Talk on Dogen's Fukanzazengi focusing on Zazen (1 of 3)
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | June 21, 2006
Edited and abridged by Ryūsen Barbara Byrum
Most of what I want to say today, everybody already knows. Our practice is embodied practice. It's mostly about the body. Of course, as we all know, it is important to take care of the mind - the thinking, the intellect, the emotions. We develop our view and our attitude, but all this is based on a foundation of practicing with the body. In fact, it is just a quirk of Western thought to believe that we could even separate the body from our thought, our attitudes, and our emotions. If we try to train our thinking with our thinking, and train our emotion with our emotion, and train our view with our view, then train as much as we'd like, we're going to stay mixed-up forever and ever. But when we practice carefully with the body, then, little by little, from the inside, thinking and emotion and view will develop and deepen, even if sometimes we can't say why or how that happens.
In one of his earliest and most important teachings, the Buddha taught the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of mental states, and mindfulness of the truth. But if you study the Mindfulness Sutra, you notice that most of the words are about the first foundation - mindfulness of the body - and most of the words in that section are about mindfulness of the breath.
In the Sutra, the Buddha says, "First of all, find a good spot. Then sit up straight. Lift the back top of the head. Open the chest. Let the energy flow up and down the spine without crimps." Then he says, "Place mindfulness in front of you and start breathing. When you breathe in, be aware that this is breathing in. When you breathe out, be aware that this is breathing out. When you're breathing in a long breath, be aware that you're breathing in a long breath. When you're breathing in a short breath, be aware that you are breathing in a short breath. Breathe throughout the whole body with awareness. When you stand up, know you're standing up. When you walk forward or backwards, know you are walking forward or backwards. When you lie down to rest, be aware of lying down. When you pick something up, be aware of picking it up. When you put it down, be aware of putting it down. When you eat food, be aware of the eating of the food. When you go to the toilet, be aware of going to the toilet. All the time, be aware of the body, starting with the upright posture and with sitting and with breathing. Then, based on this strong practice of awareness of the body, let the heart open naturally."
"When feelings arise, know the feelings as they are. Just be aware of the feelings. Don't let them sweep you away, but trust in the strength and gentleness of the awareness of body and breath to hold you firm, so that you can be like a mountaintop, or like a tree when the wind blows. You feel the effects - you bend, or the snow on your top blows around a little bit, but you're still there, and you haven't been knocked over. When you practice awareness of feelings, based on a firm foundation in the practice of the awareness of the body, your relationship to those feelings will - little by little - change. You will see through, live through, the feelings, and they will be purified."
"Then you can be aware of mental states - of thoughts and moods and images. But don't be swept away by them. Don't get hooked. Don't get caught. Just let things come and go, without getting stuck to anything. Let everything come freely, like clouds in the sky, and let everything drift off like a cloud when it's ready, trusting mindfulness of the body to hold you firm. And then, following the path of firm and gentle awareness, thinking and feeling will settle. And you'll see the truth of how things are, inside you and outside."
This is something really precious and beautiful. This is the human treasure - to see the truth of what's in front of you, the truth of your life, and the truth of life all around you. And then you can have some peace and some truth and accuracy in your actions and words. All this depends on awareness of the body and awareness of the breath.
I remind you of this, which you already know very well - as we begin this more intensive part of our sitting retreat. Please devote yourself completely to awareness of the body and awareness of the breath, and - based on that - awareness of thoughts, feelings, mental states, and truth. Don't waste these days. If you just do your best and pay attention as much as you can, everything is going to be fine, and the Way will simply unfold before you without your trying to make anything happen.
So, I thought that since we have been spending time talking about different texts in the sutra book, it might be just right to talk about another one that we have been chanting sometimes - Fukanzazengi, Dogen's Recommendation for Zazen.
The way is basically perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent upon practice and realization? The dharma-vehicle is free and untrammeled. What need is there for concentrated effort? Indeed, the whole body is far beyond the world's dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from one, right where one is. What is the use of going off here and there to practice?
This is what Dogen says in the beginning of his text on meditation, on zazen. Dogen is saying that our life is basically - meaning fundamentally, essentially - perfect and all-pervading. Do you believe that? Your life is basically, fundamentally, essentially, perfect and reaches everywhere. This is really true. And if it weren't true, think about it: Why would we all agree that it's not okay to kill people? Because we believe that life is sacred. You don't go around snuffing out life. Why not? You throw away a napkin. Why not throw away a sentient being? Because we know that you don't do that. We know that life is sacred. We know that life is a miraculous appearance and is holy and perfect.
Life is a miracle as it is, but somehow we don't make the connection: "Oh, I'm life. I'm alive also and so are all my friends and family. We are sacred, holy, miraculous, perfect. So what's the problem? What's the need to practice?" Well, actually, basically, there is no need. Being alive is our practice. We are already practicing without practicing. We can rest assured that everything and everyone we encounter is, as Torei Zenji said, "The warm flesh and blood, the merciful incarnation of Buddha." Everyone is practicing with us anyway. The whole body is pure by its nature. It doesn't need to be purified.
So, as they used to say, "Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?" And the answer is, "There is no real reason. There is no fundamental reason."
Dogen says here that the truth and the beauty of your life are never apart from you. They are always right there where you are - exactly where you are standing is the truth and beauty of your life. It is never elsewhere. That is true no matter what you do about it or don't do about it.
This is what Dogen starts with as he's telling us about the practice of zazen. He begins with this, and this really is true. Deeply true. I hope, I really hope, that you believe it and that you take it into your heart. And if you don't believe it, and it's not a fact of your heart, I think that you will come to believe it sometime, because you could say that's what practice is - an ongoing sense of trust and confidence in the sacredness of your life and in the life all around you.
So that's the first principle. Then, of course, Dogen says, "And yet." His "and yet" is why we practice. That's why we're here.
And yet, if there is the slightest discrepancy, the way is as distant as heaven from earth. If the least [tiny, little] like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion. [Despite our nature.]
This is really important. Even though our fundamental and essential nature is to be Buddha, our human mind, by its very nature, is always a little bit off the mark. When you read this - that when the slightest like or dislike arises, the Way is as distant from heaven to earth - you think to yourself, "Oh I get it. I'm not supposed to have any likes or dislikes. That's right! That's what I'll do - I'll get rid of all my likes and dislikes." Then you are aware of your mind, and you think, "There's nothing but likes and dislikes!" [Laughter] "That's all there is!" Because that's the nature of the mind. So he's not telling you here that you're not supposed to have likes and dislikes. He's just telling you what you'll find out if you look, which is that it's the nature of your mind to be slightly off the mark. That's how your mind works, and the good news is, it's only slightly off the mark. And the bad news is, it's always slightly off the mark! [Laughter] It's just a little bit, but as he says, that little bit makes a huge difference. What difference does that make? It makes us suffer. It makes us unhappy.
Then he says,
Suppose one gains pride of understanding and inflates one's own enlightenment, glimpsing the wisdom that runs through all things, attaining the way and clarifying the mind, raising an aspiration to escalade the very sky.
I think that this translation, in my opinion, in my understanding of the text, is a little bit misleading, because our translator didn't entirely appreciate Dogen's point here. Using words like "pride of understanding" and "inflates one's enlightenment," makes it sound as if this is somebody whose enlightenment is imperfect and not quite right. This makes it sound like a tainted experience of enlightenment. But I don't think Dogen means that. The way I would translate it is that I would take those words out, and I would say, "Suppose one gains understanding and enlightenment, and sees the wisdom that runs through all things, and attains the way and clarifies the mind, and raises an aspiration that goes up to the skies." Suppose that happens. Suppose our fantasies about how we're going to become buddhas and everything come true? Suppose at the end of this retreat, we all walk out and say, "We all got enlightened! It's unbelievable. All this that we've been waiting for all this time, it all happened!" Then wouldn't that be great? And Dogen says, yes, that it would be great:
One is making the initial, partial excursions about the frontiers [in other words, on the very outskirts - maybe little, tiny glimpses on the outskirts], but it is still somewhat deficient in the vital way of total emancipation.
We might read that and think of ourselves, "Wrong again!" But that is not what Dogen is trying to tell us. He's not telling us that you should feel terrible forever because you're not quite measuring up - imagining that someone else is measuring up, and you would too, if only you made a stronger effort. If you had a better mother, a better father, more money, less money - whatever is in your background. He's not trying to tell you that. Even if we were very, very good, and even if we were up to the point of enlightenment, we would never escape this fundamental doubleness of our human nature - our basic, sacred, awakened nature and our human point of view, which always goes just a little bit off, no matter what, even if we practice effectively, even if we open our hearts and awaken.
So, therefore, should we give up? Should we say that we're duped to begin with? Why are we going through all this? Remember Katagiri Roshi's saying, "It's impossible! Oh no. It's possible! Yes! But neither one fits quite right."
In our practice, all the time, but especially on our cushions, we have binocular vision. We see with two eyes, which means that we see with some depth. We see both sides of our human nature. When we can see both sides of our human nature with one image, then we can really marvel at it, and we can be full of joy and praise for this doubleness of our human nature. And how could it be any other way? And who would want it to be any other way? If we are a human being, we feel loss, regret, shame, longing, joy, delight, love. Are we trying not to feel those things? I don't think we're trying to do that. Our practice is not for the purpose of curing us of being a human being. Our practice is to make our humanness more poignant and beautiful and more beneficial.
I think this is what Dogen is trying to tell us - not that we're not measuring up, but that we need to know what we are. Our practice will show us what we are. And when we know what we are, we'll understand its immense scope, and its immense - although very slight - limitation. In embracing that, we will be able to open our hearts and love one another.
This is not a philosophical text. This is a text about how to do zazen. In the next couple of paragraphs, as you all know, he'll say, "Put your foot there. Put your arm there. Put your robe like this." This is a text on how to do zazen, and that's what zazen is for - to help us to grow into our humanness and to celebrate it as it is, not to be caught in this doubleness - and because of it - create more suffering for ourselves and others.
So this is what we are here to find out, clarify, and delight in. It does require some effort, and it might be hard sometimes, as you all know. It's not something that we figure we will complete in these three days. We'll have to come back again and again, not because we haven't finished the work, but because we have.
I wish you all the best of luck, and I really hope that everybody will support one another in making strong effort. We don't have too much time, so we better make every day count. Always come back to your best friend, the body, to your best friend, the breath. Begin in these three days to develop - if you haven't already developed, or to strengthen if you have - this practice of simple awareness - of returning to your self. This is really the key to everything.
Thank you very much.