24
Sep
08

From the Record of Things Heard


Dogen  (1200-1253)

One
day a student asked: “I have spent months and years in earnest study,
but I have yet to gain enlightenment. Many of the old masters say that
the Way does not depend on intelligence and cleverness, and that there
is no need for knowledge and talent. As I understand it, even though my
capacity is inferior, I need not feel badly for myself. Are there not
any old sayings or cautionary words that I should know about?”

Dogen
replied: “Yes, there are. True study of the Way does not rely on
knowledge and genius or cleverness and brilliance. Because study has no
use for wide learning and high intelligence, even those with inferior
capacities can participate. True study of the Way is an easy thing.

Even
in the monasteries of China, only one or two out of several hundred, or
even a thousand, disciples under a great Ch’an master actually gained
true enlightenment. Therefore, old sayings and cautionary words are
needed. As I see it now, it is a matter of gaining the desire to
practice. A person who gives rise to a real desire and puts his utmost
efforts into study will surely gain enlightenment. Essentially, one
must devote all attention to this effort and enter into practice with
all due speed. More specifically, the following points must be kept in
mind:

“In
the first place, there must be a keen and sincere desire to seek the
Way. For example, someone who wishes to steal a precious jewel, to
attack a formidable enemy, or to make the acquaintance of a beautiful
woman must, at all times, watch intently for the opportunity, adjusting
to changing events and shifting circumstances. Anything sought for with
such intensity will surely be gained. If the desire to search for the
Way becomes as intense as this, whether you concentrate on doing zazen
alone, investigate a koan by an old master, interview a Zen teacher, or
practice with sincere devotion, you will succeed no matter how high you
must shoot or no matter how deep you must plumb.

“Without
arousing this wholehearted will for the Buddha Way, how can anyone
succeed in this most important task of cutting the endless round of
birth and death? Those who have this drive, even if they have little
knowledge or are of inferior capacity, even if they are stupid or evil,
will without fail gain enlightenment.

“Next,
to arouse such a mind, one must be deeply aware of the impermanence of
the world. This realization is not achieved by some temporary method of
contemplation. It is not creating something out of nothing and then
thinking about it. Impermanence is a fact before our eyes. Do not wait
for the teachings from others, the words of the scriptures, and for the
principles of enlightenment. We are born in the morning and die in the
evening; the person we saw yesterday is no longer with us today. These
facts we see with
our
own eyes and hear with our own ears. You see and hear impermanence in
terms of another person, but try weighing it with your own body.

“Even
though you live to be seventy or eighty, you die in accordance with the
inevitability of death. How will you ever come to terms with the
worries, joys, intimacies, and conflicts that concern you in this life?
With faith in Buddhism, seek the true happiness of nirvana. How can
those who are old or who have passed the halfway mark in their lives
relax in their studies when there is no way of telling how many years
are left?”

Think
of those who gained enlightenment upon hearing the sound of bamboo when
struck by a tile or seeing blossoms in bloom. Does the bamboo
distinguish the clever or dull, the deluded or enlightened; does the
flower differentiate between shallow and deep, the wise and stupid?
Though flowers bloom year
after year, not everyone who sees them gains enlightenment. Bamboo
always gives off sounds, but not all who hear them become enlightened.
It is only by virtue of long study and much practice that we gain an
affinity with what we have labored for and gain enlightenment and
clarity of mind.

The
most important point in the study of the Way is zazen. Many people in
China gained enlightenment solely through the strength of zazen. Some
who were so ignorant that they could not answer a single question
exceeded the learned who had studied many years solely through the
efficacy of their single-minded devotion to zazen. Therefore, students
must concentrate on zazen alone and not bother about other things. The
Way of the Buddhas and Ancestors is zazen alone. Follow nothing else.

At that
time Ejo asked: “When we combine zazen with the reading of the texts,
we can understand about one point in a hundred or a thousand upon
examining the Zen sayings and koans. But in zazen alone there is no
indication of even this much. Must we devote ourselves to zazen even
then?”

Dogen
answered: “Although a slight understanding seems to emerge from
examining a koan, it causes the Way of the Buddhas and Ancestors to
become even more distant. If you devote your time to doing zazen
without wanting to know anything and without seeking enlightenment,
this is itself the Ancestral Way. Although the old Masters urged both
the reading of the scriptures and the practice of zazen, they clearly
emphasized zazen. Some gained enlightenment through the koan, but the
merit that brought enlightenment came from the zazen. Truly the merit
is in the zazen.”

The
basic point to understand in the study of the Way is that you must cast
aside your deep-rooted attachments. If you rectify the body in terms of
the four attitudes of dignity, the mind rectifies itself. Students,
even if you gain enlightenment, do not stop practicing, thinking that
you have attained the ultimate. The Buddha Way is endless. Once
enlightened you must practice all the more.

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