Thursday, January 13, 2011

Seven limbs

Once one cracks open the Shobogenzo, it's not so easy to leave it!

Today I thought we'd take a look at something Dogen says in chapter 73 (37 elements of Bodhi) -- volume 4, pages 11-12, from Nishijima and Cross' translation by Dogen Sangha Press.

This particular quote is significant, I think, because it encapsulates so many essential ideas we find in esoteric teachings, including the Gurdjieff work.

One of the things I find appealing about the way Dogen expounds is his poetic sense of allegory, which, I believe, expresses itself quite beautifully in the below passages.

Seven limbs of the balanced state of truth.

The first is deciding among teachings as a limb of the truth, the second is diligence as a limb of the truth, the third is joy as a limb of the truth, the fourth is elimination as a limb of the truth, the fifth is detachment as a limb of the truth, the sixth is balance as a limb of the truth, and the seventh is mindfulness as a limb of the truth.

Deciding among teachings as a limb of the truth is “if there is a thousandth or hundredth of a gap, the separation is as great as that between heaven and earth.” Thus, to arrive at the truth is neither difficult nor easy: all that is necessary is to decide for oneself.

This statement reminds me of Gurdjieff's admonition to verify everything for oneself. The truth we discover must be our own truth; we must be within our own truth, and not separated from it. Let's not overcomplicate! The truth is immediately in front of us... what is the truth of this moment?

Diligence as a limb of the truth is never having plundered a market. Both in buying oneself and in expending oneself, there is a definite price, and there is recognition of worth. Though we seem to suppress ourselves and to promote others, a blow through the whole body does not break us. While we have not yet ceased expending the self on a word of total transformation, we meet a trader who buys the self as a totally transformed mind. Donkey business is unfinished, but some horse business comes in.

No doubt that we begin to encounter a bit of the mystical and the obscure in this quote. Nonetheless, we can see that this refers to containment, and self-valuation. Those qualities empower our inner state, so that the external does not affect us as much. Unexpectedly, an interested party arrives: help from a higher level, willing to invest. There is a blending of two levels.

Joy as a limb of the truth is the sincerity of a granny's mind when blood is dripping. The thousand hands and eyes of great compassion! Leave them as they are, immensely busy. Plum flowers are peeking from the December snow. In the scenery and coming spring a great master is cold. Even so he is full of life and belly laughter.

Compassion and joy are both fundamental and organic; natural forces that express themselves. We inevitably suffer, according to both law and nature; nonetheless, we discover an inherent capacity for joyfulness.

Elimination as a limb of the truth is, when being in oneself, not getting involved with oneself, and when being in the outside world, not getting involved with the outside world. It is me having got it, you not having got it. It is ardently expressing ourselves and going among alien beings.

Here we encounter the fundamental principles of Gurdjieff's non-identification, as well as an admonition to truly inhabit our lives, and to do so honestly, in the midst of the unfamiliar.

Detachment as a limb of the truth is “though I have brought it, others do not accept it.” It is Chinese, even when barefoot, walking like Chinese. It is Persians from the southern seas wanting to get ivory.

We must trust in our own authority and our own nature: not in a superficial and outward way, but deep within the soul, where our Being is formed. Detached, without inner considering, we walk according to our nature, we wish according to our nature.

Balance as a limb of the truth is, before the moment, preserving the eye that precedes the moment; it is blowing our own noses; and it is grasping our own rope and leading ourselves. Having said that, it is also being able to graze a castrated water buffalo.

Here we discover a reference to seeing: a capacity for seeing in the moment that comes before the definition, before the words; for clearing the nonsense away, and attending to ourselves. It is a way of feeding our animal, who has been tamed and put into service.

Mindfulness as a limb of the truth is outdoor pillars walking in the sky. Thus, it is the mouth being like an acorn and the eyes being like eyebrows, and at the same time it is to burn sandalwood in a sandalwood forest, and it is the roar of a lion in a lion's den.

We are called by mindfulness to our own nature; we stand up within ourselves. in mindfulness, our words are seeds, and what we see can lift us up to something higher. We catch the scent of our own nature from within our own nature; we hear our own nature within the life we inhabit.

The practice is demanding; the practice is serious, the practice requires a new kind of depth from us. Nonetheless, it is filled with beauty; it is poetry, it is romance–romance in the sense of a constant exploration, and inner and outer adventure. Moreover, the practice is inherent: the leaver of home instinctively finds themselves within a landscape inviting the journey.

Coming to us from somewhere around a thousand years ago, Dogen's words still have the potential to inspire: to help us breathe in a sense of action, a sense of movement, a willingness to engage with our lives in a new way.

In the midst of the helter–skelter rush of life, there's an invitation here to something more quiet. The sense of a thread that can bind me together.

I'll be looking for that over the next few days. I hope you will join me.

May our prayers be heard.

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