The Moon Brings Forth Two — Leland Shields — Intensive Day 6, April 15, 2022

Posted by on Apr 20, 2022 in Zen Talks | Comments Off on The Moon Brings Forth Two — Leland Shields — Intensive Day 6, April 15, 2022

In Dharma Hall Discourse 168, Dogen wrote this:

The moon brings forth one, we pick up a brush and record it as good fortune. The moon brings forth two, the clear intention of the ancestral teachers. The moon brings forth three; a thousand ancient ones submit to Gautama. Although this is the case, is there a dragon or elephant here who can come forth and meet with Daibutsu’s staff?

After a pause Dogen said, [Although the same fruit] it is called an orange in Huabei [north of the Huai River], and called a tangerine in Huainan [south of the Huai River].

Dogen, Eihei; Leighton, Taigen Dan (transator.) Dogen’s Extensive Record; a Translation of the Eihei Koroku, page 192-193.

There is an emphasis in Zen to allow identification of the many shoots, without losing their connection to one root. In the language of the story, bring forth Daibutsu’s staff.   – CRACK! Is the crack of the staff on the ground one, two, or three?  – CRACK! As we discuss the story, don’t let the rest of the words obscure that central point.

There is no denying that this one speaking today will answer to the name Lee, and the one leading our chants we call Madelon, and it seems to work, she answers. We each have individual names, and we sit on things we call cushions and chairs. Myriad things abound and all submit to Gautama – the ancient Buddha.

In today’s reading, the translator offered us a footnote referencing the context of Dogen’s words:

“The moon brings forth one, …two, …three” derives from the saying by Laozi in chapter 42 of the… Dao De Jing: “The Way brings forth One; One brings forth Two; Two brings forth Three; three brings forth all things. All things carry the dark and embrace the light and make them harmonize with empty energy.” See Wu, Book of Lao Tzu, pp. 154-156.)

Dogen, Eihei; Leighton, Taigen Dan (transator.) Dogen’s Extensive Record; a Translation of the Eihei Koroku,, page 192-193

I love the line, “All things carry the dark and embrace the light and make them harmonize with empty energy.” In the vocabulary often used in Zen we might say all things are empty, as revealed in the forms that abound. But that still seems obscure, leading to my inclination to further clarify. Even as I do so I’m enacting the words, inclined to put the dark and insubstantial at my back, moving toward the articulated and defined. Utterly human, doing so is neither right nor wrong, just reinforcing Lao Tzu’s point from the 6th century BCE.

Looking again, all things carry the dark and embrace the light.

Here is Red Pines translation of the first part of the verse Dogen referenced from the Tao De Ching:

Chapter 42

The Tao gives birth to one

one gives birth to two

two gives birth to three

three gives birth to ten thousand things

ten thousand things with yin at their backs

yang in their embrace

and breath between for harmony…

Lao-Tzu; (translator) Red Pine . Lao-tzu’s Taoteching (p. 84). Kindle Edition.

Highlighting a couple lines:

ten thousand things with yin at their backs

yang in their embrace

and breath between for harmony

Other translators, pointing similarly, rendered these last couple of lines this way:

The created universe carries the yin at its back and the yang in front;

Through the union of the pervading principles it reaches harmony.

Lao-Tzu; (translator) Lao; Lin, Yutang. Tao Te Ching: Original Chinese text and English translation (p. 95). Kindle Edition.

All three translations find harmony. Of course we prefer harmony, the word evoking images of musical notes in a chord – c-h-o-r-d, and being in accord – a-c-c-o-r-d. Choosing harmony over disharmony, or clear over murky, all are Gautama, and all wiped away by the crack of a staff on wood.

In his commentary on the Tao De Ching, 12th century Taoist master, Lu Hui-Ch’ing wrote:

Dark and unfathomable is yin. Bright and perceptible is yang. As soon as we are born, we all turn our back on the dark and unfathomable yin and turn toward the bright and perceptible yang. Fortunately, we keep ourselves in harmony with the breath between them.

Lao-Tzu; (translator) Red Pine . Lao-tzu’s Taoteching (p. 84-5). Kindle Edition.

There is a place for greater precision of understanding with words. What do Dogen and Lao Tzu mean about one, two and three?

Looking just above the horizon into the slate-grey sky as I write, I can’t tell whether it’s still raining. Looking down, I see the quick splashes and slightly more lasting ripples on the wet deck. I recognize the root of the rain indirectly through the observation of ripples.

Rain, ripples, one or two…Dogen points to one fruit, whether 1 or 2 names. One fruit. One root. Here. This.

Perhaps one is the splash on a deck, two is the rain invisible against the grey sky, and three is the breath that embraces both. There are other interpretations that have been offered that I will not share here, as they are not central to Daibutsu’s staff.

At least that’s what I wrote last night.

I woke this morning unsatisfied; I’ve given you an explanation of my choice, but not presented what I found that led me to it so you could find your own conclusion of the dark. So here is commentary from two renowned Taoist scholars regarding the same lines of verse. The first is from the 2nd century BCE; the second quote is from the 12th century CE.

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The Tao gives birth to the beginning. One gives birth to yin and yang. Yin and yang give birth to the breath between them, the mixture of clear and turbid. These three breaths divide themselves into Heaven, Earth, and Humankind and together give birth to the ten thousand things. These elemental breaths are what keep the ten thousand things relaxed and balanced. The organs in our chest, the marrow in our bones, the hollow spaces inside plants all allow these breaths passage and make long life possible.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “The yang we embrace is one. The yin we turn away from is two. Where yin and yang meet and merge is three.”

Lao-Tzu; (translator) Red Pine . Lao-tzu’s Taoteching (p. 84). Kindle Edition.

I reconsidered and added these last two commentaries for their differences in interpretation of the list of one, two and three things, differences among experts who have made their lives studying these verses. It reminds me of my time in engineering consulting during which I would have occasions to study deeply, develop persuasive presentation materials, and make an argument in court of my conclusions. And so other engineering experts did they same with their study, presenting differing conclusions – I felt confident in mine as they did of theirs, I’m sure.

The court exercise was necessary and useful. It alone will not help us recognize the dark and murky, or to find the verdant path. Breath harmonizes dark and light.

Today we seek the elemental breaths that keep the ten thousand things relaxed and balanced. “The organs in our chest, the marrow in our bones, the hollow spaces inside plants all allow these breaths passage and make long life possible.”

For this day of retreat, however, take the crack of Daibutsu’s staff to come home. Home is here, in the midst of the one, two and three. There is ripple. The sky is grey. Arrhythmic taps of sound on the brim of my hat. A shudder of chill. How many is this?

Please notice your own tendency to embrace an understanding – is there another way to receive this verse from Lao Tzu leaving out neither clear nor turbid? Of course we could not survive without understanding of the light turning red, and the need to set an alarm for work. But how about the turbid?

The limits of clarity are apparent when we try and explain a joke – we know it never helps because the humor is not captured through rational articulation. The explanation might be interesting, but generally it misses the point.

In Dongshan’s Five Ranks, there are a couple of times Ross Bolleter observes that the Tao can show up as words, even if not with words. In one instance Bolleter expressed it this way:

We saw that, on one hand, words are inadequate to convey the ultimate, while on the other, we realized that the ultimate manifests as words and language, no less so than it does as the dark groves of trees reflected in the stream, or the sunlight glancing off its ripples.

Bolleter, Ross. Dongshan’s Five Ranks: Keys to Enlightenment (p. 116). Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.

Dogen responded for the assembly about moon bringing forth one, two, and three, leading to 1,000 things – he said many names, and one fruit. And each translation of the Tao De Ching points one way – Yang, Yin, and many ways return to one fruit with the immediacy of this breath. Breath is convenient, but so is the crack of the staff, and the one who hears. With engagement in mu there is no need for one or 1,000; there is mu. Even as there is no distinction to be made between this mu, and any of the 1,000.

We observe the shoots in all things everywhere; the roots are apparent only in looking through the shoots. There is value in understanding the details of the shoots, as there is in recognizing the roots from which they arise. That recognition is not described by words; it can be seen as words. Similar to recognizing beauty in art, that cannot be described, or humor in a joke deadened by the explanation.

These readings provide no direct reference to “self.” Though there is reference to a thousand ancient ancestors, to rain, and sound, and jokes. To speak directly would be another shoot, a clarification. There is no distinction to be made with clarity. When commensurate with circumstances, there is showing up as ignorant when ignorant, and showing up blushing when embarrassed.

Dogen’s “1,000 ancient ones” directs us to self, self, and self, joined with the crack of a staff. Harmonized by breath.

Come home with one breath. One sound fills the world, east of Puget Sound and West of the Cascades. Mu can be found everywhere we look. Home.

I’ll finish with a poem from a book of writings after Buddha’s presentation in Deer Park, but before the yang of Buddhism as a religion.

The World is completely without a core.

Everywhere things are changing.

Wanting a place of my own,

I saw nothing not already taken.

(translator) Fronsdal, Gil. The Buddha before Buddhism; Wisdom from the Early Teachings; verse 937, p. 125)