October 6, 2011

Master Dogen Stepped on Dry Shit

In his Enlightenment Day jodo, a dharma talk on Buddha's awakening, master Dogen said:  

Whether Buddha is present or not present, I trust he is right under our feet. Face after face is Buddha's face; fulfillment after fulfillment is Buddha's fulfillment.

Last night, this mountain monk [Dogen] unintentionally stepped on a dried turd and it jumped up and covered heaven and earth. This mountain monk unintentionally stepped on it again, and it introduced itself, saying, "My name is Shakyamuni." Then, this mountain monk unintentionally stepped on his chest, and immediately he went and sat on the vajra seat, saw the morning star, bit through the traps and snares of conditioned birth, and cast away his old nest from the past. Without waiting for anyone to peck at his shell from outside, he received the thirty-two characteristics common to all buddhas, and together with this mountain monk, composed the following four line verse:

Stumbling I stepped on his chest and his backbone snapped,
Mountains and rivers swirling around, the dawn wind blew.
Penetrating seven and accomplishing eight,
bones piercing the heavens,
His face attained a sheet of golden skin. 

I'll try to explain this bizarre story. 

Firstly, it is necessary to note that the connection between Buddha and the turd comes from the mouth of the Chinese Zen master Ummon, who, upon being asked "What is Buddha?" replied: "Dry shit on a stick". The stick he meant was a special toilet instrument for cleaning the remote parts of our body. Therefore, before we criticize master Dogen for his rather vulgar insults and comparisons,  we should realize that he is making a link to master Ummon, whom he honored very much. To understand Dogen's bizarre story we must first understand the koan, a story in which the master Ummon says that Buddha is the same as dry shit on a stick. Master Ummon simply says that Buddha is the same as reality before our eyes. If there is dry shit    on a stick right in front of our eyes, then reality is just dry shit on a stick. Thus Buddha is dry shit on a stick. If it still seems disrespectful, imagine how the historical Buddha taught somewhere: "I'm mountains, rivers, forests, skies, clouds, grass, all living and non-living beings, earthworms, sand, wind, rocks, but certainly I'm not shit. And certainly not shit on a stick, something you wipe your ass with."  When  Buddha attained enlightenment, he said that together with him all things and all beings attained it. Enlightenment means to wake up to reality and reality does not exclude anything, so even a dry turd on a stick is necessarily a part of the enlightened reality. 

When master Dogen accidentally stepped on a dry turd, it jumped up and covered heaven and earth. This means that when in the present moment we do something, the fact just jumps up, no matter if you like it or not and becomes something unlimited. Most people are not interested in this vivid activity of reality. When master Dogen stepped on the turd again, the reality introduced itself as Buddha Shakyamuni. For Dogen, reality that jumps up is  Buddha Shakyamuni. So Dogen heard the reality introduce itself: "Hello, I'm Buddha." If we understand Buddhism as teachings of one great enlightened sage that is far beyond the ordinary character of common people, we cannot grasp that essentially Buddha Shakymuni's  awakening is reality that penetrates the person, which is the same as the state identical with reality. It is just reality, beyond subject and object. This means that to become a buddha means to become real. When the turd introduced itself as Buddha, it meant in other words: "Look, I am reality itself. I am that which Buddha realized and penetrated and was penetrated by thoroughly." And when Dogen stepped on the shit for the third time, the Buddha - reality opened the door to Buddha - reality, Buddha became Buddha, without having ever been far from being Buddha. By doing so, Buddha transcended the rigid understanding of the world and self and attained complete freedom at that moment. Without waiting for anything or anyone to confirm that experience, he became perfectly himself, he became Buddha, without having to change the reality of his original self and there was no need to add anything more to that complete state. 

And why did that happen several hundred years after the historic Buddha actually attained his awakening?   Why did Dogen claim that the shit jumped on the diamond seat and attained enlightenment during Dogen's lifetime and not a long, long time before Dogen was born? It is because Buddha's awakening doesn't depend on time and space, it is something that happens over and over again in each moment, right now, here, in your room, with all the things that you consider impure or unelightened. No matter where we go, no matter how strange we feel and no matter how dusty the surroundings, as long as reality jumps up in front of our eyes, it says: "Hello, My name is Buddha".  The quality and nature of reality is beyond the limited understanding of traditional science which has such a strong effect on the way we perceive reality. We consider it something logically built, something that can be explained logically, but we - as long as we rely on words and logic - only make intellectual patterns in our own minds. Yet, we can use words and logic to explain how to transcend the limited world of words and logic. So it is necessary to study the explanations of Buddhist masters rationally and precisely.  

This suddenly enlightened Buddha, together with Dogen, wrote a poem. Why did Buddha write it together with Dogen? We could say Dogen wrote the poem together with Buddha - reality, or in other words, Dogen, being one with reality, composed a poem. 

Finally, in his poem, Dogen describes how one penetrates and is penetrated by reality where the person and reality here and now is one thing. Dogen considers such a state excellent. So he uses words like "golden".  But the excellence of that state is not something out of this world. It is excellent because anyone can experience this without having to become a special person, without having to become a buddha, as we become a buddha whenever we just let reality be what it is, without discrimination. When a person goes beyond the dualistic understanding of the universe, just simply acting at the present moment, it is the same as Buddha appearing here and now, which is great, isn't it? To Dogen, such a person is excellent, no matter if the form of that person-experience is a noble face or dry shit.   


1 comment:

Mike Luetchford said...