Monk In The World

To be a monk is to have time to practice for your transformation and healing. And after that to help with the transformation and healing of other people.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Puzzles and Practice


This serves to underscore a crucial point that Dogen makes again and again about the unity of practice-enlightenment; all the Buddhist teachings, like the vows, are real dharmas, real expressions of truth. As real dharmas, they are no other than our self. All the Zen warnings about getting tangled up in words and concepts are warnings to avoid reaching hasty conclusions as to what they mean. Any conclusion we achieve prior to experiential realization can only be arrived at via abstract speculation, and thus will inevitably be off the mark. Of course Dogen, like all the great Zen masters, taught that a careful study of the Buddhist scriptures and commentaries was essential for all practitioners, awakened or not:
When students are beginners, whether they have the mind of the Way or not, they should carefully read and study the Sagely Teachings of the sutras and shastras.
Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary, Collected Translations Vol. 4, p.796
Also in accord with the classic masters, Dogen urged us to carefully heed the cautions about conceptualization expressed in those very texts and teachings. This is especially crucial during pre-kensho study when the term “true nature” is as impossible for a Zen student to understand as the note b# would be to someone born deaf. This is one reason why awakening is associated with the terms “Dharma-eye,” “Buddha-eye,” “The eye-to-read-scriptures,” etc. This “eye” is also the eye Buddhas and Zen masters use to “see” whether or not a student has actually awakened; and it is the reason Dogen asserts that the authenticity of “Buddha ancestors” can be discerned by their “utterances” or “expressions.” Having experienced true nature, even a glimpse, one will be able to “say something” to verify it. Having actively engaged the “Dharma-eye” in practice-enlightenment for a year, one will be able to say more, ten years even more. Not having awakened to truth, one cannot be express truth.

Ted Biringer, over at, in discussing affirmation of Buddhahood, again reminds us of the dangers of words and concepts being perceived as the "truth" of things before we have an experience of realization. At the same time he reminds us that Dogen encourages the study of these words.
I have the picture of putting together pieces of a puzzle and all the pieces are blank but you continue to work on putting the puzzle together. Once you have an initial kenso experience, some of the pieces are given colors and forms in those colors. So we have to continue to piece the puzzle together, even when we have no idea about what form it is going to take. This is our continued study of Buddhist scriptures and commentaries, awakened or not. In the mean time we continue our practice, we continue our Zazen and all the other practices that will hopefully some day reveal our true nature, the complete puzzle. But even then, maybe we take that completed puzzle and throw all those pieces off the dining room table and start all over again. Nothing is permanent! Form is formlessness and formlessness is form!

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