Friday, May 30, 2008

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.

Comments Welcome!

Thanks,
Ted


Copyright Ted Biringer 2008

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6 Comments:

At May 30, 2008, Blogger Will said...

Ted, thank you so much for your kind words. Your orientation is helpful. I had not considered the space between the dew drop and the moon to be contained in the dew drop but of course. This analogy is so big.

 
At May 30, 2008, Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Hello Will,

Thank you for your comment.

Yes, this analogy is big, like you! Whitman said, "I am large, I contain multitudes." Cleary, this was during a phase when he was doing way too much Zazen. Ha!

Thanks again,
Take care,
Ted

 
At May 31, 2008, Blogger endofthedream said...

Very nice, very esoteric, Ted. While living in a zen monastery during fall 85 and spring 86 I studied this koan (Dogen is quite cool!).

Your analysis raises several points that I had not considered, and makes clear things that I had not previously understood. (In life, understanding is the booby prize I've been told! Ha!)

A scholarly and insightful job!

I was always troubled by the capping line, "The depth of the drop is the height of the moon," and, unfortunately, I don't find your analysis sufficient to clear up my lack of understanding (that could clearly be explained by the fact that I am sloooow).

In light of that, still, I will take issue with one of your comments (and I know that you prefaced this by enclosing the word "contains" in quotation marks). I'm cognizant of that.

OK. You write "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."

Here's my point: while observing with the magnifying glass, one is not seeing "all the space between the stars and the moon." What one is witnessing at that moment is a REFLECTION of those things, not the things themselves.

It is thus not really accurate to say that "all the space between the stars and moon is contained within" the drop of water. Reflected in the drop of water? Yes. But not equivalent or identical. (In a similar way we confuse our thoughts about reality with reality itself. The former is a reflection, and often a distortion, of the latter.) Just as when you look at your face in a mirror what you see is a reflection, not your actual face.

One other point. You write "The sky and the moon seen within the drop of water are seen as they are." Perhaps. But more often they are seen through the prism of the conditioning which sees them. Unless and until the conditioning falls away, nothing is seen as it is (including the genuine nature of one's "self").

~ Andy

 
At June 01, 2008, Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Hi Andy,

Thanks for your comments.

You are right about the shortcomings of my post. While I have been trying to shorten them up a bit, and this is just one section of Genjokoan, still I should try to be more accurate. I will try to remember this in future posts.

For now, I will try to fill in some of the gaps I left in regard to your observation where:

Andy wrote:
"...while observing with the magnifying glass, one is not seeing "all the space between the stars and the moon." What one is witnessing at that moment is a REFLECTION of those things, not the things themselves."

First, since we are using the "moon and sky within a dew drop" in an attempt to relate, or illustrate "enlightenment within a person," we should forget the perspective of the outside observer (the person with the magnifying glass), and put ourselves into the perspective of the dewdrop (the person experiencing enlightenment).

Now, if we take the perspective of a particular dewdrop (say dewdrop 927 on July 21, 1923, at 09:41 PM) what are we? Or perhaps better, what do we "seem" to be?

Sure, we can say, "Hey, the stars and moon are not really me. The stars and moon that I embody are not the REAL stars and moon, they are only reflections." Yet, the very moment you "remove" the REAL stars and moon, dewdrop 927 "dies", just as the bird and fish of the Genjokoan die as soon as they leave their element.

Now, there may be a "new" dewdrop (dewdrop 928), but it is not dewdrop 927 -- in Genjokoan terms, "we don't say summer turns into spring."

(Just a note, that dewdrop 928, as with every REAL dewdrop, will also "contain" (reflect) the stars and moon if they are in the sky, it is inherent to their nature.)

For a number of reasons (like the fact that we are constrained by the limits of language, and that this is only an analogy, and we must directly realize it ourselves, and I am a clumsy writer, and etc) the "moon and dewdrop" will fall far short of the actual experience of "enlightenment person." But all in all, Dogen's explication is pretty damn good.

A human is different than a dewdrop, but still, if we took away any of the REAL "things" of which we are "reflections" we too would die at once. In fact, Ted and Andy 927 are long gone now are they not? Where is 5 year old Ted of 1970? Even the Ted that wrote that last sentence is now gone, the Ted of this sentence is a conglomeration of a whole new set of reflections, Yes? No?

Andy 876849278001, wrote:

"One other point. You write "The sky and the moon seen within the drop of water are seen as they are." Perhaps. But more often they are seen through the prism of the conditioning which sees them."

Yes! William Blake says, "The tree the fool sees is not the same tree the wise man sees." (Or something close)

Andy 876849279564 wrote:

"Unless and until the conditioning falls away, nothing is seen as it is (including the genuine nature of one's "self")."

Right! And even then, we will not "know" it until we lose it; "Buddhas do not know they are Buddhas."

Thanks again Andy! I have missed reading you around here (and playing catch with nasty mud balls).

Take care,
Ted

 
At June 03, 2008, Blogger endofthedream said...

Hi Ted,

I find it lovely how aligned my programming is with your conditioning. It's sweet. :-))))


You wrote: A human is different than a dewdrop, but still, if we took away any of the REAL "things" of which we are "reflections" we too would die at once.


----->Is that not what happens? We don't have to take away any of the "REAL things." They arise and recede by whatever mechanism moves everything. As you point out in what follows, that is exactly what happens. ;-) I'm not really sure at all what, if any, are "the REAL 'things.'"


You wrote: In fact, Ted and Andy 927 are long gone now are they not? Where is 5 year old Ted of 1970? Even the Ted that wrote that last sentence is now gone, the Ted of this sentence is a conglomeration of a whole new set of reflections, Yes? No?


----->Absolutely.


Regarding my comment that the moon and stars are are seen through the prism of the conditioning which sees them......I recall the first time this notion really hit me: I'd been reading an interview on social activism with the nondual teacher Byron Katie. The conversation turned to George Bush and BK pointed out to the interviewers: "You invented him. Everyone has a different George Bush. No two people have the same George Bush." See? There is no "real" or "most real" GB. There is only the mental construction generated out of the conditioning which, for each of us, is somewhat different, and changing from moment to moment.


......from our previous exchange, I wrote:

Unless and until the conditioning falls away, nothing is seen as it is (including the genuine nature of one's "self")."

To which you responded: Right! And even then, we will not "know" it until we lose it; "Buddhas do not know they are Buddhas."

----->Yep. And it is a fanciful notion that the conditioning falls away once and forever isn't it? Such a belief-hope creates the notion of time, another delusion. As if what is "achieved" now can be, by some force of will, perpetuated to not-now. Who's will? And perpetuated how? Better, I think, to see through the conditioning right now. That's the best one can do. Next moment, next potential for dropping the conditioning. But to go into it with the hope that it will be "once and forever" seems rather naive to me.

To conclude, I offer a small excerpt from the Byron Katie interview that I alluded to above. You might enjoy it (or not):

Interviewer: It's so easy to get caught in the outrage of what's going on in the world. Large or small.

BK: And when you're outraged, how do you treat the people around you? How do you respond to your children when they need your attention? What kind of dictators are we?

Interviewer: So, you're saying that the source of one's action comes from a profound integrity rather than a reaction that comes out of anger or fury or some other emotion that causes opposition.

BK: Yes. And fury is fear. My responsibility is to let nothing hold me back, to let no belief hold me back from doing what I know to be good and kind and dear and what I would want for myself. And I would question any stressful thought that would hold me back or keep me thinking 'What about me?' Well, what about me? You know, eventually you come to see that we don't exist anyway. So, let me be there for people who actually believe there are people.

 
At June 05, 2008, Blogger Ted Biringer said...

Hello Andy,

Thank you for the comments.

Yes, I agree that we do seem to agree most of the time. Yet sometimes I sense a slight gap. In reading this latest comment I think I got a hint about where we seem to differ a bit. I will try to illustrate it by examining a short excerpt from your last comment, rather than point by point:

EXCERPT: from Andy's comment:

"Ted: A human is different than a dewdrop, but still, if we took away any of the REAL "things" of which we are "reflections" we too would die at once.

Andy: Is that not what happens? We don't have to take away any of the "REAL things." They arise and recede by whatever mechanism moves everything. As you point out in what follows, that is exactly what happens. ;-) I'm not really sure at all what, if any, are "the REAL 'things.'"

Ted: In fact, Ted and Andy 927 are long gone now are they not? Where is 5 year old Ted of 1970? Even the Ted that wrote that last sentence is now gone, the Ted of this sentence is a conglomeration of a whole new set of reflections, Yes? No?

Andy: Absolutely.

END OF EXCERPT

Okay, the sense I get from you sometimes (as above) is that "things", because they are empty, are unreal.

My understanding is that "things" because they are empty, are ultimate reality.

I get the sense that in your view "sages" are sages because they know that all things are "unreal."

In my view, sages are simply aware of the non-division of essential nature.

I think we agree that everything that arises from conceptualization is provisional, an abstraction from reality, and a mere mental abstraction cannot be construed as a real, independent entity. Any particular thing created by mental discrimination is necessarily partial, temporary, and dependent, a mere conceptual division of the ultimately indivisible void.

Yet you do not seem to agree that, for that very reason, the reality of EACH PARTICULAR THING is absolute and inclusive of all time and space. Because all particular things, from dewdrops to Buddhas, are actually partial aspects, or delineations of the one vast unnamable fathomless void, each particular thing contains and is contained by every other particular thing. Thus, every particular thing is ultimately real; Buddhas are real and ordinary beings are real, practice and enlightenment are real, sun, moon, and stars, animals, plants, and people, houses, cars, and power lines, even such things as dreams, ideas, and imaginary objects are ultimate reality itself. The five year old Ted is a real aspect of the vast unnamable fathomless void. Just as firewood becomes ash and does not become firewood again, but firewood is not "its" past, and ash is not "its" future. One of the "reflections" within the "ash" is "yesterdays (real) firewood."

A human being is not a human being, a human being is a concept created by arbitrarily abstracting a temporal aspect of the void and naming it, “human being.” In reality, a “human being” is not just something consisting of flesh and blood, that is born, abides for a certain amount of time, and then dies; in reality a human being is an indivisible aspect of the whole of space and time that we call “human being.”

Enlightenment is awareness of the REALITY of delusion, that is, its non-division. Delusion is simply the MISPERCEPTION OF REALITY, that is, perceiving divisions as real.

Do you see where I think we might differ? Or do you agree?

Thanks again,
Gassho,
Ted

 

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