Montag, 10. Juni 2019

Buddha-Nature: Mutual Arising and Wholeness

(From my book "Geheimnis der Buddha-Natur)



Buddhism is about to the wholeness and the interaction of our lives and the whole universe, which Dôgen describes as "rail of iron". This is the spiritual indivisible wholeness and not duality of subject and object. He used the same Japanese word for the dropping off of body and mind during the practice of zazen: the constricted meaning that we “have” or “own” the Buddha nature as an object has therefore to be dropped, in order to get to the encompassing entirety of real life.

To resolve the rigid meaning of "to have" and "object", Dôgen called the Buddha nature the "path of the birds". That sounds strange. What does he mean with that? In Chinese Buddhism it's central for this example that the birds leave no physical or even unethical traces when flying in the air. This is a parable that in our actions and generally in life no bad karma and no harm to other people remains. Moreover, the sky is a symbol for the space that has no end, that represents a space-infinity, and it is a parable for the highest state of human beeings. [i] This leads to an important correlation with the fourth immersion (Jhana) of meditation and of Samadhi in early Buddhism. This immersion is described with different terms indicating infinity, for example, the space-infinity. [ii]

Dogen sums with the following sentence, which is also a revealing reversal: "Therefore, the nature of all Buddhas possesses all the many living things."

That means, the living beings and we all are "owned" by the true nature of the Buddhas, so they are nothing else than the Buddha nature. This reversal indicates the

direct interaction and not a division into subject and object. Dogen adds that this statement illuminates the living beings and the Buddha nature at the same time, so that it denotes the essential of our lives. Thus an objectifying, simple and insufficient understanding of the Buddha nature as a thing, object or substance is dissolved.

According to Dogen we tend to forget that we are the truth itself and that at the same time reality is in the actual moment always present and alive. These include the four elements and the five components in the world (Skandas), the individual dharmas of truth.

It is crucial that verbal statements on the Buddha nature are understood through our whole encompassing life and that all the individual moments of our lives are linked directly and immediately with such fundamental truths.


[i] see. Chapter 2, ZEN Schatzkammer, vol. 1, p. 36 et seq .: "Die große intuitive Weisheit, die das Denken überschreitet (Makahannya haramitsu)".


[ii] see. Gäng, Peter: Buddhism, p. 94 et seq.




Milestones of Buddhism

(From my new book: Sternstunden des Buddhismus)



When I met my future teacher Nishijima Roshi in 1996 at his center in Tokyo, he worked intensively on its own translation of a great Buddhist work by the famous Indian master Nāgārjuna . It is a didactic poem in verse discussing the Middle Way (abbreviated MMK - derived from Mūlamadhyamakakārikā , as it says in Indian language Sanskrit).

Nishijima Roshi was so fascinated by MMK that he, being over 60 years old, learned Sanskrit to understand it in the original language and interpret it from there. He repeatedly emphasized that it he found significant similarities with the famous fundamental work Shobogenzo of Zen master Dôgen and wanted to find out whether this approach would bear up against an in-depth analysis. He wondered: Did these great masters realized the authentic and true Buddhism and brought into words? They were certainly Buddhist masters and not scientists and therefore have had their own deep experiences. Because who hasn’t practiced and meditated himself, cannot authentically report Buddhism through their own reality.

Thus, Nishijima Roshi has been thoroughly engaged for about 25 years with the MMK, worked on it until his old age and refined his writings again and again. Together with his student, the famous Buddhist teacher and his successor Brad Warner, Nishijima has issued a comprehensive work on Nāgārjuna. [1][i]In my view that was a milestone into a new era Buddhism. He has gone completely new ways of understanding and interpretation. Based on its profound practical and theoretical experience in Zen Buddhism and, as he says, certainly with this grid of deep understanding, in my view, he advanced into entirely new areas of significance of the MMK. The reactions among experts ranged from enthusiastic approval to clear rejection. That was to be expected. Now, I would like to further develop Nishijima Roshi's work. I cooperated more than 17 years with him.

Prior to his translation of the MMK Nishijima Roshi had completely reprocessed the fundamental Japanese piece Shobogenzo ("The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye") of the great Zen master Dôgen in over 40 years of painstaking work and transferred it into English together with his student Chodo Cross. This four-volume version has prevailed among experts worldwide and constitutes now a key foundation for the works on Zen Buddhism and especially on Master Dogen. [i][ii

A few years after the English translation of Shobogenzo by Nishijima and Cross, Ritsunen Linnebach produced a German version for which I cooperated with her for about eight years. [ii][iii] Moreover, an important volume of the Shobogenzo is published in Spanish (Luis Diaz ).

Tanahashi: Powerful Center
Meanwhile, a second, in my opinion, excellent English edition of the Shobogenzo was published under the direction of Kazuaki Tanahashi  [iii][iv], so that we now have three truly reliable versions of this basic work of Zen Buddhism available in the West. Thus, the Dōgen research experienced a sustained recovery, and many irritating and inaccurate representations of Zen Buddhism have become obsolete. Particularly the misconception that paradoxical incomprehensible statements would be the most important element of Zen must be cleared out, because exactly the opposite is the case. In fact, Zen is trans-intellectual and follows a broad and profound reason, that analyzes extensively the dynamic of mind-psyche-body. Philosophically I’d like to describe this method as phenomenology, which was actually developed earlier in Buddhism than in western philosophy. In my opinion, Buddha realized the networking of nature and humanity 2500 years ago. We needed quite some time longer in the west! Zen approaches topics, questions and problems from different perspectives. That might confuse some western readers, as it goes out of the simple logic of yes-and-no-statements. However, only this way the central spheres of the developing and emancipating human being become visible with the necessary clarity and depth and therefore can be fostered. Man is not a machine that either works or is broken.

For me, the two works of Nāgārjuna and Dōgen mark splendorous moments of Buddhist life and spirit . On them I want to build my future work. Thereby I follow the fundamental aim of Nishijima Roshi to relate these two thinkers and buddhist masters to each other, to bring them into fruitful reciprocal effect and make them available for the west.






[i][ii] Dogen Shobogenzo (translated by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross), English.
[ii][iii] Dōgen: Shobogenzo. The Treasury of the True Dharma-Eye, German.
[iii][iv] Dogen; Tanahashi, Kazuaki (Editor): Shobogenzo. Treasury of the True Dharma Eye.

Mittwoch, 26. August 2015

The Lion’s Roar of a Child


(Shoaku-Makusa) Part 3

In fact, it is remarkable to see that some people act quite differently than they think they would. Furthermore, often theoretical moral considerations, which sound  good, are  often linked to the fact that  right is not being done.
In general, a  thing is often  called right which cannot be seen as rightful acting once it has been examined. In addition, it is usually veiled and serves an individual's personal advantage.

At this point Dogen highlights the fact that there are many ways to do good, e.g. the practice of the Pure Land and Zazen practice which he is very fond of.
It is important that while acting rightfully, one acts carefully. Which means, that one should respect other people and their actions. As Dogen underlines, this is not only true in the case of friends and relatives, but even more so in the case of rivals and enemies.
It applies both to family life, while dealing with friends, and also at the workplace which is often dominated by envy and a fight for important positions.

Doing the right thing in a respectful manner takes place in the moment itself. As Dogen mentions, we should not blame outer circumstances or situations as the cause if we fail to do the right thing – this way we would be naming the wrong causes. What applies to active action is also true in the case of letting things happen - because we can realize right by letting things happen.
In such a case one should not interfere in a disruptive or egoistic way – one would only generate wrong oneself.

In a poem it is said that heart and mind would naturally open up and become pure, if we were not doing wrong and respectfully doing the right.
Also, this statement should not be rooted solely in theory and conceptual thinking, but should be discovered and experienced through acting.

While we act we can learn how Buddhas are meant to be. Then we will not, according to Dogen, have to act like ordinary people who accept the suffering produced by unjust actions, resign themselves and will never break through to righteousness. This is how we can avoid generating wrong in everyday life - and it may even be possible to do good.
In a well-known Koan-story a famous poet asked a great master:

“What is the meaning of the Buddha-Dharma?”
The master answered:
“Not to generate wrong and to do what is right.”

The poet, who was also a powerful governor, remarked snidely:
“If that is true, even a three-year-old* can say that.”

The master replied:
”A three-year-old child can already speak the truth, but even a very experienced man of eighty years cannot realize all.”

The poet then thanked the master with a prostration, but he could not fully capture the deeper meaning of this statement. He was known for his great poetic qualities and praised greatly in the circles of writers and poets.
However, the deeper meaning of the words, one should not generate wrong and do good, he was only able to understand on a conceptual level – that is why it remained on the level of words and thoughts. That is, according to Dogen, not surprising, as he was a man of words and not a man of action. Practice and action are crucial and they often differ from talking and thinking.

Obviously, due to his great poetic skill, he was still far removed from the Buddhist practice of Zazen and in everyday life.
In fact, it is easy to say what would be morally correct and meaningful – namely not to generate wrong and to do good. It is certainly true that even a child who has learned to form proper sentences could say that.

But the realization of this moral intent requires a new dimension to life. Often times, the experience of a long life and the learning acquired along the Dharma path are not sufficient to realize this completely.
For this realization an intuitive clarity and the all-encompassing power of acting in the present are absolutely necessary.

You can also call them, as Dogen does, the “miraculous causes and effects” or the “Buddha causes and Buddha effects”.
When people do the right thing – and this can be done in many ways - their spirit, form, body and their positive energy are being realized.

Dogen questions why the poet despises the three-year-old child when he says that even it could phrase such a simple and obvious statement about injustice.
He (Dogen) doubts that the poet even knows what a three-year-old child really is. If he knew it, he would also have access to the Buddha Dharma. He says:

“Whoever got to know a single particle, knows the whole universe – and he who fully realized the true Dharma, realized the ten thousand Dharmas.”

According to Dogen, one could even say that a child participates in the lion’s roar of the Buddhist teachings right after it is born and embarks on its way to the Buddha-Dharma.
Obviously, this poet does not understand the lion’s roar of a child and dismisses the words of the child as being unnecessary babble. But even a three-year-old child can express the truth and we should thoroughly explore and understand it.

We should also explore the question, if and when an experienced man of eighty years has realized the truth.

For this, it is useful not to beinfluenced by interpretations, so that we don’t remove anything or add anything to true meaning – so that we view only reality and therefore understand and experience truth the way it is.

Montag, 10. August 2015

This way we avoid becoming contaminated



(Shoaku-Makusa) Part 2

In the first part of the chapter, Dogen emphasizes active individual action. But he also mentions that it is of due importance to let rightful action happen and not to tolerate unjust action. More observant behavior which lets things happen can often be morally rightful action.

In our lives we often come into contact with unjust action. This can happen through friends, relatives, but mostly through our enemies and rivals.
Buddhism teaches with utmost clarity that it is not correct to allow others to do injustice and to look on. Such behavior cannot be justified with the misunderstood comment, “it is how it is” – this is to shirk responsibility in this world.
Beneath rightful and wrongful action, according to Dogen, there is also neutral action – which is neither just nor unjust.

This is because injustice does not exist as a permanent, abstract reality, but is or is not generated through our own actions which can only happen in the present moment.

Therefore, the right or unjust action exists only in the present of the Now, and not permanently.

From a Buddhist perspective, the injustice of the past, which we can still remember, is only roughly comparable to the injustice of the present – it is not identical. Memories can never be the same as the reality of the present.
The same is true of the expected and anticipated injustice of the future. According to Dogen, we gain clarity about that through Buddhist practice, mainly Zazen.
In this connection he mentions that, regarding the question of justice and injustice, people of the Buddha-Dharma on the one hand and people of the ordinary world on the other , differ greatly compared to other differ more greatly from each other than in other areas within Buddhism.

As mentioned in detail in the chapter  “Just for the Time Being, Just for a While, For the Whole of Time is the Whole of Existence (Uji)” in the Shobogenzo, the true time of the present moment is inseparably connected to rightful and wrongful action.

If you only hear the words that you should not commit wrong, this, according to Dogen, already changes your behavior and actions to some degree. It is important that the Buddhist practice of Zazen is carried out and that a moral code is not limited to thinking and talking only, because the power of practice enables us to gain more clarity and to transform our actions and behavior.
Due to this practice one gains an intuitive and moral clarity in the present moment, so that it is almost impossible to do wrong.

As we are always acting in the present moment, this creates the clarity and power in the Now.
But this moment is so short that we cannot reflect consciously on justice and injustice and act at the same time.

While we are acting rightfully, independent evil cannot evolve – at any place or at any time.
This is even true if we are living in an environment or get into a situation in which a lot of injustice is perpetrated, and we believe that injustice has won over action. Then, in fact, the thought or the idea injustice has become stronger and turned into an essence, which rules the mind.

Dogen speaks about it as follows:
“If we devote our whole mind and our whole body to the practice (of Zazen), eighty or ninety per cent are being realized (that no injustice is generated) just before (at) this moment. And there is (also) the fact that after the moment (no injustice) is generated”.

The practice of Zazen is realized through physical and mindful action. This way we avoid becoming contaminated.
As there is a unity between the universe and the world in Buddhist practice, we can overcome limitations and duality. According to Dogen, we can also say that mountains, rivers, the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars practice as well and that we let them practice.

In this sense, the Buddhas and their predecessors in the Dharma have never contaminated practice and experience. They are free and have never limited themselves. This means: do not commit wrong!
With regard to the Buddhist teachings, injustice as an independent entity is neither existent nor non-existent – but it is always generated immediately through the action itself.

In the same way, it does not have a material or immaterial quality because it is about generating action in the Now. One should not understand it as being too abstract, as it refers to a real and concrete act in the Here and Now. All too easily injustice is minimized and whitewashed. However, these are only assessments of people, which make things unclear.

While we regret having done wrong, the strength and the desire for the rightful action develop, according to Dogen.
If one has gained the necessary strength and clarity through practice, it is not possible to deliberately do wrong.

In the beginning of the poem mentioned above it is said that we can practice  many kinds of right. This involves concrete action in the present moment – and the liberty we possess to do good and right things (by acting in the present moment).

Discussions as to whether  right exists or not do not lead any further and necessarily become rather inflexible on a theoretical level, which is far removed from acting in the Here and Now in our everyday life. For then right is being discussed as a thing, which is not correct.

Samstag, 25. Juli 2015

Liberate yourself by not doing wrong


(Shoaku-Makusa) Part 1

In this chapter Dogen explains that, from a Buddhist perspective, injustice does not naturally exist in this world and this universe. It is generated and contributed to by man through unjust actions. This is a remarkable point of view as most religions teach that evil is a part of man and this world, e.g. in the shape of the devil. Man needs to fight it with the forces of good.

But in Buddhist reality injustice as a form of evil or everlasting essence does not exist. There are only evil deeds and actions of man which do not comply with our moral principles  and therefore violate the laws of the universe.

Nevertheless, wrong, unjust and criminal acts are in fact a part of the reality of mankind, which one should not rationalize and push aside.
In the Shobogenzo, Dogen warns us repeatedly not to become lost in illusions and not to be mistaken about reality.

In this chapter particularly, he emphasizes that moral principles and ethics, i.e. rightful actions, are inseparably bound up with Buddhist theory and practice.
That is why Buddhism is not a “value-free” philosophy or theory. It is the unity of body, mind, action and morality.

Rightful or wrongful actions in the Here and Now of the present moment are essential for the Buddha Dharma.
If people discuss  the injustice of the world, in an outraged and abstract way, as one can often witness, this is therefore much too general and belongs to the realm of theory and philosophy.

One can have perfect discussions about injustice, one can argue about it and, afterwards, feel superior to others; but in reality often times you have done wrong yourself by arguing aggressively to hurt others. In this case, you have violated the social laws of Buddhism through causing conflict and trauma. Sometimes, such aggressive disputes grow into an open verbal fight involving one ego against another. This can, in no way, represent the Buddha-Dharma.
Dogen quotes an old Buddha, who taught that:

“The eternal Buddha says,
Not to to generate wrongs,
To practice the many kinds of right,
Naturally purifies the mind;
This is the teaching of the Buddha “

While translating the German edition of Dogen’s “The Treasury of the T*rue Dharma E*ye” (Shobogenzo), Mrs. Ritsunen Linnebach and I were considering thoroughly whether to use the often applied phrase Not doing wrong” or not.

We came to the conclusion that the precise translation from Japanese correlates better with the term “to generate” – and that that was exactly what Dogen meant.
This term shows very clearly that man generates injustice artificially – and that, naturally, it would not exist in this universe.

Would you choose another translation instead of “to abstain from evil” – one would get the impression that evil  naturally exists as an essence in our world and we have to watch out for it – to abstain from it. From our point of view, this is exactly what Dogen does not want to say.

The proposition that injustice and evil are only created through action and do not exist naturally in the harmony of the universe may be surprising at first. But taking into consideration the fact that in Buddhism  action gets most of the credit and therefore acting is assigned the qualities of reality and truth and not  any abstract idea or imaginary essence – then this is of great importance for our lives.

It is just a question of not generating wrong – and of committing ourselves in our lives and in our actions to the many opportunities we have to do meaningful and good deeds – with care and respect. This is the way to independence and freedom. To generate wrong creates addiction.


Montag, 1. Juni 2015

The Valleys and Mountains are real Valleys and Mountains

(Keisei sanshiki) Part 4



Dogen suggests studying the old masters profoundly and taking them as a role model. This would be more important than staying in close contact with kings, lords, the important figures of public life, the rich and famous of a country etc. It is better not to engage with them. If one did this, one would inevitably depend on them, would be fixated on praise and criticism and hope for benefits from them.

As it is told, in such an environment, even in monasteries, there is and there was envy and jealousy – already at the time of Gautama Buddha.

Those who are spiritually constrained cannot recognize a truly wise man and even develop hostility towards the saints.

According to Dogen, even in Buddhism there are cases in which great masters have been tortured and killed by those who did not recognize who they really were.
Dogen advises insistently never to develop hatred in such cases but rather to teach the Dharma with great love and compassion to make a difference in people's lives and guide them onto the right path.

Beginners on the path to the Buddha-Dharma are still steeped in emotions and ideals which are not consistent with reality.

That is why it is important that the strength of the first learning period does not weaken and fade away, but is transformed into pragmatic perseverance. This is necessary to attain the Buddha-way and to continue the practice: It is necessary to continue practising on our journey to the Buddha-way.

Nishijima Roshi recommends practising Zazen twice a day – even if, after enthusiastic beginnings, it is not always easy and sometimes can even be boring. And it is essential to find a true teacher. On this path, one has to “climb mountains and cross oceans.”

Dogen says:

“While we are seeking a guiding teacher, or hoping to find a [good] counselor, one comes down from the heavens, or springs out from the earth.”

He refers to his own experience, when he was looking for a teacher himself. According to Dogen, the closer you get to know a real master, the greater he appears to be as a man, the more you can learn from him.
With a false master it is exactly the other way around.

Dogen also shows his followers how to behave on the Buddha-way if they realize that in everyday life they have gotten tired and lazy. He advises them to confront the problem openly and not to deceive themselves. In front of Buddha one should confess one's inattentiveness and laziness wholeheartetly. This will create strength and energy which are needed if one is to redeem and purify oneself.

Then, the shallow, unsatisfying days of the past are gradually reduced and a change and a new start are possible. This way, the old Karma can be cleared and the obstacles on our learning path can be set aside. An old master is quoted:

“ If you haven’t reached perfection in your past life, you can do it now.”

He continues: “After people have realized the truth, they will be eternal Buddhas now.”On this path, theory and thoughts alone won’t take you further – as important as they may be. But one has to act and practice in the Here and Now. For that, we need genuine trust in our body and mind.

“If we practice like this, none of the eighty-four thousand verses will be withheld from us by the voice and shape of the valley and the shape and voice of the mountains.”


Then we will realize that “the valleys and mountains are (real) valleys and mountains"

Dienstag, 19. Mai 2015

I have been searching something sharp like a sword

The Voices of the River Valley and the Form of the Mountains
(Keisei sanshiki) Part 3



Another well-known story speaks about the Buddhist path of an old master who had already been practising for more than 30 years of his life. One day he was wandering through the mountains, when he spotted from a hillside a charming valley in which peach trees were blossoming in spring.

He suddenly realized the great truth and wrote the following poem:
“I have been searching something sharp like a sword for 30 years like a traveler.During the time, treeleaves have fallen down many times, and twigs spread too many times.However, just after looking at the so gorgeous peach blossoms actually. Having arrived at the present moment, I have thrown away the whole doubt.”

The sword is a symbol of the clarity of the body-mind. It cuts through confusion and knots in life, so that one can reach reality. The symbolic meaning of the sword is similar to that of the diamond. With its sharpness it can also cut through the thicket of preconceived opinions, validations and lalready made up ideas of the mind.

In ancient China, Koan-stories were common in which a master refused to answer a well-versed and smart question of one of his students, because he thought the question to be theoretical and made up fictitious. Sometimes the master just repeated the question in the exact same way. In this way he wanted to push his student towards direct experience and action and to bring him closer to reality. At the same time the master wanted to liberate him from a rigid way of thinking and the use of meaningless words.

The following theoretical questions of distinctive reasoning, which the masters did not answer with words  but with actions, are examples of this:

"How can we make mountains, rivers, and the Earth part of ourselves?"
Or the question of a wise philosopher:

"How does pure essentiality suddenly give rise to mountains, rivers, and the Earth?"

In the following, Master Dogen concentrates on the main contents and basic points of the Buddhist teachings: perseverance, the strong desire for truth and the awackening of the Bodhi-spirit, all of which are important premisses to remember on the Buddha-way.

Hunger for fame, profit and ego-pride have to be overcome. Otherwise one blocks oneself on the way.

Dogen also criticizes the fact that  many contemporaries at that time had in fact become monks although they did not really strive for the Buddhist truth or practise persistently. In China, the great period of Zen Buddhism was already in decline.
Many monks and abbots were formally Buddhists, but the strength of the Buddha-Dharma had already become extinct and the pursuit of superficial recognition and financial gain mostly prevailed.

Often times, it was a question of power and influence at court.

Under these conditions, the reality and the truth of the Buddha-Dharma lost their significance and faded, leaving only images and shadows.
This is recounted in the famous allegory in which a living dragon pays the house of a lover of dragon pictures and sculptures a visit. But  seeing the living dragon before him, the frightened man flees, as he loves only “beautiful and harmless” pictures, not reality itself.

Dogen describes it as follows:

“Their body, mind, bones and their flesh have never lived the real Dharma. That is why they are not one with the Dharma. They don’t receive and they don’t use the Dharma.”

According to Dogen, such times of decline are full of false teachers and self-proclaimed masters who are not capable of guiding their students truly onto the Buddha-way.

For this reason Dogen recommends examining teachers and masters precisely. He also points to the irretrievable damage caused if the teachings are not  transmitted in an authentic way.

In such cases, it would be better not to practise the Buddha-Dharma at all – as this would not only be a waste of time, but would also do severe damage.

Those who cannot rely on their own real experience depend mostly on others and often need shallow confirmation from others – and then confuse it with the great truth itself. Naturally, to realize this and to see through it is not that simple.