I have been thinking it would be fun to do a commentary on something of Dogen's. The Mountains and Rivers Sutra is too long for a blog commentary. I have chosen the Genjo Koan more properly titled Actualizing the Fundamental Point. not only because it is shorter but also because it is one of the most beautiful and profound pieces in all of Zen literature. The translation I am using is from the San Francisco Zen Center. This translation is from a collaboration of Kazuaki Tanahashi, Robert Aitkin and others
If you don't know Dogen, he was the man who brought Soto Zen from China to Japan, establishing the Soto Zen sect in Japan. This was in the 13th Century, a long tme ago, but his writings are timeless. His thought still has tremendous influence in Soto Zen.
In this blog I am just going to present the Genjo Koan without commentary. Soak it up.
As all things are buddha-dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, birth and
death, and there are buddhas and sentient beings. As the myriad things are without an
abiding self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddha, no sentient being, no birth
and death. The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many and the one; thus
there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas. Yet,
in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.
To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That
myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening. Those who have
great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about
realization are sentient beings. Further, there are those who continue realizing beyond
realization, who are in delusion throughout delusion. When buddhas are truly buddhas
they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas. However, they are actualized
buddhas, who go on actualizing buddhas.
When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you grasp
things directly. Unlike things and their reflections in the mirror, and unlike the moon
and its reflection in the water, when one side is illuminated the other side is dark.
To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the
self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by
myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop
away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.
When you first seek dharma, you imagine you are far away from its environs.
But dharma is already correctly transmitted; you are immediately your original self.
When you ride in a boat and watch the shore, you might assume that the shore
is moving. But when you keep your eyes closely on the boat, you can see that the boat
moves. Similarly, if you examine myriad things with a confused body and mind you
might suppose that your mind and nature are permanent. When you practice
intimately and return to where you are, it will be clear that nothing at all has
Firewood becomes ash, and it does not become firewood again. Yet, do not
suppose that the ash is future and the firewood past. You should understand that
firewood abides in the phenomenal expression of firewood which fully includes past
and future, and is independent of past and future.
Ash abides in the phenomenal expression of ash which fully includes future and
past. Just as firewood does not become firewood again after it is ash, you do not return
to birth after death. This being so, it is an established way in buddha-dharma to deny
that birth turns into death. Accordingly, birth is understood as no-birth. It is an
unshakable teaching in Buddha's discourse that death does not turn into birth.
Accordingly, death is understood as no-death. Birth is an expression complete this
moment. Death is an expression complete this moment. They are like winter and
spring. You do not call winter the beginning of spring, nor summer the end of spring.
Enlightenment is like the moon reflected in the water. The moon does not get
wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is
reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are
reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water. Enlightenment does
not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot hinder
enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky. The depth
of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long or short its
duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the
moonlight in the sky.
When dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it is already
sufficient. When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is
missing. For example, when you sail out in a boat to the midst of ·an ocean where no
land is in sight, and view the four directions, the ocean looks circular, and does not
look any other way. But the ocean is neither round nor square; its features are infinite
in variety. It is like a palace. It is like a jewel. It only looks circular as far as you can
see at that time. All things are like this. Though there are many features in the dusty
world and the world beyond conditions, you see and understand only what your eye of
practice can reach. In order to learn the nature of the myriad things, you must know
that although they may look round or square, the other features of oceans and
mountains are infinite in variety; whole worlds are there. It is so not only around you,
but also directly beneath your feet, or in a drop of water.
A fish swims in the ocean, and no matter how far it swims there is no end to the
water. A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies, there is no end to the air.
However, the fish and the bird have never left their elements. When their activity is
large their field is large. When their need is small their field is small. Thus, each of
them totally covers its full range, and each of them totally experiences its· realm. If
the bird leaves the air it will die at once. If the fish leaves the water it will die at once.
Know that water is life and air is life. The bird is life and the fish is life. Life must be
the bird and life must be the fish. It is possible to illustrate this with more analogies.
Practice, enlightenment, and people are like this.
Now if a bird or a fish tries to reach the end of its element before moving in it,
this bird or this fish will not find its way or its place. When you find your place where
you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way
at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point; for the place, the
way, is neither large nor small, neither yours nor others'. The place, the way, has not
carried over from the past, and it is not merely arising now. Accordingly, in the
practice-enlightenment of the buddha way, meeting one thing is mastering it; doing
one practice is practicing completely.
Here is the place; here the way unfolds. The boundary of realization is not
distinct, for the realization comes forth simultaneously with the mastery of buddhadharma. Do not suppose that what you realize becomes your knowledge and is
grasped by your consciousness. Although actualized immediately, the inconceivable
may not be distinctly apparent. Its appearance is beyond your knowledge.
Zen master Baoche of Mount Mayu was fanning himself. A monk approached
and said, "Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not
reach. Why, then do you fan yourself?" "Although you understand that the nature of
wind is permanent;" Baoche replied, "you do not understand the meaning of its
reaching everywhere." "What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?" asked the
monk again. The master just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply. The
actualization of the buddha-dharma, the vital path of its correct transmission, is like
this. If you say that you do not need to fan yourself because the nature of wind is
permanent and you can have wind without fanning, you will understand neither
permanence nor the nature of wind. The nature of wind is permanent; because of that,
the wind of the Buddha's house brings forth the gold of the earth and makes fragrant
the cream of the long river.