June 24, 2012

Translating Gaku Do Yo Jin Shu

My teacher Mike asked me to translate Master Dogen's Gaku Do Yo Jin Shu into Czech. It is a very important text as it explains how to establish the will to the truth, in other words how to establish the right attitude towards studying and practicing Buddhism.

The text, as most Dogen's texts, sounds very serious, very important. As in most texts master Dogen wrote, he is very serious about the right Buddhist path, practice and study. He is very critical of all kinds of wrong non-Buddhist opinions. These days people don't like to hear that something is right and something is wrong when it comes to Eastern philosophy and meditation. But for master Dogen, Buddhism is a very serious matter, I would even say a matter of life and death.  So if it is so serious, it is absolutely important for him to study exactly what Buddhism is, to practice it according to ancient masters and study it with a true teacher.

So I'd like to try to have an interview with myself about this text and its meaning. I am translating it and you might be able to find this text somewhere or if you ask my teacher to send you a copy, but I am not allowed to publish the English version here due to copyright. So I can only chat about it.

Why does master Dogen insist on studying and practicing Buddhism exactly? These days people like to read a bit about Buddhism, study a bit, practice zazen or other meditation just the way they like and don't want to bu pushed. Why should anyone like to follow exactly what a master said? 

There are people in this world who desperately look for the truth. There are also people who are very sincerely interested in the truth and enjoy the practice and study that enables them to experience the truth. Buddha Gautama was definitely interested in the truth and did his best to find it. He found it only after he left some ascetic teachers. So he could see the difference between his experience and what the ascetic teachers taught. And all his successors and our ancestors like Nagarjuna and Bodhidharma and Dogen, etc. could see that what Buddha found was something unique and different from other Indian philosophies or Chinese philosophies. So our ancestors made sure that Buddha's experience and teaching was transmitted correctly until these days. But such excellent and genuine transmission would not have been possible if the ancestors had some kind of "whatever" attitude. This so called "tolerance" in religious circles is false and insincere if it prevents people from finding Buddha's truth.  If we maintain that Buddhism is whatever is based on some kind of meditation and philosophy of peace and kindness, then we don't have to study Buddhism at all. Then it is enough to read some paragraphs about meditation and peaceful mind and call ourselves tolerant. Of course, you can practice some kind of meditation and act politely and gently, but that is hardly any solid basis for Buddhist practice and study. It is actually not a basis for Buddhist study and practice at all. So master Dogen wrote this text to tell people exactly what it takes to learn and practice Buddhism.

It sounds like there is something wrong or silly about people who just practice some kind of meditation and read books about Buddhism without being interested in this severe, correct direction that master Dogen established. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with practicing meditation or reading books about Buddhism. But it would be silly to claim that we know what Buddhism is or that we practice Buddhism just because we have this free meditation experience and some fragments of knowledge about Buddhism. Plus, Buddhism is not the only way how to experience the truth. That is not the problem. But through zazen and studying Buddhist philosophy correctly we can experience just what Buddha Gautama experienced. For most people it is difficult to realize what the truth is through playing sports or cooking or growing plants. Although we are all enlightened and fully realize the universal law every day, most of us have no clue what the truth is and how it could be realized. So Buddha Gautama discovered something we call the Buddhist truth which is not something special, separate from the experience of ordinary people, but on the contrary, it is the discovery of universal truth in our ordinary life. This is what we call the Buddhist truth. But just to write or read what it is, we are far from realizing it.

Why is it necessary to realize it when we have already realized it even before we began to practice zazen? 

We can feel free to be trapped in secular problems and pursue all kinds of ideas and theories, but once we want to follow Gautama Buddha's teaching and practice, we have to cut off our old opinions and confidence in order to establish the will to the truth, which is our decision to study and practice Buddhism the way our ancestors did, with genuine and sincere attitude, with open mind but strong determination.

This all sounds kind of military. Like we are soldiers, shut up and do what they tell you to do.    

Yes, when we are not sure what our life is about and we really really want to find out, then we need very firm and clear directions. So master Dogen or other masters and teachers may sound like dictators, but they are just sincerely telling us what the direction is, with confidence, but with great care and compassion. They are like surgeons' whose cut must be precise and clear. If master Dogen sounded liberal and tolerant, nobody would be able to follow his teaching and find the right direction to the truth. If you think there are all kinds of opinions and different people have different experience of the truth, then you have absolutely no chance to have a slightest clue what Buddhism is about. The interesting part is that once we follow the directions sincerely and consistently, we are making friends with complete satisfaction and freedom. To follow the directions means to learn to transcend Buddha's words and experience what is beyond words. That is realizing our original freedom. So there is nobody or nothing that has to be freed. The universe is free anyway. But we can only realize this freedom that is beyond self and no self, beyond myself and the universe, when we transcend the difference between me and the universe and me and the others.

Master Dogen insists that it is important to have a balanced mind when we study and practice Buddhism. And then he says it is important to have balanced physical actions. But at the same time he says that Buddhism is not about having a great enlightened mind or great knowledge. Can you explain that? 

Mind is something master Dogen deals with a lot in all his teachings. He is very critical of those "non-Buddhist" opinions about mind and explains what mind is to a Buddhist. He insists that in Buddhism we should not try to attain some kind of great mind, enlightened mind or intellectual mind. Instead we should practice balanced mind. But that is just the balance of body and mind, The two are not separate, and Buddhist practice is making the body and mind balanced, together, not separate. So not some kind of enlightened mind, but enlightened body and mind, which is not different from the enlightened universe. In other words, when we are not separate from the universe, we are not separate from the truth. When our body is not balanced with the mind or when the mind is more important or stands out as something special, then we have already left the Buddhist truth and according to master Dogen became non-Buddhist or lazy dogs etc.  So it is absolutely necessary to make sure that our body and mind are not separate from each other and that they are not separate from the universe. Dropping body and mind is just dropping the difference between body and mind, which is not different from balanced body and mind. This all sounds very complicated but is practiced very simply and realized very simply. Just when we do something wholeheartedly the separate mind is dropped, the separate body is dropped, the balance is established and the universe is fully realized. So after all, what master Dogen insists on is just that we have to do things simply and directly, without making our mind something special, enlightened or separate and without looking for something special, enlightened or different.

Master Dogen insists on dropping self or leaving selfish ideas or goals, but your teacher says that self is something real, something we cannot deny.  

Master Dogen never denied that there is an individual aspect to our existence, in other words we have some kind of self that can be recognized as something individual. What he means is that we tend to see reality in dreams and we tend to consider our self something that it is not. So even if you call me Roman, what is that name? Even if I have a separate body and my own brain that can be pointed to, it is impossible to realize fully what this body is without making a mistake. It is impossible to place my mind here or there. So although my name is Roman and I live in Prague and I am not somebody else, true self is not separate from the self of the universe. This is important to realize and accept but it is not necessary to deny that we have some kind of individual existence. Just that this individual existence, or subject, is impossible to cut from the universal self, or the universal truth. So master Dogen insists that once we want to practice Buddhism and study Buddhism, we have to realize that this self is not just a simple body or a simple mind or a name or a situation in our lives. This self is no self and at the same time it is real experience beyond subject and object. So I exist, but my experience is beyond subject and object, beyond words, ineffable. I cannot grasp it, you cannot grasp it, we can only experience something true, that's all.

Master Dogen also says something about cutting emotional bonds. But you often say that masters like Ryokan or Ikkyu were very emotional, sometimes very sad. Master Dogen says that a true Buddhist master should not be stuck in some emotional states.   

Master Dogen tried to point to something beyond our emotional problems. The Buddhist truth itself is beyond our emotional problems but at the same time our emotional problems, or our delusions, are where we practice Buddhism. So for example when we are sad or angry and sit down and practice zazen, we can feel sad or angry even during zazen, but at the same time we are expressing our Buddha nature through sitting  quietly in zazen and not making faces or crying. We place our Buddhist practice in the midst of delusions and emotions and we may struggle. But just as we do our best and come back to this present moment and sit quietly, we confirm that we have transcended our emotional state and have expressed our Buddha nature perfectly.  When master Dogen says that true teachers should not be stuck in some kind of emotional states he means that they should be able to transcend these states through simple actions. Just by putting a cup on the table or by bowing or by explaining Buddhism, our masters and teachers have transcended their emotional states. By being sincere in every moment, while crying or raising their voice, they transcend the emotional states through simple actions and caring. Only teachers who cannot transcend this state and hate somebody all the time or love somebody all the time without being able to do something directly and expressing their true nature, such teachers cannot teach Buddhism as they cannot find the truth under the thick cover of their emotions that they consider more important than reality here and now. Only if a teacher hates somebody or loves somebody without being able to transcend such a state, they cannot teach Buddhism and have to find a good teacher who will show them how to act simply and freely again. So we do not have to try to get rid of anger or sadness and imitate some kind of Buddhist image, rather we should try to not lose our contact with reality even if we fall in love or become angry. Even if I fall in love, I am trying to see what is in front of me and lead my ordinary life. Even if I fall in love or become angry my zazen practice wakes me up and I do not have to be stuck in some kind of never ending delusion.

So it is okay to fall in love or be angry? 

We do not practice and study Buddhism to encourage ourselves to fall into different secular problems, but we should not forget that it is ridiculous to try to get rid of our natural tendencies like falling in love or wanting sex or becoming angry. This kind of mud or samsara is the world in which we place our zazen practice and our philosophical studies of Buddhism. We cannot get rid of delusions but we can transcend them in practice and in our everyday life, doing whatever is necessary to do and then we can enjoy the freedom of this liberated state. But we should not try to make some kind of awakened, enlightened mind that cannot be tricked or charmed. Just return to reality over and over again and don't worry about past dreams and emotional states. When we fall in love, we can observe the state and find the truth within this state. We can transcend the state and learn to have a balanced relationship with our partner. We can try to give and receive and wobble between giving and getting. We don't have to be selfish or altruistic. But the most important thing is that prior to falling in love we establish a balanced relationship with the universe. Then we can place our love in this balanced universe and feed it with some sense of reality. So it is based on simple actions and following the truth rather than being some kind of dream separate from reality.  


June 9, 2012

Responsibly Free - Part I.

This is a chat about freedom that we can discover through Buddhist practice and study. I will probably continue this chat later, so this is part I.  

What is the relationship between a teacher and a student?

For years I thought a teacher was  someone superior, an authority, a responsible person, like a father or mother. He or she can tell me exactly what to do in my life, what wisdom is, what the truth is. Lots of Buddhists look at Buddhist teachers like that - to them they are authorities: extremely mature and wise people who have sorted their life out completely and live peacefully and in perfect harmony with the world.  But thanks to Mike, my current teacher, I learned a new perspective on this problem.

What have you learned? 

Firstly, a Buddhist teacher is not a superhuman being who has no desire, no problems and doesn't have to deal with everyday life challenges. And they are definitely not some kind of authority when it comes to how you personally should live and solve your problems. They are not some kind of moralist judges and do not have a secret key to the truth that you only hope to borrow from them one day. This woman accused Brad Warner of not being adult enough and responsible enough to deal with his teacher's role seriously. It's because this woman thinks that a Buddhist teacher is someone higher than the rest of us. I remember we used to have a similar kind of head teacher at high school. She acted as if she was a prefect person, knowing the truth about the world and what is right and wrong. So for most students she was a kind of perfect authority, but I didn't like her because I felt she only pretended she is the right person but in fact she lacked that wisdom and knowledge she pretended to have. Of course, today, after 25 years I am sure she was wrong in many aspects. For example she believed in communism but that system later failed and had lots of moral issues. She predicted that I would not be able to study at university but I graduated from university successfully later. So why should we take anyone in the world as a final authority and a moral reference point who will tell us what is right and wrong and how we should change and become similar to them? There are not such people at all.  Kodo Sawaki once said: There is nobody I can admire.  

Aren't there any teachers with useful values, aren't there no guides when it comes to learning what our life is about, what the truth is?  

I mean there are excellent guides, master Dogen was a great teacher, Brad Warner is a great Buddhist philosopher and his writing and life is a great inspiration, it is something that very clearly points to reality. But being a teacher means exactly that  you are a guide, not a dictator, not a moral reference point, not a final authority. If you believe a person could be a moral model and a final authority, that is something very clearly linked to fanatic sects.

Are you saying we cannot rely on anyone when it comes to learning what the truth is, or what is right and wrong? 

After all, we have to find the truth by ourselves. We can only rely on such a teacher who will help us find the truth by ourselves. So we can rely on the fact that we have access to the truth in this very moment.  Going to a Buddhist teacher, asking for the truth, is like going to buy beer with a jar that is filled with delicious beer already. So a good teacher has to point to that jar and say : Look  look,  already there. But of course, a Buddhist teacher may be very well experienced in Buddhist philosophy and help us understand a lot of Buddhist issues, which are actually a practical issues of life and death. No matter what we learn from him or her, it will be about our actual life and how to live it and that is something we have to do on our own.A teacher cannot be responsible for our own decisions. If anything, we have to learn to be responsible for our own actions. He or she may give us some kind of tips, but rather he or she will tell us about their own experience which could be very different from ours. So we have to do something on our own. My teacher Mike has been teaching me how to look after my own life and my own problems on my own. Actually, when I met Mike I thought I should change a lot of things about myself. Now I feel completely free. But much more responsible. How is that?