Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Looking at Fukanzazengi.

Our group is reading and discussing Fukanzazengi.

Fukanzazengi or 'Universal Guide to the Method of Zazen' is an instructional text written by the thirteenth century monk Eihei Dogen (A.K.A. Dogen Zenji or Master Dogen). It's held as quite an influential text as Master Dogen is considered the founder of what is now the Soto school of Zen Buddhism in Japan (one of the two main schools, the other being the Rinzai Zen school).

The text offers both practical instructions for doing Zazen and a discussion of some important Buddhist philosophical points.

It starts like this:

"Now, when we research it, the truth originally is all around: why should we rely upon practice and experience? The real vehicle exists naturally: why should we put forth great effort? Furthermore, the whole body far transcends dust and dirt: who could believe in the means of sweeping and polishing? In general, we do not stray from the right state: of what use, then, are the tip-toes of training?"

Buddhism has a very optimistic view of human life. Buddhist philosophy states that we're originally perfect, that everything is perfect just as it is, that reality is real all the time, that our natural perfection can never be tainted... why then, Master Dogen asks, should we bother practicing Zazen, or following a philosophy/religion, or making efforts to be good and moral if this is the case?

The text continues:

"... However, if there is a thousandth or a hundredth of a gap, the separation is as great as that between heaven and earth; and if a trace of disagreement arises, we lose the mind in confusion."

Master Dogen answers his original question with this statement. He says that, although we are originally perfect, although we already embody the truth, there is a tendency for us to think in ways which effectively create separation, disagreement and confusion. We tend to think in terms of 'me' versus 'other', 'good' versus 'bad', 'like' versus 'dislike' etc etc etc... and so via our thinking we fracture the innate perfection-of-things-just-as-they-are and go off behaving in ways based on an erroneous view which assumes that our discriminative thinking represents some sort of substantial reality. The mind gets confused as generally we habitually think in this way creating sometimes very complex and ingrained patterns of thought which result in habitual behaviors and responses. This can cause us to suffer, to feel that things aren't really quite right, like we're missing something. Sometimes we might get exhausted by it and it might even seriously effect our health or our relationships to others.

"...Proud of our understanding and richly endowed with realization, we obtain special states of insight; we attain the truth; we clarify the mind; we acquire the zeal that pierces the sky; we ramble through remote intellectual spheres, going in with the head: and yet, we have almost completely lost the vigorous road of getting the body out."

This is a caution against replacing one type of confusion with another, that is, replacing ordinary, everyday confusion with the confusion of adopting Buddhism as a sort of mental escape or a form of cerebral self gratification. Master Dogen reminds us in the last line that Buddhist practice is a 'vigorous', tangible practice involving our body where we allow our discriminative thinking, and all thoughts (even nice, comfy religious ones!!!), to just come and go. In this way our body need no longer be 'pushed around' by what we think and want. The body 'gets out' of that situation for a time in the disciplined-but-relaxed upright sitting of Zazen.

In these opening paragraphs of Fukanzazengi Master Dogen has started with presenting a Buddhist philosophical view which he has contrasted with the real problematic situation of the general human condition. Next he points out that the optimistic Buddhist philosophical view is realistic... but only when it is enacted in our own direct practice.

More to come...