No Self – No separation – Leland Shields, Intensive Day 2, April 11, 2022

Posted by on Apr 20, 2022 in Zen Talks | Comments Off on No Self – No separation – Leland Shields, Intensive Day 2, April 11, 2022

Dogen – Actualizing the Fundamental Point

To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the myriad dharmas. To be enlightened by the myriad dharmas is to bring about the dropping away of body and mind of both oneself and others. The traces of enlightenment come to an end, and this traceless enlightenment is continued endlessly. When one starts to search out the dharma, one separates oneself far from the dharma. When the dharma has already been rightly transmitted in oneself, just then one is immediately one’s original self.

Yasutani, Hakuun; (translation) Jaffe, Paul, Flowers Fall: A Commentary on Dogen’s Genjokoan, 1996.

This passage written by Dogen is familiar to many of us, I’m sure. However many times I read it or hear it, I’m stopped where I am by its concise clarity. There is much talk in Zen of forgetting the self, just as there is much talk about the limits of words in expressing “no-self.”

Leaving aside grand notions of the falling away of body and mind, just as you are, can you virtually and materially join the retreat now? Can you do less, such that separation is lessened? In Zazen, less can be single pointed, mu with conviction encompassing all. When on a bus, no separation is the recorded announcement of the next stop, a person talking loudly enough for all to hear, jerking motions with stops, starts, and turns. No separation is head snapping here and there, bus, engine revving, loud sound.

Whose head is snapping? Is the snapping head other than the neck? Is the neck other than the torso? Is the torso other than seat, bus, traffic, and road? Eliminate any piece and the motion we call snapping is severed.

Yunmen explored this topic with a visitor in his time:

Someone asked, what is my “I?”

The Master said, “It’s strolling in the mountains and enjoying the rivers.”

“And what is your ‘I,’ Reverend?”

The Master replied, “You’re lucky that the precenter [monk in charge of general affairs and who dispenses punishment] isn’t here!”

Yunmen; (translation) Urs App, Master Yunmen; From the Record of the Chan Teacher “Gate of the Clouds,” 1994, Case 11, page 90-91)

Without focus on the distinctions between bus jerking, head snapping, neck cocked, tug in neck muscles to back and shoulders, there is a seamless, observable, motion of all as one system. Put this way, recognizing one system can seem accessible to me. I wouldn’t be likely to say my head was on a bus, nor would I generally speak from a point of reference as the seat. If I am the seat I’d say I flexed and squeaked as the bus bounced and shifted. The dropping away of distinctions then allows our recognition of one motion of bus, seat, body, mind, riders, road, cars, traffic lights. Where do you find “self” here?

Don’t be distracted by the simultaneity of just one system, and an “I” watching for my stop. That mind, too, is inextricable from bus, loud, bounce, head snap.

It’s worth returning to the premise of an earlier sentence of mine: “Without focus on the distinctions (between bus jerking, head snapping, etc.) …” When on the bus and checking my watch, and again 2 minutes later, my attention is on getting to work on time, a client waiting for me. I imagine myself rushing in the back entrance to turn on office lights and air purifiers, and getting ready to take notes. If I must not be late, must not keep a client waiting, then it’s very difficult to do less as I ride, even knowing there is nothing more to do but jostle down the road, and wait for the wheelchair ramp to load a person at the next stop. To do less requires a shift from “I must” to “I prefer.

The same scenario applies to a day of intensive Zazen as well. If distraction is unacceptable, It is natural to become forceful with ourselves. Preference for the ease of non-distraction is the gravity that pulls us back down to the very sound in your ear.

Softening to preference is a relaxation of “attachment.” I’m not saying the word “attachment” has only this meaning. I’m just relaying what the word means to me in the context of the falling away of body and mind. Softening to “I prefer,” also entails the release of underlying attachments to being (or seeming to be) on time, thoughtful of the time of others, organized, professional, and scores of other embellishments to my own idea of “I.”

If I hold expectation that I soften at all, I embrace another barrier (attachment). If I expect that I can stay softened, yet another barrier is built. We are entangled when in the dance of escape from that which appears to be true, but it is not what we prefer. When we are simply pleased when our preferences are reinforced, and simply disappointed when not, that is non-attachment.

Neither “I must” nor “I prefer” is better than the other. This is not profound. It’s like saying there is no moral imperative that I be a better hiker. If I like hiking in the mountains, it may be worth it to me to walk, run, and bike in the city so I can hike to places I want to go when trails open this summer.

Coming back to Dogen:

To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the myriad dharmas.

As I engage in these practices, there is no implication of improvement as good or bad, right or wrong. The practice is an outgrowth of a way I am drawn to live my life. Though I’ve been using phrases like, “falling away,” “do less,” “softening,” Dogen’s words are active. He repeats the phrase “to study” three times in the first two sentences of the quote I’ve been referencing. He reminds us that Zazen is active, something we “do,” even if what we do is to “not do.” Just as winter biking is an outgrowth of being drawn to summer hiking, zazen flows from the longing for falling away of body and mind.

If attached to the condition of being a good hiker, then I am encumbered during the activities of practice. Zen practice is me and you finding the way of ease just now. Preferences, like gravity, are part of the circumstances that reveal our paths of ease. It’s no different with Zen practice – we all have our reasons for being here on a fine Monday.

There is a dilemma seemingly implied – to  actively study the self “is to forget the self.” We all know that to intentionally forget something, it is not helpful to focus on that which we intend to forget. The dilemma melts when studying the self is engagement in breath, in the one motion of bus, passengers, and stop signs.

In our sutra book, there is this passage from Verse of the Faith Mind:

This is the place of no-thinking,

difficult to fathom with intellect or feeling.

In the dharma world of Suchness,

there is no other, there is no self.

Attributed to Jianzhi Sengcan [Chien-Chih Seng-ts’an] d. 606.

Study without reliance on intellect or feeling points us back to the myriad dharmas.

Each grain of sand falling in an hourglass is inextricable from myriad dharmas, as is each exhale. Falling sand and exhaling breath each are the falling away of body and mind. Each exhale falling away, leaving emptiness.

There is no rushing the sand, by holding the orientation of the hourglass, gravity will empty the container.

A grain of sand needs no awareness of its characteristics, where it’s going to or from. The grain located by the edge gradually rubs and shifts downward, in its time falling, flowing in the dance of sand. Abandoning to breath is falling away of body and mind. Abandoning with muuuuu….falling away of thoughts of mu, thoughts of falling away, falling away of one doing mu. Self is a thought not relevant when intimate with the sound of the tea water bubbling. Self and no-self are both thoughts that fall away with engagement in muuuu….engagement that empties the mind like the falling sand of an hourglass. If you find yourself parsing how the simile works and doesn’t, – there is (breath)…one…….two…..

Rather than our meditation being an hourglass, it may be a small-neck bottle of liquid, turned upside down to drain. Liquid flows out, then when bubbles rise back up, the falling liquid slows. – Air flows out with exhale, and in with inhale. Whatever your practice – hold, hold, hold. Which is to say, just breath. Breath. Breath. Which is to say just sound, sound. Just mu.

To study the way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to become utterly lost in the sand that falls, the creek that burbles along, the psshhh of bus air brakes releasing to move again, the breath that breathes.

In “Song of Zazen,” Hakuin amplifies these perspectives in this passage:

Much more, those who turn about

and bear witness to self-nature,

self-nature that is no-nature,

go far beyond mere doctrine.

Turning about to the myriad dharmas, we step aside from intellect, feelings, and mere doctrine.

These are all fine words, and I hope encouraging for our attention to our own practices even now. In the sturm und drang of our day, how is it when receiving a compliment? We sometimes deflect, out of self-consciousness, or concern we will let someone down later. We can accept, taking on expectation of being impressive the next time. We can say thank you. No doubt we each express all of these in their time. When graciously saying thank you, we can also take on the self-expectation that we found that non-attachment this time, and so I will next time.

We can’t help but prefer the gracious response. The two former responses though offer an invitation, as a distraction during meditation is an invitation – how do I return? Further, who returns and from where? The blush of my cheeks is no different than the rustle of leaves in the wind.

Again from Dogen:

Therefore, you should entreat trees and rocks to preach the Dharma, and you should ask rice fields and gardens for the truth. Ask pillars for the Dharma, and learn from hedges and walls. Long ago the great god Indra honored a wild fox as his own master and sought the Dharma from him, calling him “Great Bodhisattva.” It had nothing to do with whether the teacher was in a high or low form because of past karma.

Dogen, Eihei; (translation) Cook, Francis Dojun. How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo (p. 98). Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.

And one more from Yunmen:

Master Yunmen addressed the assembly saying, “I don’t want any words from our tradition. [Now tell me in your own words:] What is ‘self’ in the teaching of our patriarchal school?”

In their place he simply extended both hands.

Yunmen, (translation) Urs App, Master Yunmen; From the Record of the Chan Teacher, p. 207

All these many words are unimportant, but for their encouragement of this breath. Of mu.