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...


  1. Harry,

    Great to see the "Long River Zen" blog.

    I like your first post. It reminds me of listening to Gudo Nishijima talk about Buddhism once. He said Buddhism says the universe is perfect just as it is, but our habits and thoughts often cause us to lose sight of that. So doing zazen and learning about Buddhism helps us to see the universe as it is.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog.



  2. Thanks Peter,

    Glad you summed it up in that nutshell!



  3. Great post and comments, Harry. It clearly got my thinker engaged. Is this good or bad, I'm not sure. [prescript added after writing the following]

    But it's more than "If you'd just stop seeing the world as bad, you'd see it as good."

    Speaking from my own experience (and granted I don't completely appreciate this concept of delusion), with zazen, *and* the intellectual games, I start to learn I have a mind that chooses, and it is that choosing that is a source of suffering, and that the choosing mind is really 'empty', and that there is a way for me to live in action, beyond the choosing mind, or at least to live in action from time to time (at least that's my theory. I make no claims to success yet).

    Buddhism is more than just the static fact that "we are already perfect but separated from it" but a practice (an action) in interacting with that separation and how we function with it, and perhaps even relaxing in the knowledge that we can not escape the separation entirely.

  4. Lauren,

    Thanks for dropping by.

    Master Dogen made some interesting comments about how the real situation may be more complicated than just a simple and obvious 'black' and 'white' set-up. He said something (I can't remember where at the moment) like we can 'turn the wheel [of dharma/truth] even as we are being turned'. In other words we can manifest the truth of our existence even as the unique circumstances of our life are carrying us along... or that's how I read it anyway.

    On the other hand, it may be that there actually is no substantial separation when we realise in a moment of sitting just what it is that creates the delusion of separation: 'Buddhas greatly realise delusion...' as it goes in Genjo-koan.

    In Zazen maybe our thinking can be realised as just what it is when we let it just come and go and don't employ it/manipulate it to make some unreal separation.



  5. Great idea for a blog Harry! I'll be following closely.

  6. Thanks for dropping in, Al.



  7. Nice way to kick off this blog.
    Look forward to more!

    Always lurking :)


  8. Hey Harry,

    great blog indeed! All the best to your group!