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In Dogen's Extensive Record (the Eihei Koroku,) there are a number of discourses in which he ends his commentary by saying "I respectfully hope you will take good care."
I opened the Record this morning to find such a passage, and happened on "Dwelling Thoroughly in the Mountains" a talk given on New Year's Eve about 1249 a.d.
(nb. All of today's quotes are from pages 474-477, "Dogen's extensive Record", translated by Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications 2004.)
You may agree that the beginning paragraph of this talk expresses an essential joy in practice:
"Great assembly, with more than three hundred pieces of empty sky I can buy one branch of plum blossoms at the end of the twelfth month, which, with auspicious clouds at the top of the cliff and the moon above the cold valley, contains spring and warmth promising sounds of laughter."
It is, as usual, tempting to quote the entire talk. Instead, I'm going to recommend you go get the book and read it. A penetrating study of Dogen--as opposed to snippets of quotes-- is well worth the time.
Today, however, we'll stick to the snippets.
Dogen says, "Right now, if you are someone who has the mind of the way, at first you should seclude yourself and dwell in mountain valleys." This strikes a note with me.
By practicing intimate perception, one comes to dwell in mountain valleys. Practice begins with sensing the roots of the mountain, not the views from the peak.
He also speaks to the assembly about the idea of practice being like a man pulling an ox past a window... the horns pass by, the hooves pass by, but the "tail cannot pass by."
"Thus we should know that if the tail has not yet been studied in practice, the horns also have not yet been studied."
Without, so to speak, giving the whole game away, I might point out here that a window is an aperture that things are seen through, and the "tail" means--among other things-- the base of the spine.
In taking good care, one approaches the practice of intimate perception. This is the study of the tail in practice. When the entire ox passes by the window, but the tail has not passed by, the way has not been fully engaged. The tail is the root of practice.
At the heart of this rich and complex parable, I intuit a rather simple message.
I seek the root of Being--within sensation, within breath, within mindfulness-- and feed myself with that impression. The search for that specific impression engages both within meditation, and within life.
By becoming more intimate with myself, with my inner life and this careful, caring sensation of the organism, I come to dwell in the mountains.
Why is it "taking good care?" Well, do I take good care of myself? How carefully, how delicately, how precisely and deliberately do I examine my inner state? Most importantly, how do I do this using tools of perception other than the intellectual mind?
I have mentioned before that the body has a mind which is equally capable of intelligent perception; the emotions equally have the same capacity.
If I recruit these intelligences to participate in my effort at inner perception, what new experiences might become possible?
I leave that to you, as you seek your own intimacy.
And may we all take good care together in that effort.
may our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.