Sunday, November 27, 2011

Be the grass

This morning, I was pondering the role of time, and ended up reading part of Dogen's Uji,  or, “existence–time.”

 In the Tanahashi translation (Shambhala, 2011), we hear:

“Know that in this way there are myriads of forms and hundreds of grasses [all things] throughout the entire earth, and yet each grass and each form itself is the entire earth. The study of this is the beginning of practice."
"When you are at this place, there is just one grass, there is just one form; there is understanding of form and beyond understanding of form; there is understanding of grass and beyond understanding of grass. Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time being is all the time there is. Grass being, form being, are both time. Each moment is all being, each moment is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment.”

 Because Dogen routinely presents sophisticated ideas, and because his arguments appear to be dense and complex, one tends to be drawn towards an abstract, or intellectual, analysis.

 Yet I think that the whole point of his arguments is to defeat such an approach. His ubiquitous, self-reflective dialectic isn't meant as a de facto call to complexity; rather, it is to point our own complexity out to us, calling our attention to the fact that we are perpetually trapped in dualistic complications. His words and statements, one after another, throughout his teaching, morph into koans. Each one tries to point beyond the dualism that we know, the affirming and denying, towards a third force–a force of reconciliation–that we are not sensitive to. Gurdjieff, one may recall, indicated that man is “third force blind.” We are unaware of this reconciling factor, which could otherwise make the world whole.

So there is nothing academic or intellectual about this passage. We are called, rather, to a sensitive and emotional moment: and in this translation, the point has been deftly realized by referring to grass. (The Nishijima & Cross translation,which has its own transcendental moments, does not quite rise to the occasion in the same way this time.) Associations are called forth: the green color of grass, the delicacy of grass, its tenderness, flexibility, suppleness. The way that grass cover surfaces gently, its movement in wind, the ability of grass to be composed of myriad forms (blades) and yet be one thing, acting together, seen together, experienced together.

Buried deep in this teaching- in all of Dogen's teachings- are body, blood, bones and marrow, not just of the intellect, but of an emotional opening.

We are called to a simple moment, a moment that has nothing to do with trying to figure things out. We are called to this immediate moment. We are called to a relationship with grass, to form-  to a relationship with both our inability to understand form and the existence of form itself. Our awareness becomes a bridge in which we inhabit both the condition and our failure to understand the condition. ( I am reminded of my conversation with my daughter last night, in which she pointed out that for Kant, the sublime– the quality of spiritual purity or excellence–begins with our failure, our inability, to comprehend... "the study of this is the beginning of practice.")

We discover feeling.

 An emotional opening to the quality of grass and the existence of form brings us to a moment where wholeness is possible. Nothing is left out of the present moment. We are called to understand– and do not understand– the present moment, at the same time. Our understanding lies– as the understanding of Socrates lay– in being neither wise with our wisdom, nor stupid with our stupidity, but being just as we are.

"The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless." (Plato: The Collected Dialogues, Apology, p. 9, Hamilton & Cairns, Princeton University Press, 1989)

Hence we discover blades of grass that gather themselves together in a landscape: Zen Masters,  German philosophers, wise Greeks. All of them understanding that while we try, and while we fail, we still inhabit the wholeness of all the forms we know– and that this wholeness comprises an ineffable truth that cannot be denied.

Jeanne de Salzmann calls us back over and over to this act of seeing, this act of inhabiting the moment. Nothing is left out of the present moment. We do not need to change the present moment. The need is for the present moment to be seen.

It is not the present moment, its nature, or its content, that distracts us from experience and relationship; the present moment, its nature, and its contents are completely valid and true. They need not change; only our relationship to them must change.

Don't think about the grass... be the grass.

 I respectfully ask you to take good care.

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