Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Esoterica from Dogen

Every so often, while I am reading the Shobogenzo, I come across a set of passages that practically beg for interpretation. This morning was one of those times.

Perhaps I am a bad person for being willing to interpret; after all, so many people I know and respect (sometimes) insist we should not do these things. Even I myself agree, forked tongue firmly in mouth, that we shouldn't do these things.

Nonetheless, sometimes all of us do these things, don't we?

All the quotations in today's posting are taken from Nishijima and Cross' translation of the Shobogenzo, Dogen Sangha press, book 3, chapter 65, "Ryugin-The moaning of Dragons." And, as usual, I recommend that the reader get the book and read the entire chapter. It's better than Burger King.

I am going to offer you an idiosyncratic interpretation of some Buddhist terms here. Be forewarned, they probably depart from traditional Buddhist philosophical explanations.

This particular chapter begins with a story about Master Jisai of Tosu-zan Mountain in Joshu. Asked by a monk, "Among withered trees does the moaning of dragons exist or not?", he replies "I say that inside of skulls exists the Lion's roar."

The translators of the Shobogenzo claim that withered trees symbolize "the vivid state of non-emotion."

Well... I don't agree with them. The withered tree represents the human body where there is no connection within the centers.

Dogen says, "The withered trees of which the Buddhist patriarchs speak are in the learning in practice of the sea having dried." In other words, the water in the body is not flowing, and the learning of how we lack ourselves in this manner is a physical practice, not a learning of the mind.

"The Sea having dried is a tree having withered, and a tree having withered is [the vivid state of] meeting spring." Here we see that recognition of the state we are in -- one in which the inner energy does not flow properly -- brings us to a new beginning.

"Even a sprouting bud is the moaning of dragons among withered trees." The very first taste of energy flowing within the body is the moaning of dragons.

All of the experience of energy flowing within the body is, in fact, the moaning of dragons.

Opening each flower is the moaning of dragons.

Discovering the connections between the flowers is the moaning of dragons.

..."Leaves spread out from the roots: we call this state "a Buddhist patriarch."

So you see, when the dragons moan, when the water begins to flow, it is spring, and the leaves spread out from the roots. A connection between the body and the mind is formed.

"Root and branch should return to the fundamental: this is just learning of the state." Upon finding a new connection within ourselves, we return again and again to the beginning.

Here is what is, to me, one of the most interesting quotes from the passage: "At the same time, do, re, mi, fa, and so(l) are two or three former and latter instances of the moaning of dragons." Here Dogen connects the idea of the movement of energy within the body directly to the octave--specifically, to what we would call the development of the octave up through the first conscious shock, to the point where it meets five, or, the heart.


It gets better.

"A trace of joy still being retained is horns growing further on a head." This reference, reminiscent of the moment in Gurdjieff's literature where Beelzebub re acquires his horns and attain the sacred Anklad, pertains to the act of tending the ox, which is an inner work, not a metaphor.

"I wonder what words the dragons moan," he says a bit later. "We should ask this question. Moaning dragons are naturally a sound being voiced, or a matter being taken up, in the mud. They are the passing of the air inside the nostrils. We do not know what these words are describes the existence, in words, of dragons. Those who hear all share the loss: how sorrowful it is! The moaning of dragons and has now been realized by Kyogen, Sekiso, Sozan, and the others, becomes clouds and becomes water."

Here Dogen describes the rising of energy from the root; the attention to breath as it enters the body; the deep and sorrowful experience of becoming aware of ourselves through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Dragon. And within this awareness, we discover the gifts of clouds and water, we discover the material that will cause our withered inner tree to sprout new leaves.

And where does this lead us? It leads us here: "A trace of joy still being retained is the croaking of bullfrogs. A trace of consciousness still being retained is the singing of earthworms."

In other words, it leads us back to the earth, back to a magnificent, joyous, and fundamental experience of life that ties us into every other living organism.

Those of you who are tired of reading the wish that I post at the end of each essay--I'm sure that by now it appears to be an affectation to some of you-- might want to consider the meaning of the words in light of this set of passages from Dogen. They are chosen intentionally as a wish for each reader; they have a specific meaning; and my deepest wish for each one of you is that you discover for yourself what that meaning is.

Tomorrow I will try to steer us back in the direction of the society. Stay tuned.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

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