After training for nine years under the Rinzai teacher Myozen, Dogen Zenji made the difficult journey to China, where he studied with and became the Dharma successor (14th Patriarch in lineage to Dong Shan Liang Chieh (Tozan)); 24th in lineage in Transmission of the Light to Master Tendo Nyojo (Ju-Ching, 13th Patriarch) in the Soto Zen lineage. Considered the founder of the Japanese Soto School, Dogen Zenji established Eiheiji, the principal Soto training monastery, and is best known for his collection of Dharma essays, Shobogenzo.
Dogen was the founder of the Soto (T'sao Dong Ch'an) Lineage of Buddhism in Japan. He came from a noble family, but his life was unhappy and difficult, because his parents died when he was a very young boy. Their deaths lead him to contemplate the impermanence of life, and at the age of thirteen, he became a Buddhist monk.
Dogen didn't realize the truth of Zen for a long time. The difficulty of Zen meditation is not the training, but the letting go of preconceived ideas. The experience of the true self is a state of awareness that cannot be defined; words cannot express living reality. In the experience of the true self, there is no "I" no reference point whatsoever.
Dogen was troubled by one particular question: if all human beings are born with Buddha Nature, why is it so difficult to realize it? Dogen finally studied with Eisai, a Rinzai master, who told him it was a delusion to think in such dualistic terms as Buddha Nature. With this answer Dogen experienced Satori. Eisai lived for a few more months; Dogen became his disciple and stayed with him. After Eisai's death, Dogen remained with Myozen, Eisai's successor, for eight years, and received the seal of a master.
Despite his profound insights, Dogen felt he didn't have complete understanding, and therefore, went with Myozen to China to study more. He practiced Chinese Zen (Ch'an) with Master Ju-Ching in China, but mistakenly sat in a quietest way, which merely lead to notional emptiness condemned by H.H. The Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng. One day Master Ju-Ching was scolding another monk for sleeping, and said, "The practice of Zazen (Sitting Meditation) is the dropping away of body and mind. What do you think dozing will accomplish?" Upon hearing these words, Dogen became fully Enlightened. He suddenly understood that Zazen is not just sitting still, but it is the "I" opening up to its own Reality. When preconceived ideas are abandoned, one experience the true nature of mind; life is experienced directly, non-dualistically, without ego interfering. He made the following comments about his experience:
"Mind and body dropped off; dropped off mind and body! This state should be experienced by everyone; it is like piling fruit into a basket without a bottom, like pouring water into a bowl with a pierced hole; however much you may pile or pour you cannot fill it up. When this is realized the pail bottom is broken through. But while there is still a trace of conceptualism which makes you say 'I have this understanding' or 'I have that realization', you are still playing with unrealities."
See also: ENLIGHTENMENT: Can You Do It?
Four years later, when Dogen returned to Japan, he said, "I have come back empty-handed. I have realized only that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical." From this empty clarity came the great Soto sect of Japan. Dogen taught a way of sitting called Shikantaza, "shikan" means nothing but, "ta" means to hit, "za" means to sit. Shikantaza has remained the basis of Soto Zen up to the present; it unites the means can end of sitting meditation. There is no means to an end, because the end is now. The act of sitting itself is the actualization of Buddha Nature or Being. The meditation does not strive for Satori, but has faith on the teacher and teachings, and trusts that realization will come as a result of sitting practice. Dogen gave the following meditation instructions:
In doing Zazen it is desirable to have a quiet room. You should be temperate in eating and drinking, forsaking all delusive relationships. Setting everything aside, think of neither good nor evil, right nor wrong. Thus, having stopped the various functions of your mind, give up even the idea of becoming a Buddha. This holds true not only for zazen but for all your daily actions.
Usually a thick square mat is put on the floor where you sit and a round cushion on top of that. You may sit in either the full or half lotus position. In the former first put your right foot on your left thigh and then your left foot on your right thigh. In the latter, only put your left foot on your right thigh. Your clothing should be worn loosely but neatly. Nest, put your right hand on your left foot and your left palm on the right palm, the tips of the thumbs lightly touching. Sit upright, leaning to neither left nor right, front nor back. Your ears should be on the same plane your shoulders and your nose in line with your navel. Your tongue should be placed against the roof of your mouth and your lips and teeth closed firmly. With your eyes kept continuously open, breathe quietly through your nostrils. Finally, having regulated your body and mind in this way, take a deep breath, sway your body to left and right, then sit firmly as a rock. Think of non-thinking. How is this done? By thinking beyond non-thinking and thinking. This is the very basis of Zazen.
Zazen is not a 'step-by-step' meditation. Rather it is simply the easy and pleasant practice of a Buddha, the realization of the Buddha's wisdom. The truth appears, there being no delusion. If you understand this you are completely free, supreme law will then appear of itself, and you will be free of weariness and confusion. At the completion of Zazen move your body slowly and stand up calmly. Do not move violently."
In this meditation posture, the full lotus position provides a wide, solid physical base; both knees touch the mat to provide body stability. The rock-like, immobile body posture calms down the mind and brings tranquillity. Meditators are given a breathing technique to focus the mind. Beginners count the inbreaths and outbreaths, the count goes from one to ten, and then starts all over again. In this technique, the mind has nothing to feed on, play with, analyze, or hold on to. Thoughts will naturally come and go, and Dogen's advice was to place each thought in the palm of your hand. In the more advanced Shikantaza, the counting of breaths is left behind, and the tamed mind abides in effortless concentrated awareness. The awareness is the unmoving center of all movement: "Abandoning thinking and doing, is nothing other than every form of doing and acting," Dogen said.
Dogen's Soto school taught that sitting in Zazen was entering the flow of each moment by dropping from the mind the concepts of past, present, and future. Life is one and its flow of movements and events should not be held to or dominated to create illusions of permanence. All moments and all actions, whether they are important, insignificant, fascinating, or boring. -- are seen as the actual realization of Buddhahood. The Soto school's Shikantaza helps one realize this moment now. In the Shobogenzo, Dogen said that it was useless to fix one's hopes on a goal.
"When a fish swims, it swims on and on, and there is no end to the water. When a bird flies, it flies on and on, and there is no end to the sky. There was never a fish that swam out of the water or a bird that flew out of the sky. When they need just a little water or sky, they use just a little; when they need a lot, they use a lot. Thus, they use all of it in every moment, and in every place they have perfect freedom.
Yet if there were a bird that first wanted to examine the size of the sky, or a fish that first wanted to examine the extent of the water, and then tried to fly or swim, it would never find its way. When we find where we are at this moment, then practice follows, and this is the realization of the truth. For the place, the way, is neither large nor small, neither self nor other. It has never existed before, and it is not coming into existence now. It simply is as it is."
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Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
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