Posted by: Soh
This is a good post on the insight of Anatta and Dependent Origination, and represents Dogen's thought well.


Also see Thusness's comments on this article:

by Ted Biringer on Thu Oct 14, 2010 8:03 am
"A" is "not-A", "not A" is "A"

In the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Buddha, speaking from within the enlightened state, elucidates the nature of reality in an elaborately metaphorical expression that envisions the totality of existence as an “ocean” in which all the myriad dharmas are viewed as “reflections.” In his, Kaiin Zammai (Ocean-reflection Samadhi), Dogen assimilates the traditional account and, drawing on some unsuspected implications of the doctrine, manages to push the whole vision to a new, more dynamic level.

In the sutra, the Buddha describes his “body” as consisting of the “arising” and “vanishing” of myriad dharmas. He also asserts that he does not “speak of this body,” which is the arising and vanishing of myriad dharmas, as “the arising and vanishing of an ‘I’.” Here, Dogen quotes the Buddha as going on to explain that:

“A preceding thought-moment and a succeeding thought-moment do not anticipate each other; a preceding dharma and a succeeding dharma do not oppose each other. This is known as the ocean-reflection samadhi”
Shobogenzo, Kaiin-zammai, Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.166

For one thing, Dogen’s viewpoint differs significantly from the standard Huayen model in his emphasis on the unity of existence and time (uji; existence-time). This is seen in the present case by Dogen’s attention to the fact that preceding and succeeding “moments,” and “dharmas,” do not anticipate each other – thus the nondual nature of moments (time) and dharmas (existent forms) are underscored.

Dogen explains that although Buddhas and ancestors actualize various kinds of enlightenment (e.g. original, acquired, initial, etc.), there is more to Buddhas and ancestors than that. The “body” that the Buddha spoke of as consisting of the “integrated form” of myriad dharmas should not be hastily regarded as a “single unified form” (of undifferentiated oneness). According to Dogen, this “oceanic-body” does not contain the myriad forms, nor is it made up of myriad forms – it is the myriad forms themselves. The same instruction is provided at the beginning of Shobogenzo, Gabyo (pictured rice-cakes) where, he asserts that, “as all Buddhas are enlightenment” (sho, or honsho), so too, “all dharmas are enlightenment” which he says does not mean they are simply “one” nature or mind. On that line from Gabyo, Hee-Jin Kim comments:

All Buddhas and all things cannot be reduced to a static entity or principle symbolized as one mind, one nature, or the like. This guards against views that devaluate the unique, irreplaceable individuality of a single dharma.
Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.257

In Kaiin Zammai, the “arising” of dharmas, says Dogen, is the actualization of a specific moment of time. “Existence,” being coessential and coextensive with “experience,” the “arising of dharmas” is synonymous with our experience here and now. The arising of myriad dharmas is itself authentic practice-enlightenment.For Dogen, “zazen” is the archetypal symbol of this “practice-enlightenment.”

Zazen is “mustering the whole body-mind (the whole of existence-time, inclusive of “A” and “not-A”) to look at forms and listen to sounds,” which is described by Dogen as “direct experience.” This “direct experience” is not only hearing, seeing, etc.; it is the arising of an ‘I’.” As in Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, “The myriad things advance and confirm the self.”

Thus, the “arising of dharmas” (the myriad particular things of experience) is itself “the one” totality of existence-time which is itself the whole, real, ever advancing body-mind of Buddha at each (and every) particular moment of existence-time. In other words, the totality of “myriad” dharmas right now are - as they are - the “one” body-mind of Buddha right now. This “body-mind” is immediately “cast off” and the new totality of myriad dharmas is fully exerted as the one body-mind of Buddha, which is immediately cast off as the “body-mind of Buddha” ceaselessly advances into novelty – This! Now this! Now this! Now this!

The “body-mind” of the Buddha (or Universe) that is manifested or actualized with each now total exertion “contains” or is “inclusive of” all previous total exertions (body-minds of Buddha) which, being “real dharmas” occupy dharma-positions (specific coordinates of space-and-time; uji, existence time), and therefore are “one of the myriad dharmas” that constitute the body-mind of Buddha here and now (i.e. their particular instance of existence forms part of the “fabric” of this particular instance of existence). Also, the “body-mind” of the Buddha here and now “contains” or is “inclusive of” all future total exertions (body-minds of Buddha) which, being “real potentials” are, and must be “real dharmas,” hence, actually present here and now. Thus, Dogen’s teaching, “Nothing in the whole universe has ever been concealed.”

One thing this means is that the body-mind of Buddha is directly perceptible here and now. The Buddha (thus our “self”) is nothing more, or less, than each and every particular thing and event of our experience here and now. As the masters say, “Truly seeing a mote of dust is truly seeing the whole universe.” In Dogen’s terms, “When one side (a dust mote) is illumined, the other side (the totality of space and time) is dark” (“dark” as in “shadowed,” or “eclipsed” – thus “dark” denotes presence not absence).

This (and every) instant of existence-time (dharma-position) is the “self” or the “I” which can be, and is, confirmed in (and as) “zazen” (authentic practice-enlightenment). Thus Dogen says: [Note: Nearman translates “dharmas” as “elements”]

‘Arising’ invariably refers to the arrival of a specific moment, for time is what arises. Just what is this ‘arising’? It must surely be arising in and of itself. This arising is already a moment in time. Never did He say that it fails to expose what Skin and Flesh, Bones and Marrow really are. Because this is the arising of ‘being composed of ’, it is this body of His that arises, it is an ‘I’ that arises, and it is ‘merely being various elements’ that arises. It is not only hearing sounds and seeing forms and colors; it is also the arising of an ‘I’. It is this arising of an ‘I’ that one does not speak about. ‘Not speaking about something’ does not mean ‘not expressing something’, for being able to express something is not the same as being able to put it in words. The time of arising is synonymous with the appearance of ‘these elements’; it does not refer to the twenty-four hours of a day. These elements are what the time of arising is, and they do not compete with each other within the three worlds of desire, form, and beyond form. As an Old Buddha once put it, “Suddenly, fire arises.” Through this expression, He was saying that there is no waiting about for this arising.
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

After commenting on this, Dogen cites a Zen koan and asserts that “we need to discern the real meaning” of the “ceaselessness of this process,” underscoring that “the myriad dharmas” is “the one” body-mind (Buddha, true self) – as it is - and “the one” body mind is “the myriad dharmas.” Then he reminds us that nonduality indicates “unity” not “identification” by describing this (inclusiveness of “A” and “not-A”) as the “lifeblood” of Buddhas and ancestors, pointing out that, “the ‘you’ is the who that arises and vanishes.”

Another Old Buddha once said, “What is this ceaseless time of arising and vanishing?” Thus, in that this arising and vanishing is our experience of the arising of an ‘I’ and our experience of the vanishing of an ‘I’, the process is unceasing. In entrusting the Matter to Him, we need to discern the real meaning of His stating the ceaselessness of this process. We continually chop up this unceasing time of arising and vanishing, which is the very lifeblood of an Ancestor of the Buddha. In the unceasing time of arising and vanishing, who is it that arises and vanishes? As to the ‘who’ that arises and vanishes, it is the ‘who’ that is on the verge of being able to realize enlightenment within this body. That is, it is the ‘who’ that manifests this body, the ‘who’ for whom the Dharma is expressed, the very ‘who’ in the past who was unable to grasp what Mind is. It is “You have gotten what my Marrow is,” and it is “You have gotten what my Bones are,” because the ‘you’ is the who that arises and vanishes.
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

After exploring and illuminating the significance of the implications of this, Dogen concludes Kaiin Zammai, by citing and commenting on a Zen koan that directly relates to our discussion on the unity of “A” and “not-A” in the infinite and eternal nature of “existence-time.” Here is the koan as translated by Hubert Nearman:

Sozan Honjaku was once asked by a monk, “I have heard that it says in the Scriptures that the great ocean does not give lodging to corpses. Just what kind of an ocean is this?”

The Master responded, “One that contains all that exists.”

The monk then asked, “Then why doesn’t it give lodging to corpses?”

The Master replied, “What has ceased to breathe is not connected with It.”

The monk asked, “Given that it contains all that exists, why is something that has ceased to breathe not connected with it?”

The Master said, “The functioning of all that exists is something other than ceasing to breathe.”
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

After pointing out that the “great ocean” in the koan is the same as in the Avatamsaka Sutra, Dogen defines “a corpse” as “dead ashes” and describes this as a being (dharma) whose “mind does not change no matter how many times it encounters springtime.” This is a remarkably creative expression; Dogen depicts “a corpse” as a dharma (thing, being, etc.) that seems to defy his own teachings on what “dharmas” are. First, according to Dogen, all dharmas arise and perish ceaselessly. Second, all authentic dharmas are said to be real insofar as they are experienced by sentient beings, and thus undergo ceaseless change. But here Dogen defines “a corpse” as a dharma that remains unchanged (no matter how many times it encounters springtime). Saying “a corpse” is unchanging, Dogen seems to contradict himself. However, this is actually a beautiful example of Dogen’s unconventional use of convention – out pops the rabbit:

What he called ‘a corpse’ is something that no one has ever experienced, and that is why they do not comprehend what it is.
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

We know that for Dogen, existence is experience and experience is existence (i.e. to exist is to be experienced, to be experienced is to exist). Thus, all real (existent) dharmas are “experienced dharmas.” Thus, saying “a corpse” is something that “no one has ever experienced,” in light of this teaching is the same as saying that “a corpse” is something (a dharma) that “has never existed.” With this in mind, the rest of Kaiin Zammai is fairly straightforward.

The Master’s saying, “One that contains all that exists,” expresses what the Ocean is. The point he is making is not that there is some single thing that contains all that exists, but rather that It is all contained things. And he is not saying that the Great Ocean is what contains all existing things, but rather that what is expressing ‘all contained things’ is simply the Great Ocean. Though we do not know what It is, It is everything that exists for the moment. Even coming face-to-face with a Buddha or an Ancestor is a mistaken perception of ‘everything that exists for the moment’. At the moment of ‘being contained’, although it may involve a mountain, it is not just our ‘standing atop a soaring mountain peak’, and although it may involve water, it is not just our ‘plunging down to the floor of the Ocean’s abyss’. Our acts of acceptance will be like this, as will our acts of letting go. What we call the Ocean of our Buddha Nature and what we call the Ocean of Vairochana are simply synonymous with ‘all that exists’.

Even though the surface of the Ocean may not be visible to us, we never doubt its existence in our daily conduct of ‘swimming about’. For example, the monk Tafuku—one of Joshu’s Dharma heirs—once described a grove of bamboo as, “One or two canes are crooked, and three or four canes are aslant.” Although his daily monastic conduct led him to see all that exists as a bunch of errors, why did he not say, “A thousand crooked canes! Nay, ten thousand crooked canes!” Why did he not say, “A thousand groves! Nay, ten thousand groves!” Do not lose sight of the underlying principle that is present like this in a grove of bamboo. Sozan’s expression, “One that contains all that exists,” is synonymous with ‘all that exists’.

Although the monk’s question, “Why is something that has ceased to breathe not connected with it?” might be viewed, albeit mistakenly, as arising from doubt, it could have been just what his mind was concerned with. When Master Rinzai said about Fuke, his elder brother in the Sangha, “I have long had my doubts about that fellow,” he was simply recognizing who ‘the person’ was about whom he had long held doubts. In what exists, why is something that has ceased to breathe not connected with It and how can It not give lodging to corpses? Herein, why something that has ceased to breathe is not connected with It is that It already contains all that exists. Keep in mind that ‘containing’ does not mean ‘keeping’ and that ‘containing’ is synonymous with ‘not giving lodging to’. Even if all that exists were a corpse, it might well be that not giving lodging to it would forthwith span ten thousand years, and it might well be that ‘not belonging to It’ is this old monk Dogen playing one stone in a game of Go.

What Sozan said is, “The functioning of all that exists is something other than ceasing to breathe.” In other words, whether all that exists ceases to breathe or does not stop breathing, a corpse would still be unconnected with It. Even though a corpse is a corpse, if it had behavior that was in harmony with all that exists, it would contain all—it would be containment. The journey before us and the journey behind us, which is part and parcel of all that exists, each have their own functions, and ceasing to breathe is not one of them. In other words, it is like the blind leading the blind. The fundamental principle of the blind leading the blind includes ‘one blind person leading one blind person’ and ‘a mass of blind people leading a mass of blind people’. When a mass of blind people are leading a mass of blind people, all contained things contain all contained things. Further, no matter how many Great Ways there are, They are beyond ‘all that exists’, for we have still not fully manifested our meditative practice, which is the meditative state that bears the seal of the Ocean.
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

While Dogen’s most articulate critiques are those refutations of the non-Buddhist Indian teaching of Senika, his disparagement of all dualism permeate his works. All so-called antitheses only become “antitheses” when we fail to abide by the Buddhist principles of nonduality which asserts that mind and matter, Buddhas and ordinary beings, delusion and enlightenment, practice and realization, self and other, etc. are united, not identical, they are not two, not one.

When we conceptually posit a gap between existence and experience, we divide existence from time. Authentic Zen practice requires us to perceive existence (sees what we are seeing), thus to perceive existence-time. Dogen frequently reminds us that we only experience (perceive) real dharmas and at specific places (of existence) and definite moments (of time). As “time” is inherent to all experiences, “place” (or space) is inherent to all existences. This principle corresponds to Dogen’s refrain about the unity of true form and true nature, activity and expression, appearance and essence, emptiness and form. For Dogen, every particular expression of Buddha nature is a manifestation of existence-and-experience, thus of existence-and-time. More specifically every dharma (thing, being, instance, etc.) is a particular manifestation of the whole of existence-time (uji), not existence “plus” time, but a singular unit of existence-time.

Dogen, like all Mahayanists, firmly denied the existence of an eternal, unchanging self. But Dogen also pointed out that the matter did not end there:

What is constantly saintly is impermanent and what is constantly ordinary is impermanent. The view that those who are just ordinary people and not saintly ones, and thus must lack Buddha Nature, is a foolish opinion held by some folks who are small-minded; such a view constitutes a narrow perspective which their intellect has conjectured. For the small-minded, ‘Buddha’ is a body and ‘Nature’ is its functioning, which is the very reason why the Sixth Ancestor said, “What is impermanent is, of course, Buddha Nature.”

What seems constant has simply not yet undergone change. ‘Not yet undergone change’ means that, even though we may shift our perspective to our subjective self or shift it to the objective, outer world, in both cases there are no signs of change to be found. In that sense, it is constant. As a consequence, grasses and trees, as well as thickets and forests, are impermanent and, accordingly, they are Buddha Nature. It is the same with the human body and mind, both of which are impermanent and, accordingly, they are Buddha Nature. The mountains and rivers in the various lands are impermanent, so, accordingly, they are Buddha Nature. Supreme, fully perfected enlightenment is Buddha Nature, and hence it is impermanent. The Buddha’s great entry into nirvana was impermanent, and hence it is Buddha Nature.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Hubert Nearman

Hee-Jin Kim in his Flowers of Emptiness, elucidates this line thus:

That is, permanence means the steadfast quality of the Buddha-nature which exerts itself totally and drops itself off completely in each and every situation. In this respect, the impermanent is permanent, the permanent is impermanent.
Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.91

“A” and “not-A” are the nondual actualization that is the (one) universe ceaselessly exerting its totality (as the myriad dharmas), casting it off, exerting, casting off, in and as each and every particular thing time and event in and as the totality of existence-time. “A” is “not-A”, “not-A” is “A.”

Ted Biringer - Zen student and practitioner
Author of The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing
1 Response
  1. Anonymous Says:

    This is a great post. It captures where I am at in my practice at the moment. I think it shouldbbe clarified that this does not just relate to anatta but to the insights of dependent arising and interconnectedness as well. Although, they do kind of all blend together in the end. So, an important point that this post brings up is that space and spacelessness, time and timelessness exist simultaneously. On the one hand, since past, present and future are contained in this moment, there is no time. And since mind contains matter and matter contains mind, there is no space. Yet, mind is also undeniably different and distinguishable from matter. And matter from mind. And the past is undeniably different from the present. So there is time and space.

    Now the question I have is, how does one "see" this simultaneous time and timelessness, space and spacelessness, in real time? In other words, what is correct seeing in direct experience?

    I wonder if this relates to the Maha experience. Thusness spoke of having to focus on "repeatedly doing some task in order to induce the experience." That is, focusing on all causing and conditions coming together to give both to this moment. But then it seems that he abandoned that approach for a more natural, effortless one. I wonder, is simply focusing on the present moment in it's particularity, uniqueness, etc. and not trying to focus on past and future, causes and conditions at the same time, corrrect seeing in real time? That is, is just the present moment enough? It seems to be, as all time is contained now, in this particular moment. And only now. That is, we don't even have to exert effort to focus on past and future in order to experience timelessness. We only have to be aware of this moment. The present is effortless.
    Is this correct Maha experience?

    Sorry for the long post, I just needed to address these points.