The depth of the drop is the height of the moon
In Shobogenzo, Genjokoan Dogen offers an amazingly succinct and profoundly illuminating presentation of the Buddhist doctrine of mutual interpenetration and non-obstruction. Dogen manages to present the very heart of this labyrinthine doctrine with a simple analogy that illustrates what it is like for a human being to embody the entire universe. A person, he says, “contains” the whole universe (all time and space) like a single drop of water reflects (contains) the whole sky. In the words of the Genjokoan:
"A person experiencing enlightenment is like the moon being reflected in water: the moon does not get wet, and the water is not broken. Though its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected in a puddle of water an inch wide. The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in a dewdrop on a blade of grass and are reflected in a single drop of water."
If you go out into a field on a clear night with a magnifying glass and look closely at a single drop of water, you will see that it “contains” the moon, the stars, and all the space in-between. Likewise, each thing and each person contains all the many things of the universe. You cannot see them with an ordinary magnifying glass, however you can see them with the magnifying glass of Zen practice and enlightenment. In fact, seeing that reality is Zen. The Genjokoan continues this analogy:
"Enlightenment does not break a person, just as the moon does not pierce the water."
The reflection of the moon (and sky) does not “pierce” the drop of water. In other words, the drop of water is not altered (does not expand or change into something else) by containing the whole sky. It is in fact an inherent quality of the true nature of water drops to “contain” the moon. Similarly, “enlightenment does not break a person;” to contain all of space and time is an inherent quality of “a person.” The Genjokoan continues:
"A person does not constrict enlightenment, just as a dewdrop does not constrict the sky and moon."
The moon and sky do not “pierce” the drop of water, nor does the drop of water “constrict” the moon and sky. In Huayen Buddhism, the quality of “containing” is called “mutual interpenetration,” and the quality of “not constricting” is called “non-obstruction.” The sky and the moon seen within the drop of water are seen as they are. In the same way, an individual (person) contains but does not constrict the whole of space and time (and in fact, this is true of every particular, thing, time, and event). The Genjokoan continues:
"The depth of the drop is the height of the moon."
Looking at the drop of water with the magnifying glass you see that all the space between the stars and moon is contained within it, so too the space between the drop of water and the moon. In other words, although the drop of water is a fraction of an inch, you can see “down into” it for thousands, even millions of miles. You see the moon, then millions of miles (and light-years) deeper in the drop of water, there is the Big Dipper. As Dogen is using this analogy to illustrate the nature of a person experiencing enlightenment (oneness with all of space and time), the depth and height of enlightenment (all time and space) are contained within a person. As the Genjokoan says:
"Whether large or small, and whatever the length or shortness of its duration the whole sky and the whole moon are discerned in each body of water."
As with each “body of water,” each person, wise or deluded (large or small), whatever “its duration”, a one hundred-year-old man or a one-day-old baby, contains all space and time (the whole sky). Therefore, Dogen exhorts you to “discern” the myriad aspects of this reality. The moon, the sky, and the Big Dipper are just the beginning; there are whole galaxies to explore. Not only that, but the “longness and shortness of its moment” reminds you of the ongoing newness, or unfolding of it all. That is to say, the moon, the Big Dipper, and all the galaxies of today, are not yesterday’s moon, Big Dipper, and galaxies.
Copyright Ted Biringer 2008