Donnerstag, 23. April 2015

The Voices of the River Valley and the Form of the Mountains

(Keisei sanshiki), Part 1
In this extraordinary chapter Master Dogen describes the central meaning and reality of the unity of nature and man. One could view inanimate nature only from the perspective of matter and form, as is the case with the dimension of materialism, but this would be one-sided and restricted.
Dogen points out that such an external perspective on form or the elements of matter, such as water, earth, fire and air, only illustrates the truth partially and does not reach the core.
In contrast, with the highest life philosophy in the Buddha Dharma, the awakening, one opens up to a complete new dimension, an unexpected depth of focus on an understanding and an experience of nature’s beauty and power.
Dogen calls the rivers and streams flowing in the valleys tongues of the Buddha; they teach us compellingly the true Dharma. In fact, rivers and streams never stand still. The shape of the mountains resembles Buddha’s body, which is marked by purity and virtue. Nature, seen in this light, extends far beyond its substantial and material aspect. In this sense, nature constitutes a wonderful composition of reality, able to reach and bless man in the core of his heart.
The bond, better, the unity with nature used to be a very important part of a man’s life in China and Japan.
Life was inextricably bound up with all sentient beings, including animals and non sentient beings, like pine trees, bamboo, chrysanthemums, i.e. trees, plants and flowers. Within the Buddha Dharma, all of this is lived, experienced and understood as harmony and as the natural law of the universe.
Dogen refers to a great Chinese poet who listened to the voice of a river in a mountain valley and found awakening. Afterwards, he wrote the following poem:
“The voices of the valley are the (Buddha's) wide and long tongue. The shape of the mountain is nothing else than his pure body."
The poet presented his verses to a great Buddhist master who confirmed his awakening. But what had happened when suddenly a whole new all-embracing dimension of life opened up to him? Indeed, he had written great poetry before, but had not experienced Buddhist practice and teachings comprehensively. According to Master Dogen, the poet had not truly realized and experienced the natural flow of the seasons: flowers in spring, the fresh pine saplings in summer and the wonderful chrysanthemums in fall, not until he was allowed to hear the voices in the river valleys.
Shortly before, he had heard a Zen Master's lecture on non-sentient beings, like trees, flowers and plants, but it had yet not reached his mind and heart. Presumably there remained with him the traces and effects of the Master's words, which then led him that night to experience his own deep realization of the Buddha Dharma.
Before, he had not been fully open and ready to receive and feel so deeply the all-encompassing meaning of the Buddhist teachings. It did not happen until the great awakening came to him that night in an almost mystical experience through the voices of the river valleys.
Man as subject and nature as the object had suddenly merged to form a unity – actually they had never been separated. But until then the poet had not realized it. Master Dogen asks, in his usual manner, whether the poet awakened to the truth or whether the mountains and rivers awakened to it.
Is it even possible to separate the two?