November 18, 2010
Discussing Genjo Koan Part I.
How can we transcend the dualism of subjective or objective understanding of things?
When we first encounter Buddhism, we think, ah, some people may be very special, enlightened and I have no idea what that enlightenment is. But it must be something amazing. Thats's the subjective or idealistic outlook. It is a kind of delusion. When you cut into a dead body of an ordinary person and then cut into a body of a buddha, an enligthened person, you will find no lack or enlightenment or presence of enligthenment. So that's the objective view. Or materialism. But you can hardly find a person who would be strictly materialistic and had no ideals.
So although you say we have emotions and feelings, and as such cannot be strictly materialistic, you say it is naive to have ideals?
No, we should have ideals. But what kind of ideals? That's the problem. There are naive ideals like the one based on communism or realistic ideals. Someone could have an ideal and become a successful politician. That's quite realistic - for certain kind of people. Somebody else may decide to climb the Mount Everest. So there are a lot of realistic ideals.
So trying to attain enlightenment - is that a realistic ideal or naive?
If you put it that way - attain an enlightenment - then it is very naive because we are all enlightened. But if you say trying to attain the truth or realize what the truth is, then yes, it is a realistic ideal. You can realize what the truth is. That's possible.I am sure my teacher has realized what the truth is. But he never says he is enlightened. Which doesn't mean he isn't, but that term is just silly.
But to realize what the truth is we have to go beyond materialistic and idealistic. Do we have to go beyond the teaching of Buddhism?
Yes, we study and practice Buddhism only to use it as a tool, but the tool is not reality itself, not attaining the truth itself. When you practice zazen in order to attain the truth, you are looking at the tool but you cannot throw it away after the job has been done. But if you let go of zazen as a tool and just practice zazen, you enter the reality and attain the truth. When you study Buddhism to understand the truth, it's ok, but it is not understanding the truth. When in the kitchen, doing the dishes, you completely forget about Buddhism, then you have used the tool and now you are in the kitchen and the tool - Buddhism - is not necessary at all. In other ways, you are realizing what the goal of Buddhism is. Helping you to find the truth in the midst of your ordinary life. And that life is beyond subject and object, material and idealistic. It's just reality itself.
Are we then free from delusions and materialistic obstacles?
I think it's quite easy to be free from delusions when you are just doing something, but then delusions always come back. They are like flies always coming back to a piece of shit. But we can be as persevere as those flies and instead of sticking to our delusions always go back to the freedom based on acting in the present. But as for materialistic obstacles, no, we are always part of the material world and cannot escape it. Anyway, material world only becomes an obstacle when we make it an idea. For example if there is a concrete wall in front of you, it only becomes a problem if you have that wall in your head. The wall itself, objectively , is no problem. So that doesn't mean we don't have to eat or drink because once we don't imagine anything we don't need anything. We cannot escape the needs of our body. But just acting according to real needs of our body, those needs are no problem. But if you think: "Oh well, there is nothing to eat and I am too lazy to go shopping", then you have a problem. If you just go shoping, no problem.
Sometimes we cannot do anything. Sometimes there is some sexual desire and we cannot find a partner and we are frustrated. So is that a materialistic or idealistic problem?
Sometimes there is no food or drinking water and there is nothing you can do. Take some African countries. Sometimes we want to stay alive but a disease is killing us. So quite often although we have some physical needs, we have to be patient and respect the unfortunate situation. Sometimes we are lonely, or we'd like a partner but there is no such a person. So that is both a physical problem, our sexual or emotional desire and problem in our mind, our ideas about having a partner. We cannot solve this problem on the material level, but again, we can transcend the problem acting in the present moment. To be patient does not mean to be waiting and waiting, but to act no matter how bad the situation is. When I was a kid and had to practice the piano which I hated for some reason, I was told to practice for one hour. To me it meant I had to wait until that terrible one hour was over. Nobody told me that it would have been much easier for me if I had only focused on the playing itself forgetting the time. When you are with a doctor and they are operating on you and it is painful, you cannot wait, but only act now - even if it seems impossible to do anything, you can still breathe. When we concentrate on breathing, which may be the only thing we are able to do, then that will help us overcome the pain and overcome our ideas and mental frustration. So Buddhism doesn't teach that it is possible to feel calm and peaceful and happy no matter what. It teaches that we can accept reality and if we completely accept reality, no matter how unfortunate, we don't suffer as much as when we create our own terrible world. Master Dogen writes in Genjo Koan that no matter when we love flowers, they die and no matter if we hate weeds, they grow in abundance. That means that no matter what we want the world is just what it is and often it is anything but ideal. The world will never perfectly suit our personal needs. On the other hand, when we just act now, it is always perfectly satisfying.
So we cannot be happy all the time, but we can be happy in those moments when we don't even realize what we love and hate and just act.
Yes, just acting no matter what. When the conditions are ok, we are completely satisfied. And when you study and practice Buddhism, you can realize that that is complete satisfaction, a completely enlightened and enlightening state, but before you study Buddhism, it is hard to realize. It is just a kind of vague idea, some kind of idealism somewhere in the air. So we can be completely satisfied despite completely unsatisfying conditions. Living in a small apartment with a person, "whose figure is less than Greek and whose lips are a little weak and when she opens it and speaks...are you smart?" And your green tea is not the best kind from Japan and your TV screen is not as big as your neighbors. But you do something now and feel happy. So thats' what master Dogen means in the first paragraph of Genjo Koan.
I still struggle to understand how it is possible to practice zazen without an ideal. It's difficult to sit on the zafu and forget those ideas about what Buddhism can give to a person... like after twenty years on the zafu, it might be much better life, more peace, more happiness, more wisdom. How can you sit without having a goal?
It's a matter of faith. Although it is hard to undertand how one could be enlightened "just like this", what is the problem when you just sit? Can you appreciate the wisdom of silence, the wisdom of simple sitting or not? Even if you struggle to appreciate it, you will appreciate it sooner or later. The doubts and confusion will gradually fall off. And you will realize that you have always been just like this and your zazen satisfying and complete.
Master Dogen says: Some people are buddhas and some people are ordinary beings. So naturally, I wonder how one becomes a buddha.
That's the whole secret of Buddhism. How one becomes a buddha? Becoming a buddha is not becoming a buddha. When you just sit, you are a buddha. When you think I am not a buddha, you are not a buddha, but at the same time you are a buddha. You can look at this problem from the idealistic point of view - becoming a buddha, the objective point of view / not becoming a buddha or just act and enter the truth that is beyond becoming and not becoming buddha and ordinary beings. So practicing zazen is supported by a philosophy, but that practicing is more important than that philosophy. By acting we complete the task, by thinking we encourage ourselves to complete the task, but we cannot complete it on the level of thinking. So if you wonder how one becomes a buddha, you will never find out completely. If you just act now, you have solved the problem beyond intellectual understanding.
Yes, but Buddhism is not something illogical or beyond intellectual understanding, is it? Master Nishijima says that it is always possible to explain all kinds of Buddhist aspects and master Dogen criticized the opinions of some Buddhists who said that Buddhism was beyond reasoning.
I have said that the final solution is beyond intellect but even that is my explanation that, as I hope, makes sense. So we explain logically something that has to be solved beyond logic. But everything that happens can be explained. Including putting a shoe on your head. That is something we can explain but someone has to put a shoe on their head. That's the problem.