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Teacher’s Blog

Genjokoan #13: If Everything’s Okay, Why Do Anything?

[From the Genjokoan:] [The] Zen Master of Mt. Magu was waving a fan. A monk approached him and asked, “The nature of wind is ever present and permeates everywhere. Why are you waving a fan?” The master said, “You know only that the wind’s nature is ever present—you don’t know that it permeates everywhere.” The monk said, “How does wind permeate everywhere?” The master just continued waving the fan. The monk bowed deeply. The genuine experience of Buddha Dharma and the vital path that has been...

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Genjokoan #12: We Don’t Have to Be Other Than What We Are

 [From the Genjokoan:] When a fish swims, no matter how far it swims, it doesn’t reach the end of the water. When a bird flies, no matter how high it flies, it cannot reach the end of the sky. When the bird’s need or the fish’s need is great, the range is large. When the need is small, the range is small. In this way, each fish and each bird uses the whole of space and vigorously acts in every place. However, if a bird departs from the sky, or a fish leaves the water, it immediately dies. We...

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Genjokoan #11: The Nature of Truth

 [From the Genjokoan:] When the Dharma has not yet fully penetrated body and mind, one thinks one is already filled with it. When the Dharma fills body and mind, one thinks something is [still] lacking. For example, when we sail a boat into the ocean beyond sight of land and our eyes scan [the horizon in] the four directions, it simply looks like a circle. No other shape appears. This great ocean, however, is neither round nor square. It has inexhaustible characteristics. [To a fish] it looks...

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Genjokoan #10: The Individual Versus the Universal

 [From the Genjokoan:] When a person attains realization, it is like the moon’s reflection in water. The moon never becomes wet; the water is never disturbed. Although the moon is a vast and great light, it is reflected in a drop of water. The whole moon and even the whole sky are reflected in a drop of dew on a blade of grass. Realization does not destroy the person, as the moon does not make a hole in the water. The person does not obstruct realization, as a drop of dew does not obstruct the...

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Genjokoan #9: The Nature of Life-and-Death

 [From the Genjokoan:] Firewood becomes ash. Ash cannot become firewood again. However, we should not view ash as after and firewood as before. We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and has its own before and after. Although before and after exist, past and future are cut off. Ash stays in the position of ash, with its own before and after. As firewood never becomes firewood again after it has burned to ash, there is no return to living after a person dies....

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Genjokoan #8: The Paradox of Seeking, and Everything Is Moving

[From the Genjokoan:] When one first seeks the Dharma, one strays far from the boundary of the Dharma. When the Dharma is correctly transmitted to the self, one is immediately an original person. If one riding in a boat watches the coast, one mistakenly perceives the coast as moving. If one watches the boat [in relation to the surface of the water], then one notices that the boat is moving. Similarly, when we perceive the body and mind in a confused way and grasp all things with a...

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Genjokoan #7: Learning the Self

[From the Genjokoan:] To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be verified by all things. To be verified by all things is to let the body and mind of the self and the body and mind of others drop off. As Shohaku Okumura says in Realizing Genjokoan, the word translated as “to study” is narau, which means “to get accustomed to,” or “to become familiar with.” This isn’t intellectual study. To put it another way, “to become...

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Genjokoan #6: Our Experience of Absolute and Relative

[From the Genjokoan:] In seeing color and hearing sound with body and mind, although we perceive them intimately, [the perception] is not like reflections in a mirror or the moon in water. When one side is illuminated, the other is dark. Personally, I prefer the translation of the first sentence by Sojun Mel Weitsman and Kazuaki Tanahashi in the book Dogen’s Genjokoan: Three Commentaries (Counterpoint Press, 2012): “When you see forms or hear sounds fully engaging body-and-mind, you intuit...

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Genjokoan #5: What is the Nature of Awakening?

[From the Genjokoan:] Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded in realization are living beings. Furthermore, there are those who attain realization beyond realization and those who are deluded within delusion. When buddhas are truly buddhas they don’t need to perceive they are buddhas; however, they are enlightened buddhas and they continue actualizing buddha. Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Buddhas are awakened beings. We wonder what...

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Genjokoan #3: Mahayana Teachings and Dogen’s Take on the Great Matter

[From the Genjokoan:] When the ten thousand dharmas are without [fixed] self, there is no delusion and no realization, no buddhas and no living beings, no birth and no death. Since the Buddha Way by nature goes beyond [the dichotomy of] abundance and deficiency, there is arising and perishing, delusion and realization, living beings and buddhas. “When the ten thousand dharmas are without [fixed] self, there is no delusion and no realization, no buddhas and no living beings, no birth and...

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Genjokoan #2: The Basic Buddhist Teachings

[From the Genjokoan:] When all dharmas are the Buddha Dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, life and death, buddhas and living beings. Okumura explains that the first sentence here refers to the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha – basic Buddhism, in other words. To begin, then, let’s explore why the original Buddhist teachings are liberating. Essentially, they teach us that all things are impermanent, without an inherent, enduring self-nature, and therefore that no...

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The Power of Questions

Last Sunday we read chapter one, "Zazen as Inquiry," from Taigen Dan Leighton's Zen Questions: Zazen, Dogen and the Spirit of Creative Inquiry. Leighton writes: "What are we doing in zazen? Each of us have some question that somewhere back there was behind our wanting to engage in this Buddhist meditation. What question has led you to face the wall in zazen, what is this? There is a question that we each have to explore."

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The World Needs the Concept “Bodhisattva”

I hope that everyone who reads this will embrace the concept of a "bodhisattva" and share it widely, regardless of your interest in Buddhism, because I think it's what the world really needs. I've tried long and hard to come up with some way to translate the Buddhist term "bodhisattva" into something familiar, secular, and English, but I haven't had any luck. It takes whole sentences to describe what a bodhisattva is...

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Bursting the Mindfulness Bubble

A misguided practice of mindfulness can lead to an unfortunate restriction in my engagement with life - to the detriment of myself and others, particularly when it comes to social responsibility. It invites me to create a manageable mindfulness bubble around myself - reaching no further than my immediate surroundings, existing only this moment, and centered on my body...

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Zazen as Practicing Great Ease and Joy

Sometimes, when I find zazen challenging or dull, I engage it as a practice of trying to be completely joyful and at ease in this moment – just the way life is right now: in this body, with these aches, bad habits, and unfinished projects, in this moment’s confusing world that is so beautiful and terrible at the same time. This approach contrasts with practicing zazen in order to achieve joy and ease. When I’m meditating in order to obtain a result (such as relief from...

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