Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dogen's extensive record

Today's picture is the andromeda galaxy. see the APOD web site for terrific daily photos of the universe.

I've been reading Dogen's Extensive Record (Eihei Koroku) translated by Leighton & Okumura for most of the year. Can't say enough good things about this book!

Much of what Dogen has to say can appear, at times, to be impenetrable. As is the case with many teachings, his words arrive from a thousand years and an entire world away.

Nonetheless, I continue to sense that they speak of matters that are directly next to me in this very moment.

The following passage is from p. 594, "All going together:"

"Wearing hair and sprouting horns, go together with others
In the boundless kalpa-ending fire, do not turn your head
Even withered ash and dead trees are scorched completely,
What face do you have that begrudges these conditions?"

"Wearing hair and sprouting horns" relates to the Zen practices of attending to the energies at the middle, right and left at the top of the head. In doing this, we attend to the inner relationships between our parts ("going together with others.") We attempt to form a new inward relationship. This relationship, if cultivated, acquires a sustaining force which can carry our being.

No matter what happens- in the endless and eternal moments that we meet, in which everything arises and is instantly is consumed by the fires of time- we must remain resolute in practice, never turning our heads.

"Even withered trees and dead ash are scorched completely." Nothing is excepted from this process- even death itself is consumed by time.

What face do we have that begrudges these conditions? Indeed. we have no choice but to accept-- to accept completely, to accept unconditionally-- every arising, every condition we encounter, including this absolute condition of transience.

I continue to make efforts to found practice on an acceptance of conditions. In doing so I see more and more how conditional I am. I find it's only through participation in an informed inner relationship that I can inhabit my conditions, instead of trying to control them.

1 comment:

  1. "Wearing hair and sprouting horns, go together with others
    In the boundless kalpa-ending fire, do not turn your head
    Even withered ash and dead trees are scorched completely,
    What face do you have that begrudges these conditions?"

    A technical note: although I have no idea what the phrase "wearing hair and sprouting horns" means, and it may be a colloquial expression -- seeing that this material is 1000 years old, but the Sanskrit word Kalpa has a very distinct meaning; although it is multivalenced, like many Sanskrit words, it's use in this sentence delineates its meaning, which in this instance means a vast amount of time. Words beginning with the letter K, have to do with action: Kriya (ritual action), Karma (results of action),Kama (desire), Kala (time), Kali (the feminine aspect of the destructive nature of time -- a word also meaning that color black).

    The word Kalpa usually means "an age" or "Aeon", an almost unthinkable and staggering amount of time, and connected with the lifecycle of the universe itself. It can also mean a seed or a wish, that which flowers from the almost invisible beginning to it's humongous manifestation in reality, with a ratio approaching infinity.

    Dogen is a precept among Zen monks. Zen is a Japanese translation of the Chinese word Chan, which is an approximation of the Sanskrit word Dhyana, which means meditation. In classical yoga, meditation in its three inner limbs of withdrawl of the senses, developing a singularity of placement of consciousness, and absorption into the subject of meditation, is said to "burn off" Karma, and the underlying unconscious impressions which lie as seeds waiting to sprout into desire which are called samskara.

    When Dogen talks of going with others into the boundless Kalpa eating fire, he seems to be talking about the practice of zazen, or communal meditational sitting, and the rest of his comments seem designed to encourage his students to fight the urge towards distraction from the blazing emptiness of mind which destroys Karma and the underlying seeds of desire.

    Since the Buddha's Nirvana is not the extinction of the true self or of the body, but rather the extinction of desire and the introduction and stabilization of the unsullied state of factual wholeness unburdened by the play of forces in the manifested universe, it seems that Dogen is urging on his charges to a firmer commitment to the arduous task at hand.

    Any other interpretation or esoteric reading of these exhortations may be in the nature of what in Zen is called "Makya", that is, the chimera of understanding and of insight which in higher Zen practice as well as in Yoga, are considered to be detours and sidetracks and snares of the enemy who notices success in spiritual work. Noticing this success, great nature sends the consolation of understanding to derail the actual efforts of the practitioner. Therefore it is said that if one sees the Buddha himself or comes to the great understanding -- continue, because thankfully, both of these will go away. It may be that Dogen is giving a warning against these "withered ashes and dead trees" in the last sentence of this reading.

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