Thursday, February 12, 2009

Taking Good Care

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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.


  1. Dear lee,
    As you referred to Dogen- " a man pulling an ox past a window... the horns pass by, the hooves pass by, but the "tail cannot pass by."

    I remember my work on my painful obsessions. On being aware to obcessions and other psychic mess, the energy entangled with the thoughts, which sustained and hold the thoughts librates and merges to awareness. But leaves the grooves behind prone to again occupy by obsession. These grooves have roots in depths of unconscious mind.

    These grooves are hard to comprehend first, and certainly harder to be aware about. Without understanding of roots of these grooves, seeker will stagnate very here with lot of chaos and complications.

    Perhaps Dogen's simile of tail signifies these roots of grooves.

    Above all thanks to serve this wisdom.


  2. Milton Erickson was coming home one day from school and his father was trying to coax a cow into the barn by pulling on it's yoke/collar.

    Seeing Milton coming he yelled out, "Milton, please help me get the cow into the barn!"

    Milton walked over and looked for a moment, and then tugged on the cow's tail, hard.

    The cow ran into the barn knocking Milton's father over in the process. They secured the cow and as they were walking back to the house, Milton's father asked Milton what the heck he was doing?

    Milton said, "Dad, I saw you pulling on the cow but the cow was resisting you. So I pulled on it's tail and gave it two opposite forces to resist and allowed it to choose which force it wanted to resist. It chose not to enjoy someone pulling on it's tail more than someone pulling on it's collar, so it chose the pulling on the tail to resist, and in doing so, it had to go your way into the barn".

    That is what is called a "double bind". Maybe Dogen would have enjoyed that story.


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