The Indestructible Dharma-body, a Talk by Madelon Bolling (October 13, 2019)

Posted by on Oct 18, 2019 in Zen Talks | Comments Off on The Indestructible Dharma-body, a Talk by Madelon Bolling (October 13, 2019)

Blue Cliff Record, Case 82:

A monk asked Ta-lung, “The body of form and color perishes. What is the indestructible Dharma-body?”
Ta-lung said, “The mountain flowers bloom like brocade; the river between the hills runs blue as indigo.”

The body of form and color perishes. Asking why is a complete waste of energy. There is nothing to be done about it.

Going to my sitting spot in the morning for a half-hour or so makes total sense, though I cannot say why. Seems to be the only thing to do at the moment. Like the first touch of morning light on the underside of leaves—it is as inexorable and as uncertain as the next breath. Asking why is completely irrelevant.

Three times over the years I’ve observed a strange thing: When someone close to me dies, the unquestioned stability of the world disappears with them.

In the kitchen first thing in the morning, I turn on the tea kettle. What an odd thing to do! There are legal forms on the desk that need to be completed and filed, letters that need answering, bills that need paying. But? I mean it all appears to be utterly pointless: not really necessary, arbitrary.

These days I think of my little brother and can’t help wondering if I ever really had a brother or not. There is his sweatshirt, a book he was reading, his shaving kit. I remember snippets of memories—part of me hangs on to them and part of me knows with a sinking feeling that they are just feelings and pictures and stories—forms I held on to and shaped over the years—experiences no more solid than the story of “The Lion and the Mouse” or “Humpty Dumpty,” or the long-gone chickenhouse where Grandma kept her Rhode Island Reds.

In this mood, I am drawn to congruent statements in the Zen literature. Probably these require a crisis to be attractive, because for instance, when Changqing says, in the inexhaustible Dharma, there are no persons, (Ferguson, Zen’s Chinese Heritage p. 306) our natural response is usually, “What?! I don’t get it.” In the de-stabilized world of grief, though, nothing is as it seems to be, or as a person might expect it to be. So hearing that in the inexhaustible Dharma, there are no persons, I see—oh, so that must be what this is about: there is no separate thing at all. No persons appear when there is appearing, and no persons disappear when there is disappearing.

But then the monk asked Ta-Lung, What is the indestructible Dharma-body? What is there in our experience, our everyday awareness, the only window on what we call the world—what is there that could possibly be indestructible, in the midst of all this disappearing?

Zen master Shishuang entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying, “Each of you has what is fundamental. There’s no point in searching for it. It’s not to be found in right or wrong, nor in anything you can talk about. The entire source of the teaching of a lifetime, capable of setting people’s lives in order, all comes down to this very moment, directly to the fact that the Dharma body has no body. This is the ultimate teaching of our school.” (Ferguson, Zen’s Chinese Heritage, p. 211)

In this very moment is the source of the teaching of a lifetime, the fact that the Dharma body [the body of truth] has no body. One definition of body is “an individual 3-dimensional object that has mass and that is distinguishable from other objects.” But in this moment with no tools beyond the experience of the senses, this awareness – close your eyes now and check out something your fingertips can sense. You don’t have to know what it is, just attend very closely to the raw experience of the fingertips. Is this sensing inside or outside? In this moment, can you separate what is fingertip from what is the not-fingertip object? Probably not? So in the experience called “touch” how do we know we “have a fingertip”? By sensing something else? But can you actually distinguish two things in that raw sensory event? In a very real sense, that other something is the fingertip, it is us. The definition of body as “an individual 3-dimensional object that has mass and that is distinguishable from other objects” crumbles away under this scrutiny.

This is the source of Zen master Shishuang’s declaration: The Dharma body has no body.

In his “Wake-up Sermon,” Bodhidharma said

If you’re looking for the Way, the Way won’t appear until your body disappears.
(Red Pine, The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma, p. 59)

This doesn’t mean you have to wait until you die, though. Because in this disappearance of what we call the body, the Dharma-body is simply, experiencing no body, no separate being or form distinguishable from other things, sentient or non-sentient. The indestructible Dharma-body is us, once the notion of limited identity, of being confined to a form vanishes. But this is a matter of experience, through deep and continuous looking—without attending very much at all to thinking about it.

Actually, these words I’m offering today do us all a disservice, tickling the thought-centers, stimulating perceptions through language and new relationships among phenomena. Please—if you can, step aside from thinking about and understanding, and just look, just be present in what is, with unwavering honesty.

Nampo Jomyo, the 13th century Zen master posthumously named Daio Kokushi instructs us in his verse “On Zen” to exhaust our words, to empty our thoughts. We have all struggled with this instruction in one way or other. But the flood of words proves inexhaustible. The effort to empty thoughts only reveals a mind full of endless notions of emptying thoughts. But generations of Zen teachings point to something else – the place before thinking. Not temporally before—as in return to infancy or to some brainless prehistoric state, but the kind of before that is always with us, like the foundation of a building, or the ground that makes a garden possible; the raw earth before conceptualization; the raw earth of sensory experience before thinking, before the separating out of self and other.

We just visited this place that is noplace, the place before thinking, through the realm of touch. It is completely possible to enter the place that is noplace through seeing and hearing also.  It’s actually a place we cannot leave, so formulating instructions on how to exhaust words and empty thoughts is booby-trapped to begin with.

That’s why I was delighted to find that in a letter to a student, Nampo Jomyo himself wrote:

look directly at before the enlightened ones were present, before the world was differentiated; twenty-four hours a day, walking, standing, sitting, reclining, carefully, continuously, closely, minutely, look, look, all the time. When this directed effort becomes fully developed and pure, suddenly in an instant you are united, the routine mind is shattered and you see the fundamental countenance, the scenery of the basic ground. (National Teacher Daio’s Letters to Meditators, Thomas F. Cleary, trans., in The Original Face: An Anthology of Rinzai Zen, Grove Press, 1978. pp. 59-74.)

Thus, when a student asked, “What is the pure and everlasting body of reality?”  

Yunmen said, “A fence of flowers and healing herbs.” (BCR, Case 39)

 

When a monk asked Ta-lung, “The body of form and color perishes.   What is the indestructible Dharma-body?”

Ta-lung said, “The mountain flowers bloom like brocade; the river between the hills runs blue as indigo.” (BCR, Case 82)

 

Dogen said, “. . . the mind of eternal buddhas is fences, walls, tiles, and  pebbles.”      (Kobusshin)

and in Actualizing the Fundamental Point Dogen explains:

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 actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away.

As you go about the day looking, step by step, moment by moment, attend to the moment—and eyes are revealed as screen and keyboard, becoming light through an opening, and green exuberance of rain-soaked plants. Ears come forth as the howl of passing jets and ticking clocks, becoming ringing in the ears, shouts and laughter in the distance. Moving feet show up as the textures of wood floor, becoming gravel road, becoming concrete steps, becoming woodchip path, grass . . . All of these appearances and more morphing, morphing freely—it may be as though you’ve become a rolling translucent mirror without a frame or reflective backing, simply showing yourself as the livening of all phenomena in the moment as they change and pass. That rolling translucence is constantly moving through, with no separate shape or form beyond the way light and texture reveals you as fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles. This mirroring is your true nature as forms/sounds/scents and yes, even thoughts – not as the content but as the sensations of thought-phenomena.

Zen master Shishuang entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying,

Each of you has what is fundamental.
There’s no point in searching for it.
It’s not to be found in right or wrong,
nor in anything you can talk about.
The entire source of the teaching of a lifetime,
capable of setting people’s lives in order,
all comes down to this very moment,
directly to the fact that the Dharma body has no body. (Ferguson, p.211)

Because the pure and everlasting body of reality—the indestructible Dharma-body—has no body, in attending to the moment, in touching the ground, we share one body—as trees, elephants, turtles, mayflies, stones, clouds, rivers, mountains, and other people.

For the rest of today, dare to follow Nampo Jomyo’s advice: look directly at before the world is differentiated. That is—attend to sensations, not to what we call objects, twenty-four hours a day, walking, standing, sitting, reclining, carefully, continuously, closely, minutely, attend, attend all the time, until the routine mind is shattered and you see the fundamental countenance, the scenery of the basic ground.

. . . mountain flowers bloom like brocade;
the river between the hills runs blue as indigo.