On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

June 13, 2022

Guidelines for Studying the Way

Dogen (1200-1253)

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The thought of enlightenment has many names, but they all refer to one and the same mind.

Ancestor Nagarjuna said, “The mind that fully sees into the uncertain world of birth and death is called the thought of enlightenment.”

Thus, if we maintain this mind, this mind can become the thought of enlightenment. Indeed, when you understand discontinuity, the notion of self does not come into being; ideas of name and gain do not arise. Fearing the swift passage of sunlight, practice the Way as though saving your head from fire.

Reflecting on this ephemeral life, make an endeavor in the manner of Buddha raising his foot. When you hear a song of praise sung by a kinnara god or a kalavinka bird, let it be as the evening breeze brushing against your ears. If you see the beautiful face of Maoquiang or Xishi, let it be like the morning dew-drops coming into your sight. Freedom from the ties of sound and form naturally accords with the essence of the Way-seeking mind.

If in the past or present, you hear about students of small learning or meet people with limited views, often they have fallen into the pit of fame and profit and have forever missed the buddha way in their life. What a pity! How regrettable! You should not ignore this.

Even if you read the sutras of the expedient or complete teaching, or transmit the scriptures of the exoteric or esoteric schools, without throwing away name and gain it cannot be called arousing the thought of enlightenment.

Some of these people say, “The thought of enlightenment is the mind of supreme, perfect enlightenment. Do not be concerned with the cultivation of fame or profit.”

Some of them say, “The thought of enlightenment is the insight that each thought contains three thousand realms.”

Some of them say, “The thought of enlightenment is the mind of entering the buddha realm.”

Such people do not yet know and mistakenly slander the thought of enlightenment. They are remote from the buddha way.

Try to reflect on the mind concerned only with your own gain. Does this one thought blend with the nature and attributes of the three thousand realms? Does this one thought realize the dharma gate of being unborn? There is only the deluded thought of greed for name and love of gain. There is nothing which could be taken as the thought of enlightenment.

From ancient times sages have attained the way and realized dharma. Although as an expedient teaching they lived ordinary lives, still they had no distorted thought of fame or profit. Not even attached to dharma, how could they have worldly attachment?

The thought of enlightenment, as was mentioned, is the mind which sees into impermanence. This is most fundamental, and not at all the same as the mind pointed to by confused people. The understanding that each thought is unborn or the insight that each thought contains three thousands realms is excellent practice after arousing the thought of enlightenment. This should not be mistaken.

Just forget yourself for now and practice inwardly—this is one with the thought of enlightenment. We see that the sixty-two views are based on self. So when a notion of self arises, sit quietly and contemplate it. Is there a real basis inside or outside our body now? Your body with hair and skin is just inherited from your father and mother. From beginning to end a drop of blood or lymph is empty. So none of these are the self.

What about mind, thought, awareness, and knowledge? Or the breath going in and out, which ties a lifetime together: what is it after all? None of these are the self either. How could you be attached to any of them? Deluded people are attached to them. Enlightened people are free of them.

You figure there is self where there is no self. You attach to birth where there is no birth. You do not practice the buddha way, which should be practiced. You do not cut off the worldly mind, which should be cut off. Avoiding the true teaching and pursuing the groundless teaching, how could you not be mistaken?

Dogen (1200- 1253)

Excerpted from Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen – edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi 1985

Fearing the swift passage of sunlight, practice the Way as though saving your head from fire.

Our sense and experience of time naturally changes throughout life. We keep seeing time slip away, so this connection is not difficult to make. However, it is still a challenge to feel impermanence to the degree that we realize there truly is no self. The “experience” of self is so entrancing that the jump to selflessness seems like the greatest mystery in life.

And while we watch the seasons change daily and appreciate how brief the flowers’ blooms are, we still miss that next step of realizing no-self. It seems like there will be time for that later when our practice has matured.

Many can appreciate and do experience the loss of attachment to fame and gain; those are relatively easy to follow out where they lead. The thought of enlightenment for some is akin to the way of the sages. Both represent the highest attainment we can base a life on. However, this all does seem like the entry to practice which is the foundation.

Not long after embracing the thought of enlightenment, there is the ideal of the Bodhisattva which is grounded in compassion. It can never enough just to be concerned with one’s own enlightenment; while it certainly is a starting point, the full picture includes the thought and actions of compassion.

We are sharing this experience with others so, while realizing there is no-self and no others on the most profound level, we also realize:

Sentient beings are numberless,
I vow to save them;
Deluding passions are endless,
I vow to destroy them;
Dharma gates are manifold,
I vow to enter them;
The Buddha Way is supreme,
I vow to master it.

The Bodhisattva’s Vows

Contemplating a life of practice,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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