Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dogen's water


Water plays a central role in man's life on Earth, and it also plays a central role in almost all of the world's great religions and religious practices. It is, in fact, a sacred substance in so many different ways that to begin a discussion on it is something like trying to describe a beach one grain of sand at a time.

In Christianity, water is understood to have the ability to become wine if a man reaches a certain level of understanding. The allegorical meaning of this, to me at any rate, is that the impressions of life, which flow into us like water, filling this vessel of our body, can begin to convey something much richer and more intoxicating into us. When the blessings of God fill us, this water of life becomes wine. The famous Sufi poet Rumi understood this well; too often he speaks of the presence of God as an intoxicant, a rapture, a magnificent experience of the ordinary which lies beyond the understanding we usually carry in us. So the idea of life as a rapture is not just an idea we find in Christ's love; the Muslims understand this the same way.

Let's take a look at what a Buddhist says about this sacred substance of water, which can be understood as the fundamental substance of our life.

Here is a quote from Dogen's sutra of mountains and water. I quote this text from the Shobogenzo, as translated by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross, 1994.

"In general, ways of seeing mountains and water differ according to the type of being that sees them: there are beings which see what we call water as a string of pearls, but this does not mean that they see a string of pearls as water. They probably see as their water a form that we see as something else. We see their string of pearls as water. There are beings which see the water as wonderful flowers; but this does not mean that they use flowers as water. Demons see water as raging flames, and see it as pus and blood. Dragons and fish see it as a palace, and see it as a tower. Some see water as the seven treasures and the mani gem; some see it as trees and forests and fences and walls; some see it as the pure and liberated Dharma nature; some see it as the real human body; and some see it as the oneness of physical form and mental nature. Human beings see it as water, the causes and conditions of death and life. Thus what is seen does indeed differ according to the kind of being that sees. Now let us be wary of this. Is it that there are various ways of seeing one object? Or is it that we have mistakenly assumed the various images to be one object? At the crown of effort, we should make still further effort. If the above is so, then practice and experience in pursuit of the truth also may not be only of one kind or of two kinds; and the ultimate state also may be of thousands of kinds and myriad varieties."

Okay, that's a long a mouthful of words. Some words, however, are worth more than the other words, and Dogen's words happen to be superior in almost every case.

Here he is speaking of water on a number of different levels, and explaining to us that this allegorical term means different things according to the level of being one is on.

In particular, he is speaking of water as the energy, or prana, that saturates all of reality and gives rise to everything that is. Because Dogen almost always speaks of practice- not theory, no matter how much people want to read theory into his words- he is speaking here of various practices, inner practices which involve the experience and transmission of energies.

The string of pearls is an esoteric practice involving forming a specific kind of connection between centers. Seeing water as wonderful flowers has to do with the practice of opening your inner flowers, which I have spoken about before on this blog. The inner state of dragons and fish, who experience the majestic palaces and towers of inner silence, is yet another type of experience. In fact Dogen cites seven different kinds of experience here, each one of which probably relates to a center. All of them are worthy of diligent investigation.

He goes on to say "when we keep this point in mind, although there are many kinds of water, it seems that there is no original water, and no water of many kinds. At the same time, the various waters which accord with the kinds of beings that see water do not depend on mind, do not depend on body, do not arise from karma, are not self-reliant, and are not reliant upon others; they have the liberated state of reliance on water itself."

What is this water he speaks of? It is nothing other than what Christians call the energy of the holy spirit: that rapture which descends from above, penetrates all, and contains everything within it. It is "our Father."

No matter what tradition one comes from, no matter what practice one undertakes, no matter what form one believes in, when one comes to this point of work, there has to be agreement.

To me, the value of the Dogen text is that it places an understanding of the rapture of this sacred water firmly within the practice of weaving a connection between the inner centers.

Yes, perhaps I am obsessive: this is a subject which I will continue to return to over and over again. In order to understand this, we must abandon the analysis: we must instead turn all attention inwards and intentionally seek a very fine "something" that exists within the body and can be used for that purpose. There is a great deal of assistance available for taking in the right kind of food if we learn to use our attention in an inward manner. This is the kind of work that turns water into wine.

If we want to receive the presence of God we must prepare a place for it. That place has to be a vessel, and the vessel has to be able to hold a little water.

The potter who shapes this vessel does not work like an ordinary potter. He undertakes a very physical kind of work, using a different kind of mind. He does not use the mind that makes noise or the mind that resides in silence. He does not use the mind he knows. He uses the mind of the unknown-

shaping a vessel precisely designed to receive what is needed

-where it is needed.

And even then the work is not done, because every pot, in order to be durable,

must be fired.

Love to all of you today, now let's get back to shaping clay-

Lee

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