Dienstag, 22. April 2014

Body and Mind are Originally One Reality, A Talk about Pursuing the Truth (Bendowa, Part 4)

Even nowadays you find Buddhist groups in which the leader claims that he does not have to practice any more because he is enlightened already. This is completely wrong, because experience and practice are the same, they must not be separated or deluded. Everybody who experiences the Buddhist path does so by practicing. If anybody pretends to be enlightened as a result of his wonderful practice in the past and because he is already free and liberated, this is not genuine. Practice-and-experience cannot be separated and therefore everybody has to practice, whether he is a beginner, advanced or a master.

Zazen is pure action without the ambition of becoming enlightened, and means acting in the correct posture. It is freedom itself and Zazen is sufficient in itself. Nothing can be added and nothing is lacking. So every master continues to practice Samâdhi because there is no end to it in our lives.
Before the time of Buddha there existed in the religion of India the idea of an eternal and never changing thing called Atman. People believed that this Atman went into the body when human beings were born and left the body when they died. After that it looked for another reincarnation and went into another body for the next cycle of life. Gautama Buddha categorically rejected this belief.

But Dôgen was aware that there were some Buddhist lineages with beliefs very similar to that of this old Indian religion. Maybe they used Buddhist words, for example an eternal mind. But Dôgen rejected such ideas, as did Nishijima Roshi, because they are part of the philosophy of idealism and not Buddhist realism. It is not true that knowledge of such an unchangeable eternal soul, Atman, alone, will free us from our suffering and insecurities. The words “Mind is Buddha here and now” always mean the unity of body and mind, at this precise moment and in this place. That is the Buddhist reality.
Knowing the truth just by consideration is not enough and cannot improve our lives really:

So, remember, in the Buddha-Dharma, because the body and mind are originally one reality, the saying that essence and form are not two has been understood equally in the Western Heavens (India) and the Eastern Lands, and we should never dare to go against it.”

Dôgen says very clearly that everybody can practice Zazen, even if they are not able to keep to the precepts and pure conduct. Of course, this is” the standard of the Zen lineages and the normal practice of Buddhist patriarchs. But every layman, not only monks and nuns living “pure” lives, should practice Samâdhi. It is extremely wrong if people discriminate between men and women practicing Zazen, because Gautama Buddha taught us that all human beings are equal and there is no difference in their status or position, not even in the castes in old India.

There are famous examples of human beings like ministers and high officials in China, who practice Zazen even when they are very busy and have important responsibilities. So the idea that only nuns and monks can practice Zazen in a monastery is completely wrong. This is important for the modern age because many people complain that they are too busy to meditate because of lack of time.. This may be the case but the conclusion  is wrong, the contrary is right. Due to stress and hard work, it is of great importance to find the balanced state, to get rid of stress and to regenerate body and mind with Zazen. For laymen it is important to be determined and to proceed clearly along the Buddhist path, practicing every day as Nishijima Roshi tells advises.

In old times there were some theories that Buddhism would lose more and more quality and Significance,in future centuries, would decline and that it would therefore not be possible to practice true Samâdhi in such a bad time as that which we have now in history. Dôgen clearly rejected such an opinion because Zazen is right and necessary at every time in history and in every country.

Buddhist truth cannot simply be seized just by thinking minds and cannot be taught by teachers who have no experience of their own of Zazen and the balanced state. There is a big gap between theoretical knowledge and speech on the one hand and the whole experience of activity in the unity of mind, body, universe and self on the other. The teaching and practice of Buddhism face to face constitutes very important progress in our civilization: starting in India, going to parts of East Asia like China, Korea, and Japan and now coming to the western world.

If somebody has practiced for long periods over many years, then suddenly great enlightenment may come. There are many true stories of great masters reported by Dôgen. One old master became enlightened, for example, by the blossoms of peach trees in a beautiful valley or by the sound of a pebble hitting bamboo. Furthermore there is a Buddhist story about a prostitute who put on the Buddhist kashaya and in this way experienced the great Truth. Zazen is open to bright and dull persons in the same way, it is directly connected with the practice on the Way, the pursuit of truth or enlightenment.

At the end of this important first chapter Dôgen explains his decision to publish his practical and theoretical experience in China. He was concerned about those honest students who were looking for the true Dharma and could not find a genuine master to teach it. This is why he wrote down what he experienced himself, so that everybody could study and read it. He started to do this work immediately after coming back from China. The first document was Fukan zazengi, in which he describes very precisely all the important aspects of Zen meditation.

We appreciate this decision of Master Dôgen in the 13th century very much because now we have authentic and reliable teachings of the Zen-Buddhism of the golden area in China in our hands. This is especially true of the Shôbôgenzô, “The Right-Dharma-Eye Treasure”.

Freitag, 18. April 2014

The Essential Power of Zen-Meditation, A Talk about Pursuing the Truth (Bendowa, Part 3)

Zazen has no romantic illusions and is not a dreamy fantasy. Intellectual thinking is not essential for Zen meditation and the reality of our lives exists only in the present moment, not in the past and not in the future; both are just the workings of our brain. The past is remembered very often in romantic illusions, which are far from the reality of those moments. Often we are afraid or have some romantic ideas about the future, but of course they are not real. That does not mean that we need no plans for a good life and for our learning process. But it is always necessary to be aware that it is just a plan, an idea and not the reality that will transpire in the future.

Zen practice and actions will be effective if we do not strive for fame, personal advantage and pride in ourselves. It is true ‘acting in the moment’. Zazen is not just an exercise of the body, because it is the unity of body-and-mind. Being aware solely of the body is materialism, only one side of the real world.

The authentic transmission from master to student provides the essential power and importance for this practice and gives life to the body-and-mind. Precisely because Zazen is so important we should not consider questions of superiority or inferiority or compare this practice with other lineages and schools in Buddhism. Discrimination of other lineages, based on the criticism that they are not substantial or are superficial, is useless and misses the target of the Way.

Words and teachings are important but they are not reality itself, they are just pointing, like a finger to the moon. The moon is the symbol of liberation and enlightenment; it can be experienced in the balanced state of body-and-mind.

Sûtras and words may be very poetic and very keen , full of vigor, but they are only an instrument and a tool on the way to liberation. So we should remember from time to time that it is not useful to be lost in words and poetry, because the realization lies beyond that. Dôgen speaks about a very famous poet in China who was very well known and extremely talented in using words and producing great emotions in human beings.

Finally, one night, this poet acquired a great understanding of the Buddha Dharma when he was sitting in a valley, listening to the voices of the rivers and becoming aware of the mountains, as the body of Gautama Buddha. This was a big step forward for him from the world of poetry and words to true reality and truth. Before he had been lost in abstract thinking and delusions. Zazen practice brings us clarity and balance. We come back to the here and now, the unity of body-and-mind. It will fill the gap between the world and myself. And that is our real place in the Dharma.

Without the practice of the balanced state it is very difficult or impossible to find a clear path in our lives. Especially in modern society where there is so much pressure and lack of time to do our duties, it’s extremely important to find stillness and to calm down, not in a dull state but in clarity. Gautama Buddha has taught us to overcome suffering and the practice of Samâdhi; this is of great importance. In other words: it is difficult or impossible to escape suffering if we do not practice Zen meditation.

But Zen is not a separate sect that is different from early Buddhism; it is the teaching of Gautama Buddha himself. The name Zen doesn’t mean very much and the word “Zazen” was not known in India. It was developed in China when Bodhidharma sat for eight years before the wall in a cave practicing Zazen. Buddhist people in those times didn’t understand this practice, so they referred to him as a Brahman priest of the Zen school.

There are four different activities: walking, standing, lying and sitting, and other activities like working, talking and so on. Why is activity in Zazen so unique? It is true experience: if we practice Zazen, it will give us power and energy for all the actions we have to carry out in our lives. Further theory is not necessary.

Montag, 14. April 2014

Support of the Buddha Dharma, A Talk about Pursuing the Truth (Bendowa, Part 2)

 When Dôgen came back from China he was aware of his great responsibility and his duty to devote himself to the teaching and dissemination of true Buddhism. Apparently he knew the essence of this Buddhist truth, which he had experienced himself and studied under his Master Tendô Nyojo. He gave many lectures in different monasteries in Japan and wrote many books, which are a substantial part of the greatest treasures of human civilization.

If false teachers and incorrect theories mislead students, who are in honest pursuit of the truth, this will be a great disaster for the learning process of human beings. And often it is impossible to repair the damage afterwards. Dôgen emphasizes that in this case it might be better not to study the Buddha Dharma than to pursue the wrong path of a false teacher. For this reason it is so important, that the Buddha Dharma be transmitted authentically from one Master to his successor.

This authentic transmission of the theory and practice was realized in a chain without any interruption from Gautama Buddha to the great Masters in India, China and Japan. This succession is documented precisely and with care, missing no Master. In the lineage of Dôgen we find the Masters Nâgârjuna, Bodhidharma, Daikan Enô and Tendô Nyojô and they are all of extraordinary importance. Dôgen speaks of them as “eternal Buddhas”.

Of Tendô Nyojô he says, “At last I have visited Zen – Master Nyojô Dai-byoku-hu”. And there he was able to complete the great task of a lifetime of Buddhism. Whoever sits in Zazen, experiences intuitively and totally that his body and thinking mind is dropped. His narrow anxious or aggressive Self fades away and his restrictive ideas, thoughts and emotions are not active any longer. Nishijima Roshi  uses the word “first enlightenment” for this true experience of practicing Zazen on a daily basis. No question, this is the experience of being a Buddha.

The first enlightenment is not attained by the conscious will and is not a goal which can be reached by a decision of the mind. To put it very clearly: it is the opposite of the will and thinking mind. If we are attached to a goal and are greedy for success, even in spiritual activity, we will fail and such energy will destroy the very thing we want to achieve. But it is very important to have a clear will for the truth and not to become weak in the course of training.

It is useful to be patient, not hasty and to trust that we can overcome the dull stupidity of our normal lives that are without the support of the Buddha Dharma. On the path towards truth people start to practice Zazen and in this way the first enlightenment happens immediately. As a result, normal thinking and unclear emotions fade away and especially the control of greed gives us new power and rids us of anger and fear. This also means that boring ideas and inflexible thoughts and images disappear.

In this chapter Dogen discusses several questions and criticism about the practice of Zazen; he wrote this as a dialog between a critical questioner and himself. His answers are of substantial clarity with regard to the Buddha Dharma and the power of Zazen practice. And he doesn’t tell us things and ideas which he has read in books or learned only from teachers, but which he has experienced himself in China under his own Master Tendô Nyojô. This is of great value for us because of his true and reliable experience, which he has put into words.
He uses the word “true gate to the Buddha Dharma” for the Zazen practice and answers critical questions by saying that all masters in India and China used this practice to realize the Way? He underlines that this is not a lazy sitting and doing nothing, but it is true activity in the correct position

And it is much more than just reading Sûtras and reciting the name of the Buddha, because it is full activity of body-and-mind. The sentence, “The Samâdhi of ‘receiving and experiencing the self” is of tremendous importance. He does not negate that we have a self, as is sometimes heard even in Buddhist groups. He says that with Zazen we see and experience our true self. And this intuitive clarity is beyond our normal thinking in our daily lives and because it is not romantic and will help us substantially, it may even sometimes look a little bit simple and dry. This fundamental understanding is of course not superficial because it is one of the great treasures of Buddhist living.

Mittwoch, 9. April 2014

A Talk about Pursuing the Truth (Bendowa, Part 1)

The first chapter, Bendowa, of Master Dôgen´s Shôbôgenzô contains a talk about pursuing the truth and especially about the practice of Zazen, which is essential for the path of the Buddha – Dharma. If we take this path, we liberate ourselves from hindrances of body and mind and we are led to reality and enlightenment. This chapter is the first of the four-volume edition of Shôbôgenzô, which has 95 chapters. Dôgen put this talk at the beginning of this profound work not at random. He did so because it is so important. In the following we want to explain these substantial chapters of the Shôbôgenzô, mainly on the basis of the interpretation of Nishijima Roshi.

Dôgen says that the practice of Zen-Meditation, Zazen, is the “gateway of peace and joy to the Dharma”; it relieves hindrances and blockages in thinking and feeling. Body and mind are normally bound to the idea of an independent self and are attached to it, if we have no special training in the Buddha Dharma. Psychologists know that this self is very often afraid of something, focusing on itself, very often desiring or rejecting something.

Gautama Buddha taught us that these fixations bind us strongly and that by being attached to this self we will suffer. That will be the cause of trouble and frustration in our minds. In the western world we would say that it is not only the suffering of the body but also psychological pain.

Master Taisen Deshimaru, who is a student of the great Master Kodo Sawaki, says, “The practice of Zazen is the process of learning about ourselves. When practicing Zazen it is necessary to concentrate on our posture and it is necessary to forget the body mentally.”

Zen Buddhism teaches us by theory and practice how we can enter reality and truth itself and how to live a free and peaceful life of full clarity and joy. This practice of Zazen, which is called Samâdhi in the Sanskrit language, is the center of our Buddhist learning and training. When we practise Zazen, our ideas, images, visualizations and emotions fade away and we sit in the balanced state. And in this way our normal everyday state of mind is transcended and we free our true body-and-mind from all fixations and ideas which are bothering and restricting us. Our true human potential is developed by Zazen and a wonderful new creativity appears.

Master Dôgen didn’t find his true Master in Japan and he was not able to find true Buddhism either at that time. Finally he went to China and met Master Tendo Nyojo and became his student. Under this great Master he became aware that sophisticated and theoretical questions and answers in the Buddhist philosophy alone are not helpful on the path to reality. It is essential to practice Zazen in order to “understand” the Buddhist teachings. Dôgen says, “The reason this (method of Zazen) is transmitted only from Buddha to Buddha without deviation, is that the Samâdhi of receiving and using the self is its standard.”

In his clear words he continues: “For the enjoyment of this Samâdhi, the practice of Zazen, the erect sitting position has been established as the authentic gateway.” The great Master of the modern age, Kodo Sawaki, says: “Everybody is complaining about being so busy and that they have no time in their lives. But why are they so busy? Because of their delusions, which produce useless and hasty activity. But somebody who is practicing Zazen has time” and Nishijima Roshi adds:

“Zazen is the balanced state of body and mind, even in the busy, modern world of East and West.”

The true self, which is realized by our training and practice, has forgotten the distinction between you and I, I and world, subject and object and so many dualities and assessments. So many people  act like this, very often without consciousness, but this true self is present in our actions and observations precisely in this moment.

Dôgen is not negating or scorning the value of the Buddhist theory or specific  Images and ideas. But he is saying, that these areas are one-sided, incomplete and only a very special part of reality and truth. Acting and practicing  Zazen are also essential for the ‘Buddha – Way’. He says:

“The effort in pursuing the truth that I am now teaching makes the myriad dharmas real in experience; it enacts the oneness of reality on the path of liberation. At that moment of clearing barriers and getting free, how could this paragraph be relevant?”

He is saying that by practicing Zazen the reality of the dharmas, the things and phenomena, will become real and complete. And by practicing Zazen faithfully we will find a path of liberation in our lives.

Freitag, 4. April 2014

Opening of the Blog: Zen Core Treasury, Dogen Introduction

The “Right-Dharma-Eye-Treasury” (Shôbôgenzô) is without question one of the most valuable and important books ever written in Buddhism. Because of the tremendous effort of my teacher, G. W. Nishijima, and his student Chodo Cross, there are reliable translations of this important source available since some years. Recently there was published another reliable and wonderful translation of the Shôbôgenzô by the great Master Kazuaki Tanahashi .

Master Dôgen`s philosophy gives us the full power of Zen-Buddhism, in theory and practice, and is a great treasury of the east for us in the west. But this authentic work is not easy to understand, even after some years of motivated study. This blog wants to help you: I will write introductions for important chapters of the Shôbôgenzô and publish them here.

I hope these introductions may be useful for you.

Yudo J. Seggelke

Berlin, April 2014