is not on your reading list then the Tibetan Book of the Dead will give you a colourful alternative viewpoint.

4:45 PM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need to clarify what I mean by intellect here.

The continual stream of thoughts about the present/past/future is what I am realy referring to.

This stream is the bulk of what seperates us from reality. It is not necessary. It is a small part of who we are.

Washing dishes does not require a detailed inner dialogue to accompany it. Likewise, polishing a car is pretty much covered by "Wax on, Wax off".

4:49 PM, November 03, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

You needn’t thank me, Ted. I had nothing to do with it. That's why it is titled "Master Dogen's Shobogenzo." The Nishijima-Cross Shobogenzo translation was a Buddhist process instigated by Master Dogen himself.

In his recent effort to cut me out of it, Gudo has manifested the deluded behaviour of a suspicious old man.

In his effort to cut me out, Gudo has hurt me, has hurt himself (literally, by falling over in the same week that he sent me a contract to sign without having consulted me on said contract), and has killed the process.

In this deluded behaviour, James Cohen has been instrumental.

When I met Gudo Nishijima in 1982, I knew that I was meeting a teacher who had realized some profound truth. As soon as I met Gudo, I knew that my life had changed radically from that day onward. He was my true teacher. I have not met him in person since 1998, and I am not keen on the telephone. So nowadays I do not know how he is. Whether Gudo can still be a true teacher or not, I honestly do not know.

I do know, however, that James Cohen cannot be a true teacher. He is a fraud, a charlatan, and a nasty piece of work. He is never a true teacher. Why Gudo transmitted the Dharma to James Cohen, I truly do not know and cannot suppose. I think that probably it was simply an old man’s mistake.

Ted: If you don’t dare to contradict me, very good. From now on I command you to stop writing “Dogen” as if you were writing about some literary great like Shakespeare, Homer, or Virgil. From now on, I command you to write “Zen Master Dogen.”

If you truly wish to meet the author of Shobogenzo, you have to meet him as your true teacher, who you should call "Master." You should not try to meet him as a literary figure who you call "Dogen."

Recently I call my own Zen Master simply “Gudo,” because recently he behaves like a senile old fool. Gudo which literally means “stupid way” is perfectly exact.

But I continue to call Zen Master Dogen Zen Master Dogen. And if you don’t dare to contradict me, from now on, you will do the same.

6:27 PM, November 04, 2006  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear Mike Cross

Very well then, I will thank Zen Master Dogen for instigating the Buddhist process that resulted in The Nishijima-Cross Shobogenzo translation. Even though I have been thanking Zen Master Dogen with every in breath I have taken since Book 1 became available (my out breaths were already bequeathed to Zen Master Hakuin).

Thank you Zen Master Dogen!

At the same time, it is curious that up until causes and conditions manifested Mike Cross, The Nishijima-Cross Shobogenzo translation was unavailable. Thank you causes and conditions manifested as Mike Cross!

Regarding the…difficulties (?) between you and Master Nishijima, I am saddened to hear of it.

As far as truly wishing “to meet the author of the Shobogenzo,” I would not presume to do so. I am afraid if I did I would meet a human being, a human being would meet a human being, and manifestation would meet manifestation.

Although when I said I would not dare to contradict you, I did not mean I would submit to your commands, I will, however, try to follow your request and write "Zen Master Dogen" from now on.

Do you mind if I thank you for your comments? Good!

Thank you!

Nine full bows, Ted

7:34 PM, November 04, 2006  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear MikeDoe,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on koans; the clear and levelheaded expression of your comments testifies to your genuine commitment to practice-and-enlightenment.

I agree with you that koans are “not essential on the path of enlightenment.” I think only one thing is “essential:” genuine aspiration (bodhicitta). (If you are commenting in response to my previous post about the role of koans in Zen Master Dogen’s teaching, please understand that I was trying express my understanding, and the reasoning behind it, of how Zen Master Dogen –not me– viewed the role of koans in Zen.)

As far as koans being “just one tool among many,” I agree to a point. (Maybe a better “Zen” way of saying it is, I agree 80 or 90%. Ha!) In my experience, some koans are “just one tool,” more or less, as you outline in your comment.

Nevertheless, I think it is a misunderstanding to view all, or even most koans as merely devices for bringing the intellect to an impasse, thereby causing a sort of psychological breakthrough (although this view certainly has its advocates and warrants our own investigation).

After some years of working with koans (with and without teachers, as well as trying to follow Zen Master Dogen’s “How to” instructions in Shobogenzo, Soshi-Sairai-No-I ), I have come to believe that most koans are more like condensed expressions of wisdom which, like scripture, reveal their wisdom when the practitioner is able to, for lack of a better word, “merge” with them.

As far as “tool” type koans go (which I will call “initial” types), I agree that they do serve as “tools” or “devices” aimed at the cessation of conceptualization, or the realization of nonthinking.

Examples of this initial type of koan are, “Joshu’s Mu (No),” “The sound of a single hand,” “Who hears?” and, “What is your original face?” When utilized by beginning practitioners, these koans function primarily as instrumental methods toward cessation, that is, as aids to “forgetting the self.”

However, I think that even some of these initial koans, such as Zen Master Joshu’s “Mu,” also contain deeper wisdom that may be uncovered later by mature practitioners. (As you probably know, the “Mu” koan actually exists in a number of variations, the more elaborate of which contain ongoing dialogue between Joshu and monastics discussing the “why” and “what” of both “Mu” [No] and “U” [Yes]).

When koans are used as devices aimed at attaining cessation of conceptualization, or nonthinking, they are often abbreviated, or simplified. The famous “Mu” koan regarding the Buddha-nature of a dog, when used as an initial type of koan is usually pared down to the single syllable, “Mu.”

You are probably familiar with the Mumonkan (compiled by Zen Master Mumon [Wumen], 1183-1260), which contains the most well known version of the “Mu” koan, in one of its abbreviated forms:

A monk asked Joshu, “Does the dog have Buddha-Nature?” Joshu said, “Mu.”

It seems to me that Zen Master Mumon’s comment to this case typifies the method of using a koan as a “tool” for the realization of nonthinking. It reads, in part (forgive the incomplete and somewhat inaccurate wording here, I do not have a translation handy and will have to take at stab at it from memory):

“To realize Zen, you must pass through the barrier of the ancestors. To achieve realization, you must completely cut off conceptual thought. If you don’t pass through this barrier and cut off conceptual thinking you will be like a ghost clinging to bushes and weeds… this barrier is the single word “Mu.” It is the first barrier of Zen... it is the Gateless Barrier. When you are able to pass through it, you will see Zen Master Joshu face to face, and you will walk hand in hand with all the ancestors, your eyebrows entangling with theirs… Muster your whole body and mind, arouse the spirit of great doubt, and focus on the single word “Mu.” Hold it continuously day and night. Do not form conceptualizations of “has” or “has not.” Allow the delusive thoughts you have acquired to fall away, when the time comes, inside and outside will unite... a single spark lights your dharma candle.”

I think that is fairly accurate (though incomplete).

As you may have read in one of my previous comments, Zen Master Dogen’s teacher also recommended this particular koan. His commentary on how to apply it is very similar to Zen Master Mumon’s:

“When thoughts are flying around your mind in confusion, what do you do? “A dog’s Buddha-nature? No.” This word No (Mu) is an iron broom: Where you sweep there is a lot of flying around, and where there is a lot of flying around, you sweep. The more you sweep, the more there is. At this point where it is impossible to sweep, you throw your whole life into sweeping.

Keep your spine straight day and night, and do not let your courage flag. All of a sudden you sweep away the totality of space, and all differentiations are clearly penetrated, so the source and its meanings become evident.”
Zen Master Tendo Nyojo, Unlocking the Zen Koan, Thomas Cleary

It seems to me that besides their function as “tools,” koans are also vehicles for the transmission of wisdom (prajna). I think Dogen’s teachings on transmission (dharma-transmission, and transmission of prajna), in which he precisely and methodically describes his understanding, gives us another possible way of seeing the nature of koans.

For example, in Shobogenzo, Inmo, Zen Master Dogen explains how transmission occurs in the context of the traditional story of Zen Master Eno (Huineng), the traditional sixth ancestor of Zen. After reminding his listeners/readers that Zen Master Eno, though never exposed to the “eternal teachings” was “suddenly illuminated” upon hearing someone recite a Buddhist scripture (the Diamond Sutra), he then goes on to say:

“This is just the truth of Those who have wisdom, if they hear [the Dharma] Are able to believe and understand at once. This wisdom is neither learned from other people nor established by oneself: wisdom is able to transmit wisdom, and wisdom directly searches out wisdom ... It is beyond coming and beyond entering: it is like the spirit of spring meeting springtime, for example. Wisdom is beyond intention and wisdom is beyond no intention. Wisdom is beyond consciousness and wisdom is beyond unconsciousness. How much less could it be related to the great and the small? How much less could it be discussed in terms of delusion and realization? The point is that although [the Sixth Patriarch] does not even know what the Buddha Dharma is, never having heard it before and so neither longing for it nor aspiring to it, when he hears the Dharma, he makes light of his debt of gratitude and forgets his own body and; such things happen because the body-and-mind of those who have wisdom is already not their own. This is the state called able to believe and understand at once. No-one knows how many rounds of life-and-death [people] spend, even while possessing this wisdom, in futile dusty toil. They are like a stone enveloping a jewel, the jewel not knowing that it is enveloped by a stone, and the stone not knowing that it is enveloping a jewel. [When] a human being recognizes this [jewel], a human being seizes it. This is neither something that the jewel is expecting nor something that the stone is awaiting: it does not require knowledge from the stone and it is beyond thinking by the jewel. In other words, a human being and wisdom do not know each other, but it seems that the truth is unfailingly discerned by wisdom.”
Shobogenzo, Inmo, Nishijima & Cross

I think that Zen Master Dogen’s words, “wisdom is able to transmit wisdom, and wisdom directly searches out wisdom”, are a great definition of Dharma-transmission. In its highest sense, wisdom (prajna) is Buddhadharma. Wisdom transmits wisdom and is received by wisdom. When Eno heard the wisdom transmitted by the wisdom (of the Diamond Sutra), his own innate wisdom was “able to believe and understand at once.” That, it seems to me, is one of Zen Master Dogen’s consistent teachings on Zen practice and enlightenment. What this seems to say to me is, when the Zen practitioner is exposed to the wisdom transmitted by the wisdom (of Buddhas and Zen masters, texts, koans, birdsong, raindrops, walls, stones, etc.), the practitioners own innate wisdom is activated.

In the above example, Zen Master Dogen likens this to a jewel inside a rock. The jewel (wisdom) has been in the rock (human being) all along, and as soon as the “rock” realizes this, the “jewel” is already embodied, “[When] a human being recognizes this [jewel], a human being seizes it.” That is to say, “transmission” is the activation of (already innate) wisdom by wisdom. The path of Zen is the wisdom within us resonating with the activation of wisdom through the lifelong process of practice and enlightenment.

Seen in this light, when we “grasp” the point in a sutra (scripture), or Zen sermon, wisdom is realized, that is, transmission occurs. When we discern and assimilate the point of a koan (Zen story), the wisdom inherent in the koan activates the wisdom inherent in us. As Zen Master Dogen says, “a human being and wisdom do not know each other, but it seems that the truth is unfailingly discerned by wisdom.”

As far as your explanation of zazen, I agree 100% If you are using the term “zazen” in its most literal sense, as “sitting meditation” (shikantaza, or sole sitting).

I also found your comparison with Mindfulness/Vipassana interesting. My knowledge is even weaker in that area than it is with Zen. I thought that Mindfulness/Vipassana was similar to the two general modes of Cessation/Observation, Meditation/Insight, Samadhi/Prajna, Stopping/Seeing, etc. Yet, from your explanation it sounds as though Mindfulness/Vipassana are not two modes. Your comments may spur me to quit being lazy and bone up a little.

Concerning the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I thank you for the recommendation, it is an old companion already though—and you are right on about its “colorful” perspective! I tried to stay away from the that dull bluish-yellow light, but alas, here I am!

Now I think I will go sit for awhile—I need to prepare for the verbal punishment (which I no doubt deserve) I will receive for hogging all this space on Master Nishijima’s blog.

Thanks again for sharing your inspiring words, I will try to “master in practice” their intent.

Gassho, Ted

7:40 PM, November 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I did in a practical sense oversimplify to make a point.

That point is simply that to believe that there is 'only one' path does result in an attachment to a view and that attachment of itself can be a hindrance and result in a clinging and a love of a particular belief.

Now whilst, within that context it can be said that Koans are not 'essential' it is also fair to say that I have personally found one or two koans to be incredibly useful.

Of the koans I have contemplated (because they resonated with me and not because someone told me to) and found to be useful stepping stones are:


"Show me your unborn face"

"Strawberry and the Cliff story"

"Farmer, son, horse ... 'is that so?'"

I'd also agree with you in part over the usefulness of koans as a way of transmission of understanding. A way amongst many.

It is the 'essentialness' that I would caution against.

I am using 'Zazen; in its most literal sense of "just sitting". Elaborations beyond that are artefacts and in the end unnecessary.

"I thought that Mindfulness/Vipassana was similar to the two general modes of Cessation/Observation, Meditation/Insight, Samadhi/Prajna, Stopping/Seeing, etc. Yet, from your explanation it sounds as though Mindfulness/Vipassana are not two modes.

It is because they start out appearing different that sometimes it is assumed that they are different. In practice I have found no difference. They both lead to the same place. They are both methods by which we learn to let go of the need to continually think and instead just be aware only of the present reality and our physical selves.

Your intellectual grasp of buddhism and the practice of meditation appears to be very thorough but I would encourage you to just do the very simple thing of meditating in whichever style you feel is most beneficial to you. This would give you a deeper kind of knowledge which is not reliant on books and study (both of which do have a benefit).

I would also suggest that you investigate Mindfulness/Vipassana as something that can be fitted into a normal working day - think of it as 'Zazen whilst doing...' and you will be heading in a helpful direction.

There are many paths up the mountain but there is only one mountain. It is not always clear that different people are climbing the same mountain but nonetheless they are.


12:31 AM, November 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



My own grasp of many Buddhist texts and past masters is often minimial. My studying has been wide but not deep.

My approach instead was driven by expediency. "Do what they did and then see if what they said is true".


12:36 AM, November 05, 2006  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear MikeDoe,

Thank you for your comments. Your straightforward manner of writing is refreshing.

I seem to have some difficulty in putting my thoughts and ideas into words (judging by some of the responses I get). I think, because I never attended school beyond the seventh grade, that I lack confidence in my ability to convey my intention, and tend to overstate my meaning. Also, any writing ability I do have is based on what I've read, which is probably not the best style of language for straightforward expression.

I agree with almost everything in your comment (as I read it, I kept thinking, "didn't I say that?" My doubts about my ability to write efficiently are justified. Ha!) I just have a couple questions.

MikeDoe wrote:

“I am using 'Zazen; in its most literal sense of "just sitting". Elaborations beyond that are artefacts and in the end unnecessary.”

When you say, “Elaboration beyond that are artifacts and in the end unnecessary,” do you qualify that statement in any way? For instance, do you mean, ‘in your opinion, elaboration…etc.,’ or, ‘for most Buddhists, elaboration…etc.,’ or ‘it is a universal truth, elaboration…etc.’? Alternatively, are you saying that the term “Zazen” (in Zen texts and teachings) should always be understood only in its most literal sense?

I only ask because it seems to me that the word “Zazen” (in Zen texts and teachings), while often the first choice for denoting ‘sitting meditation,’ has nearly as many connotations as do the words “Dharma,” “Bodhi,” and “Buddha” (especially in Dogen’s writings).

MikeDoe wrote:

“Your intellectual grasp of buddhism and the practice of meditation appears to be very thorough but I would encourage you to just do the very simple thing of meditating in whichever style you feel is most beneficial to you. This would give you a deeper kind of knowledge which is not reliant on books and study (both of which do have a benefit).”

First, let me thank you for complimenting my “thorough intellectual grasp.” That was kind, but undeserved; my “grasp,” of Buddhism, intellectual or otherwise is far from thorough. Thanks though… Okay, on to my question.

Did you write, “I would encourage you to just do the very simple thing of meditating in whichever style you feel is most beneficial to you” because something I wrote (or perhaps the way I write) somehow implied that I did not meditate, or are you just making a general comment?

I would just like to make sure that I am not coming across as someone that does not believe in meditation. On the contrary, in my view (and experience), any religious or spiritual approach to life, to be authentic, must include regular and dedicated meditation (and a lot of it!). (I began to seriously explore and experiment with various forms of meditation in the mid 1980’s, finally settling on the Zen approach in ’88 or ’89. Then in the early ‘90’s I worked with a number of teachers from several lineages. Since 1993, I have been actively working with the teacher that I have now.)

Maybe I just have a wrong understanding of how to participate in a blog. Because it is a word-based form of communication, I assumed that it was a place to share and explore the verbal aspects of the Buddhadharma. Do I have the wrong idea here? If we want to communicate with each other, on a blog, about the Buddhadharma we can only do it with words, right?

Okay, time to go sit for a while… Take care.

Gassho, Ted

12:28 PM, November 05, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...


You should read the second part of Fukan-zazen-gi, for example, on my blog, beginning "If, however, there is the slightest gap, heaven and earth are far apart," and you should understand that Master Dogen is describing just your state.

Mine too. But the difference is that I see it in myself. You don't. That is why I am a true Master, and you are not. That is why I am a true tiger, and you, James Cohen, et cetera, et cetera, are not.

If you do not dare to contradict me, then shut up immediately. Don't write any more of your own empty opinions on this blog. Read, listen, reflect. If necessary, if you can do it in all sincerity, ask me a short question on my blog.

But above all, shut the fuck up. This is my dictat. Don't go against it. Keep your word, and don't contradict me.

6:41 PM, November 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


On the matter of Zazen:
Many people believe that Zazen must be done only in a certain way. Many people over-complicate and venerate what it is to actually sit in Zazen. Initially, many people including myself have used such things as counting the breath or following-the-breath when starting out in Zazen.

In the end however, my own study and more importantly my own experience has taught me that Zazen is no more than the act of just sitting. Being wholy present but beyond that doing nothing. More bluntly, you sit and stare-not-stare at a wall but that is all. You do not worry about the gas bill etc.

The Fukan Zazengi is really no more than a leaflet of instruction plus some aspirational stuff and yet even so it has very little to say about how to do Zazen beyond just sit down in the full-lotus.

"Did you write, “I would encourage you to just do the very simple thing of meditating in whichever style you feel is most beneficial to you” because something I wrote (or perhaps the way I write) somehow implied that I did not meditate, or are you just making a general comment?"

Neither. You could not write what you have done if you were not meditating. Some of the texts you are reading do not make any sense at all unless you have genuine personal experience to draw upon.
It is more a case of focus.

In my house like most people I have several books that can educate me about various sexual positions and games etc. I do not however currently have a partner. I could study these books extensively and learn a lot about sex and yet actually I would learn very little. If I had a partner I could learn a lot about sex with her and then perhaps use the books accordingly.

In some of what you write I sense a strong desire to obtain a deep intellectual grasp of some of the things that you are studying. I am aware that some people mistakenly believe that you must have a deep intellectual grasp of some things in Buddhism before they may be experienced and this is both simply not true and also a potential trap. There is also a trap that the intellect likes to have that Buddhism can be 'understood' intellectually.

I guess all I am saying to you is don't let your study become Zen porn. Study and meditation go well together but study without meditation is just porn.

"Maybe I just have a wrong understanding of how to participate in a blog. Because it is a word-based form of communication, I assumed that it was a place to share and explore the verbal aspects of the Buddhadharma. Do I have the wrong idea here? If we want to communicate with each other, on a blog, about the Buddhadharma we can only do it with words, right?

You are not wrong it is the nature of the subject. Buddhism does not fit very well into words because reality itself does not fit into words. There is always a danger that we use words to discuss the words rather than use words to discuss reality. When you do the latter it can be more difficult.

I was curious with you to find out into which camp you fell. That does involve me prodding and poking.

If feathers were ruffled I apologise.


7:03 PM, November 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Cross:

It always amuses me who you choose to insult. I learn so much about you from it.

"That is why I am a true Master, and you are not."

I do love your sense of humour.

"Don't write any more of your own empty opinions on this blog. Read, listen, reflect. If necessary, if you can do it in all sincerity, ask me a short question on my blog."

Ted's opinions are far from empty. That is why you take the trouble to insult him.

You want to be the best at everything and to be seen as the master of all. When your nose is rubbed in the dirt you react.

"But above all, shut the fuck up. This is my dictat. Don't go against it. Keep your word, and don't contradict me. "

Are you now claiming to be Gudo Nishijima as well?

I was under the mistaken impression that this was his blog and not yours. I just loose track of all the aliases you use.

If reality is not how you wish it to be that is not the fault of reality.

7:10 PM, November 05, 2006  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Dear Mike Cross,

Thank you for your compassionate guidance! I have followed your instruction and re-read the second part of Fukan-zazen-gi, understanding that Zen Master Dogen is describing, as you say, your state and mine. Now, like you, I see it! I was going to ask you if I too am now a true tiger, or still just a smelly old fox, but you specifically said I could only ask a short question, so I do not want to waste it on that.

Also, thank you for the subtle testing, where in your grandmotherly kindness you said, “shut up immediately” and “above all, shut the fuck up.” We both know that neither of us has ever said a single word (do I pass?).

Okay, now for my short, and sincere, question. You wrote, “This is my dictat.” My question is this; Master, what is “dictat.” I hope you don’t say, “Three pounds of flax!” because I thought I had already resolved that one.

I patiently await your kind-hearted instruction.

Nine full bows, Ted

12:55 PM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger 67 said...

It looks like mr. cross is hungry only for attention.

no true tiger would ever announce himself as such and then bluster like..

an ass.

4:26 PM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...


You haven't seen anything. Your sharp intellect deceives you into thinking you have understood what you haven't understood. That is the essence of the gap, and, no you haven't seen it. Your nine deep bows are a sham.

If you get Master Dogen's intention in Fukan-zazen-gi, you will be like a tiger. Not like you are now, far from your original state, with only your head having penetrated the teaching.

Exactly we should know: A tiger before its mountain stronghold is brightly energized throughout its whole body without dissipating its energy in a hyper-active way. In other words, it is truly fearless -- there being no remaining trace of any conflict between the fear paralysis response and the Moro reflex.

6:25 PM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger Ted Biringer said...

A monk came to the place of the hermit of T’ung Feng and asked, “If you suddenly encountered a tiger here, what then?” The hermit made a tiger’s roar. The monk then made a gesture of fright. The hermit laughed aloud. The monk said, “You old thief!” The hermit said, “What can you do about me?” The monk gave up.

Hsueh Tou said, “This is all right, but these two wicked thieves only knew how to cover their ears to steal a bell.”
(Pi Yen Lu, Case 85, Trans. Thomas Cleary)

Someone said, “Your nine deep bows are a sham.”

The one far from his original state, with only his head having penetrated the teaching said, “If we cover our ears, maybe no one will hear us sneaking off with the bell.”

Nine full bows, Ted

12:14 PM, November 07, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thinking about Master Dogen’s life history, I feel the word “select” in “select the true Master” is totally inappropriate.

The title of this post is very unreliable. What stupid person wrote it? The writer was never Master Dogen.

It is not to select, but to search for, to want to get, with real hunger, with burning desire, never taking No for an answer.

Master Dogen had a privileged position in Japanese society, and he had already met and become good friends with a true Buddhist teacher, that is Master Myozen.

But Master Dogen was not satisfied. His true heart’s desire was to meet the real dragon. He was prepared to lose everything, his social position and his life, making the dangerous journey to China in search of the real dragon.

Master Dogen’s will to the truth was like that. Because of his will to the truth like that, he eventually met Master Tendo Nyojo, and got his own confidence of a dragon finding water, or a tiger before its mountain stronghold.

I couldn’t get that confidence under Gudo alone. But gradually I got it under the guidance of Alexander teachers in England.

Consequently, because of what I have learned, under the guidance of Alexander teachers, since returning to England 12 years ago, I have been able to correct Gudo’s understanding on two very important points in Master Dogen’s teaching.

SHIN NO KEKKAFUZA SUBESHI does not mean, as Gudo has wrongly insisted on this blog, “it is permissible for us to sit in the full lotus posture bodily.” To explain that this sentence means “it it is permissible for us to sit in the full lotus posture even when the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant” is to have totally missed Master Dogen’s intention. This sentence means “Bodily sit in the full lotus posture” -- as if your fucking life depended on it, as if a fire was burning on your head. “Mentally sit in the full lotus posture” similarly, is not a statement concerning the sympathetic nervous system. It does not mean “it it is permissible for us to sit in the full lotus posture even when the sympathetic nervous system is dominant.” It is an exhortation to inform the whole lotus-sitting-body with thought. Not thought as ordinarily understood, but thought as practiced in the practice of non-thinking, as practiced in the FM Alexander technique.

Master Dogen came back from China proclaiming KON SAN NANZO ITARAN? “How can the state of lacking brightness, or the state of energy being dissipated, arrive?” He exhorted us to understand these words exactly, truly, really.

KON, “darkness,” expresses passivity, low muscle tone, parasympathetic nervous activity. It is the manifestation of one kind of primitive fear response. SAN, “being scattered,” expresses hyper-activity, tense muscle tone, sympathetic nervous activity. It is the manifestation of the opposite kind of primitive fear response.

So Gudo not only showed himself to be inaccurate, and proud without reason, in trying to reduce everything to the function of the autonomic nervous system, but he also showed himself to be unreliable in getting KON and SAN the wrong way round.

Master Dogen says in Bendowa that he wrote Shobogenzo and inhibited his own desire to wander freely “in case there were any true practitioners who put the will to the truth first.”

If Gudo is such a practitioner, who puts the will to the truth before his Japanese desire to save face, he will clarify the situation honestly, recognizing the fact that even though he has thought so light of the Alexander technique, even though he betrayed our translation partnership because of his fears about my devotion to the Alexander technique, his understanding of the most important matter in Master Dogen’s teaching has been corrected by an Alexander teacher, that is, me.

Even if there is no reader of this blog who understands the real situation, the buddhas of the three times are all watching Gudo’s response.

So come on, you old bastard: what you asked of me, I demand of you. Practice what you preach. Put the will to the truth first, and act. Get on with it.

6:48 PM, November 11, 2006  

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