“The Whole-Hearted Way”
Talk by Sensei Deirdre Eisho Peterson
Rocks Zen Circle
morning, everyone. It is good to be here
together on the first day of our ango.
Ango means peaceful dwelling, and it is a traditional practice for
sangha to come together to intensify and deepen our practice for certain
periods of the year. It’s a meaningful
way to start this new year, to help clarify for ourselves what is important in
our life as the year begins to unfold.
Any of the small steps we take to be more awake and more present can be meaningful. Our Shuso Paul developed a commitment form to
help us focus, and I encourage you to use that and reflect on it in the weeks
study text, Bendowa,
Master Dogen is focused on the practice of zazen. He says that the beneficial aspects of even
one person’s zazen can not be measured or even comprehended. That includes both what unfolds during our
actual practice on the cushion, as well as what comes forth from our zazen — the
ways that we are in the world, what we bring to the world and how we relate to
what happens, moment by moment. Dogen
tells us that even the most profound wisdom of the Buddhas cannot fully measure
the impacts of this as they ripple outwards.
Japanese title Bendowa has
been translated in a number of ways; the most widely used is “The Whole-Hearted
Way”. Also translated as The
Whole-Hearted Endeavor, or simply Practice of the Way. So to put our full energy and intention into zazen,
into practicing the Way.
important to remember here that zazen refers of course to the seated meditation
that we do …. but for Dogen, zazen is beyond a zabuton. The Zen teacher Barry Magid says: “What do we mean by zazen or just
sitting? Sitting means sitting, walking,
working, eating, speaking and being silent.
“Just” means that there is nothing in the world that is not
sitting. When we speak of just sitting,
we are not limiting ourselves to describing a certain posture. We are describing a way of being in the world
in which everything we encounter is fully and completely itself.’
is quite important when reading Dogen, and letting ourselves be immersed in
this mind. That zazen is encompassing, that it is a way of seeing, a way of
being in the world, in which everything is vividly whole and complete, and we are
not bound by our conceptualizations, thoughts and opinions about whatever we
experience. We hear this description and
it sounds like something far away, but this is just our own doubt that says our
own ordinary experience can’t be it.
In fact the sitting we have done this morning, the walk on the road, step
by step, breath by breath, things are vividly whole and complete.
wrote Bendowa in 1231, not long after
his return to Japan from his years of study and training in China. Apparently when he first returned to Japan he
wrote Fukanzazengi, which we have studied, which is
his instruction on zazen, on sitting meditation. The second piece Dogen wrote was
Bendowa. Bendowa is a further
elaboration of Fukanzazengi, in that it too is making a very strong case for the
essential function of zazen, for the primacy of zazen over other Buddhist
religious practices that were common in Japan at that time. Many scholars consider Bendowa to be a seminal
teaching, in that many of Dogen’s later writings are elaborations of ideas,
insights and themes that Dogen introduces in Bendowa.
is a dense piece of writing. It is not a
light read. But for our study group we’ll
have a handout that has a couple of translations, as well as commentary from
Uchiyama Roshi, and through our discussions I think the text will open up for
us. It’s important when we’re looking at
Dogen to just let some of his ideas wash over us, and not struggle with being
too literal to try to understand every word or sentence. His expression of the dharma is challenging
and lofty, but at the same time he is talking about something fundamentally close
to each of us. The Zen teacher Norman Fischer describes it this way: “In Bendowa, Dogen is saying that zazen
is returning to ourself, to the simplicity of being alive.” We’ll hear a lot about zazen and the self in
Bendowa, some of it expressed in difficult language, but I really appreciate
Norman Fischer’s perspective on Bendowa.
“Just to sit with no goal, and appreciate the feeling of being
alive, and that we share this with everything that is.” So the simplicity of just being alive.
So in Bendowa,
Dogen is expressing a cosmic, sweeping view of Buddhism and in particular the
power of zazen. For Dogen, zazen is a
manifestation of ultimate reality. Right
here in our zazen this morning, this is ultimate reality unfolding. He tells us that not even the Buddhas, with
their vast wisdom, can comprehend the far-reaching power of one person’s
zazen. Who knows how zazen may have
impacted your response to something …. how you treated someone … why you
did one thing instead of another. In a
world of constant and complex interconnectedness, Zazen can have very far-reaching
consequences that we cannot fully comprehend.
has the view that our zazen creates a kind of Buddha-field, in which as we
awaken, all things also awaken, and everything supports each other in
awakening. He writes that “earth,
grasses and trees, fences and walls, tiles and pebbles, all things in the
dharma realm, carry out buddha work. Therefore
everyone receives the benefit caused by this functioning, and all are
imperceptibly helped by this wondrous influence to actualize enlightenment.”
Dogen is saying all awaken together.
This echos Shakyamuni’s great awakening:
I, the great earth and all beings together awaken to the Way.” All awaken together is a vision of the Net of
Indra, of interconnection at the deepest level, of intimacy and a compassionate
unfolding. Modern man has often felt
alone and disconnected in an indifferent universe. Dogen’s perspective is a strong antidote to
this — he is referencing a vast cosmic blossoming outside of linear time in
which the nature of reality is awakening, and that all things are intimately
connected and participate.
that’s the point of view, the backdrop, of Bendowa. Let’s look at a couple of the key themes that
Dogen expounds on:
talks about wondrous dharma and about dharma transmission. In Bendowa, the reason Dogen gives for why
the dharma is called “wondrous” is because even though there is
nothing that can be “transmitted”, the dharma does somehow continue
and unfold across time. Here is Uchiyama
Roshi: “When people hear Wondrous
Dharma, they think that the dharma is something like a scroll on which some
kind of hidden mystery is written. They
imagine that this dharma scroll is transmitted from one person to another
secretly, and whenever one receives it, that person becomes great. This has nothing to do with what Dogen
meant. We should consider that in spite
of the fact that the dharma cannot be transmitted, it is somehow
transmitted. Thus it is called wondrous
because the dharma that cannot be transmitted in fact has been transmitted
right up to this moment, and is present right now.”
goes to say: “I am just me and you
are just you. Shakyamuni is just
Shakyamuni. There is no way that the
dharma was transmitted from Shakyamuni to Mahakashyapa, the second ancestor
…. yet the wonder of zazen is that although Shakyamuni is just sitting as his
true self, when Mahakashyapa sits zazen
in the very same way,he also becomes his true self,and dharma is completely
we sit, we also become our true self, this open field of awareness that has
this knowing sense of connection with all things. It’s a beautiful thing to feel that
connection with the ancestors as well, with all people across the centuries who
have taken a seat, just as we are taking a seat today, to really just be with
our experience, or more accurately, to just be our experience. Dogen
says that “even if only one person sits for a short time, this zazen is
one with all existence and completely permeates all time.”
sidebar to this ….. Barry Magid has an interesting perspective on this topic
of the dharma and transmission, and as usual he bring a very refreshing
perspective that helps to ground us and relieve us of any romantic fantasies we
may have about how practice in the past was somehow better or more authentic. Here are some important questions Barry
Magid raises for us on the mental baggage we may unintentionally carry around
words like “dharma” or “dharma transmission”:
Zen, or the dharma, or buddha nature, some entity in its own right that
timelessly exists apart from our own life?
Is the Dharma some pure, gem-like flame that that is transmitted from
generation to generation irrespective of the nature of the human candle that
carries it? Does the Dharma, unlike
everything else, have some unchanging essential nature that exists apart from
and is unsullied by its transitory human manifestation?
fact The Buddha Dharma is transmitted by and within the form of life of those
who realize and practice it, in the same way as art, music or poetry. It is inseparable from the life we lead. Let us remember that this was originally a
monastic lifestyle. Then Japanese Zen underwent a radical change when the
government decreed at the end of the 19th century that priests should marry and
temples be handed down within the family.
Now in America we have the integration of Zen practice with lay life,
which eliminates what was once the defining characteristic of the
monastic: home leaving. It is not realistic to imagine that we can
ever reproduce in our contemporary lives the training and experience of our
ancestors. The dharma for us can only be
Magid’s perspective affirms the integrity of our practice right here and
now. We study the ancestors, and texts
such as Bendowa, and we also study what contemporary teachers offer. Joko Beck and Dogen express the dharma in
very different ways. There’s no reason
to try to choose which is the real or authentic dharma and which isn’t …. our lives and our practice are enriched
by both. So this is something to
consider as we will frequently come across the words “Dharma” and “Dharma Transmission” in
is another aspect to Bendowa that I want to touch on, it’s a central part of
this text, in which Dogen is talking about the self. There is a term he uses, “jijuyu
samadhi.” We’ll be exploring this
in our Sunday discussions, but for this morning, let’s just look briefly at
these two words.
word samadhi is a pre-Buddhist Sanskrit word,
meaning concentration, absorption, such as we might experience in zazen when
our awareness becomes stable, when just following the breath can seem fully
absorbing and engaging, when we are rapt with attention. Samadhi is a state of consciousness that
arises, even briefly, when we step out of subject and object duality and there
is just the experiencing. There is not
me sitting here, hearing a sound over there.
There is just the sound arising. This is the world without any of our
conceptualizations about it.
this word Jijuyu
can be a bit more difficult. One
definition is “The spontaneous self-receiving enjoyment, circulating,
giving and receiving, self-fulfilling, naturally joyous samadhi.”. Now I don’t find that very helpful, and it
seems needlessly confusing. The way I
have come to understand this term jijuyu is the practice of returning to the
self. It is the self settling naturally onto
the self. Or, we could also say that it
is the practice of settling the shin, the heart/mind. It
includes having faith and trust in our Buddha Nature, which is ultimately what
Dogen is trying to give us in Bendowa.
Roshi has an interesting way of looking at this samadhi, that actually harkens
back to the Buddha’s Eightfold Path: he
says that Samadhi is Right Acceptance.
Right acceptance meaning deep acceptance of life, as it is in each
moment. Acceptance allows the self to
settle into the self, for us to return to ourselves. This is part of the key to this jijuyu
samadhi. That the self settles on the self.
Often our energies and attention are scattered.
Jijuyu samadhi is a way we collect ourselves instead of being scattered
and distracted. Even the way we walk in
kinhin is a manifestation of this. We
walk with awareness, with dignity …. we fold our hands deliberately, we take
our steps deliberately. It is a very
collected way of moving.
riding horses in the practice of dressage, the art of horsemanship, you want
your horse to be collected. The rider
gives the horse subtle cues so that the horse will tuck inward with his neck,
and its back becomes rounded and stronger and it can use more of its
power. This is a good analogy for us
with our sitting posture and walking posture.
Zen traditionally puts a lot of emphasis on posture because it is a way
for us to collect ourselves, for the self to settle on the self.
be looking at the etymology of this word jijuyu, but a literal translation refers
to the self that is receiving. Receiving
as in perceiving the ways things are.
There is a connotation with this of ease and enjoyment. There is also a sense of use, of application,
of what we receive is for using. In less
stilted lanugage, we might say that jijuyu samadhi is the flow, the
experiencing or sense of life as a flowing river that we are not separate from,
and that this is the self settling on the self.
to this word jijuyu is the connotation of enjoyment. So is our zazen experience always pleasant
and enjoyable? No, it isn’t. Sometimes the body hurts, and the practice of
zazen puts us right into that pain, without some of our usual ways of
distracting ourselves from difficult and unpleasant sensations. Sometimes our emotions, our life
circumstances, are also painful to be with. Nevertheless, Dogen says that Zazen
is the Dharma gate of ease and joy.
Zazen does not create ease and joy, not in our usual understanding of
those words, but zazen is the gateway into what is right here, right now, and
each time we put down our resistance, there can be this portal to the ease of
being awake and open to each moment.
Japanese master Katagiri Roshi had a way of talking about zazen that I think is
very much in keeping with what Dogen is trying to convey. He says, “All you have to do is settle
yourself on yourself. Concentrate on
zazen. Face each moment of time. Open your eyes and see all things vividly, as
they are, right now, right here. And whatever
it is that you do, do it wholeheartedly.”
yourself on yourself is what Dogen is guiding us towards. And we can include Katagiri’s word
“vividly.” Settle yourself on
your experience. Take the one seat. Breathe with attention. Let each thing that arises be completely
itself, and be vivid. Be awake for your
life. When we let each thing be vivid,
we are practicing wholeheartedly, we are practicing Bendowa.
~ ~ ~