Friday, May 16, 2008

What does Dogen mean? No monks were ever enlightened?

What was Dogen teaching us when he spoke about transmission?
Check this out:

"The veteran monk Shugetsu, while he was assigned to the post of head monk on Tendo, showed to Dogen a certificate of succession of Unmon’s lineage… Mahakasyapa, Ananda, and so on, were aligned as if [they belonged to] separate lineages... Dogen asked... "Master, nowadays there are slight differences among the five sects in their alignment [of names]. What is the reason? If the succession from the Western Heavens has passed from rightful successor to rightful successor, how could there be differences?" Shugetsu said, "Even if the difference were great, we should just study that the buddhas of Unmon-zan mountain are like this. Why is Old Master Sakyamuni honored by others? He is an honored one because he realized the truth. Why is Great Master Unmon honored by others? He is an honored one because he realized the truth." Dogen, hearing these words, had a little [clearer] understanding."(Shobogenzo, Shisho, Nishijima & Cross)

In the same essay, Dogen tells us about an encounter with his own teacher:

"My late Master, the eternal Buddha, the great Master and Abbot of Tendo, preached the following: "The buddhas, without exception, have experienced the succession of the Dharma. That is to say, Sakyamuni Buddha received the Dharma from Kasyapa Buddha, Kasyapa Buddha received theDharma from Kanakamuni Buddha, and Kanakamuni Buddha received the Dharma from Krakucchanda Buddha. We should believe that the succession has passed like this from buddha to buddha until the present. This is the way of learning Buddhism." Then Dogen said, "It was after Kasyapa Buddha had entered nirvana (Died--i.e. he was a dead guy) that Sakyamuni Buddha first appeared in the world and realized the truth. Furthermore, how could the buddhas of the Kalpa of Wisdom receive the Dharma from the buddhas of the Kalpa of Resplendence (i.e. since they were dead, how could the transmission come from them)? What [do you think] of this principle?" My late Master said, "What you have just expressed is understanding [based on] listening to theories. It is the way of [bodhisattvas at] the ten sacred stages or the three clever stages. It is not the way [transmitted by] the Buddhist patriarchs from rightful successor to rightful successor. Our way, transmitted from buddha to buddha, is not like that. We have learned that Sakyamuni Buddha definitely received the Dharma from Kasyapa Buddha. We learn in practice that Kasyapa Buddha entered nirvana after Sakyamuni Buddha succeeded to the Dharma. If Sakyamuni Buddha did not receive the Dharma from Kasyapa Buddha, he might be the same as a naturalistic non-Buddhist. Who then could believe in Sakyamuni Buddha? Because the succession has passed like this from buddha to buddha, and has arrived at the present, the individual buddhas are all authentic successors, and they are neither arranged in a line nor gathered in a group. We just learn that the succession passes from buddha to buddha like this. It need not be related to the measurements of kalpas and the measurements of lifetimes mentioned in the teaching of the Agamas... We learn that Sakyamuni Buddha succeeded to the Dharma of Kasyapa Buddha, and we learn that Kasyapa Buddha succeeded to the Dharma of Sakyamuni Buddha. When we learn it like this, it is truly the succession of the Dharma of the buddhas and the patriarchs." Then Dogen not only accepted, for the first time, the existence of Buddhist patriarchs’ succession of the Dharma, but also got rid of an old nest."(Shobogenzo, Shisho, Nishijima & Cross)

What does Dogen mean about getting "rid of an old nest." Is he saying we maybe grant too much significance to the theory of transmission? Does he want us to realize there is something deeper, more significant to transmission?

Both Dogen and his teacher seem to be going out of their way to show us that transmission has nothing to do with being "arranged in a line nor gathered in a group." It seems he may be warning us not to get caught up in systems of thought. He admits that he did not believe in transmission himself until his teacher finally was able to get the point across. Only then did "Dogen accept for the first time the existence" of transmission. He seems to be telling us to forget all the external BS, and penetrate into the living heart, that is the experiential reality of authentic transmission.

In Dogen’s voluminous teachings on transmission, he clearly seems to think that it has very little to do with lineage charts or certificates. Dogen usually describes transmission as "Buddha to Buddha," or as "oneself to oneself."

Of course, in Zen those phrases mean the same thing.

Dogen speaks of transmission as transmission of wisdom (prajna) by wisdom, to wisdom.

Remember Dogen’s explanation of transmission in the story of Hui-neng?

First, Dogen reminds us that Hui-neng, was never exposed to the "teachings" yet he was "suddenly enlightened" when he heard someone reciting the Diamond Sutra.

Dogen then says:"This is just the truth of those who have wisdom, if they hear [the Dharma], they are able to believe and understand at once. This wisdom is neither learned from other people nor established by oneself: wisdom is able to transmit wisdom, and wisdom directly searches out wisdom ... It is beyond coming and beyond entering: it is like the spirit of spring meeting springtime, for example. Wisdom is beyond intention and wisdom is beyond no intention. Wisdom is beyond consciousness and wisdom is beyond unconsciousness. How much less could it be related to the great and the small? How much less could it be discussed in terms of delusion and realization? The point is that although [the Sixth Patriarch] does not even know what the Buddha Dharma is, never having heard it before and so neither longing for it nor aspiring to it, when he hears the Dharma, he makes light of his debt of gratitude and forgets his own body and; such things happen because the body-and-mind of those who have wisdom is already not their own.This is the state called able to believe and understand at once... [people] are like a stone enveloping a jewel, the jewel not knowing that it is enveloped by a stone, and the stone not knowing that it is enveloping a jewel. [When] a human being recognizes this [jewel], a human being seizes it. This is neither something that the jewel is expecting nor something that the stone is awaiting: it does not require knowledge from the stone and it is beyond thinking by the jewel. In other words, a human being and wisdom do not know each other, but it seems that the truth is unfailingly discerned by wisdom."(Shobogenzo, Inmo, Nishijima & Cross)

What else could Dogen mean by, "wisdom is able to transmit wisdom, and wisdom directly searches out wisdom."?

This is one of Dogen's best descriptions of transmission. He breaks it down, showing that wisdom (prajna) is Buddha-Dharma (Buddhist truth). Hence, wisdom transmits wisdom and is received by wisdom. Transmission implies, a "transmitter" and a "receiver." So, Buddha to Buddha (or oneself to oneself) means that Buddha is both transmitter and receiver. Just as Hui-neng "received" the wisdom "transmitted" by wisdom (the Diamond Sutra).

That is the "ever-present nature of air" and "the action of fanning." That is Zen practice and enlightenment.

When the Zen practitioner opens him or herself to the wisdom transmitted by the wisdom (of Buddhas (yes, even dead ones), Zen masters, texts, koans, birdsong, raindrops, walls, stones, etc.), that practitioners own innate wisdom is actualized.

Like Dogen’s "jewel inside the rock." The jewel (wisdom) has been in the rock (human beings) from the start. As soon as the "rock" realizes this, the "jewel" is already transmitted. In his own words, "[When] a human being recognizes this [jewel], a human being seizes it." That is to say, transmission is the actualization of (inherent) wisdom.

We are drawn along the path of Zen by that wisdom within us, which is seeking actualization through practice and enlightenment. When we become intimate with the message of a sutra, or Zen sermon, wisdom is realized, that is, transmission occurs.

It is not that something "comes out" of a scripture or sermon and "goes into" people. The scripture or sermon activate what is already inherent. We can’t "learn" it or "understand" it, as Dogen said, "a human being and wisdom do not know each other, but it seems that the truth is unfailingly discerned by wisdom."

Isn’t this the meaning of Dogen’s teaching about "Buddhas alone, together with Buddhas?"

His writings are full of references about "only Buddhas realize Buddha." For example:

"The Buddha-Dharma cannot be known by people. For this reason, since ancient times, no common man has realized the Buddha-Dharma and no-one in the two vehicles (hinayana, and mahayana -to which Zen belongs) has mastered the Buddha-Dharma. Because it is realized only by buddhas, we say that buddhas alone, together with buddhas, are directly able perfectly to realize it."(Shobogenzo, Yui-Butsu-Yo-Butsu, Nishijima & Cross)

Pretty powerful statement. If no-one in the two-vehicles (which includes Zen monastics) has received the Buddha-Dharma... Well, it seems pretty clear that the "exoteric" theory concerning transmission from teacher to disciple is not what Dogen sees as the essence of transmission.

Correct me if you see another explanation here, but the way I understand Dogen's teaching on transmission is: the Buddha-Dharma (wisdom) is transmitted by Buddha (wisdom) and can only be realized by inherent Buddha-nature (wisdom).

If so, when Dogen says, "not a single lay person has ever realized enlightenment," we can understand that neither lay people nor monastics have realized enlightenment, for "it is realized only by Buddhas."

Of course it is easy to say that I don't know what I am talking about. Or tell me that I am way off the track-- and I expect that. But, what I would really like to say is, rather than telling me how wrong I am, please, share your own view and how you came to it.

Thank you all. Comments are most welcome!

Ted Biringer

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At May 16, 2008, Blogger Jordan said...

First off, this post is fit for human consumption.
(That is fine praise in Marine lingo)

There is an answer for this.
I think it might be worthy of a post on its own though.
I’ll see if I can cobble it together.

You might find it different from your thinking. But it is not unique.


At May 22, 2008, Blogger Ted Biringer said...


Thank you for your comment.

Are you implying that my other posts are not fit for human consumption?
(that is facetiousness in Merchant Marine lingo)


At May 23, 2008, Blogger Jordan said...

Ted, thank you for improving my vocabulary!!!


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