[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 buddhas are like, and what awakening is life. We imagine that if we are awakened we will “wake up to” some great reality that’s different from the reality we already know. We imagine we’ll see in what way everything is perfect just as it is, or how all is one and we are not separate from anything, and therefore we’ll feel inspired to shed our egocentricity and self-concern.
But in a moment of awakening there is only awakening to the way we obscure reality from ourselves – therefore each person’s path is their own, and unique. We are not awakening to a great abstract philosophical view, we are waking up from our own self-imposed dream.
Those who are greatly deluded in realization are living beings.
There is a difference in our subjective experience in a moment of awakening, and in a moment when we are just a living being – that is, caught up in believing in our self-imposed dream. This is being greatly deluded. Sometimes the dream is pleasant, sometimes it’s not.
And yet even when we are deluded we are in realization. What does this mean? If we don’t realize, what does it mean to be in realization, and what good does it do us? Who is realizing what?
If in the moment of awakening there is no one to realize – there is just life as it is, a complete whole – realization is not something that happens to people. It’s simply true reality. It doesn’t really make sense to talk about “being in” realization this way, with no one to realize, but because of true reality there always exists the potential of realization. We are constantly surrounded by the stuff of realization.
This is like the old Buddhist story of the man with the jewel sewn inside his cloak. While he’s sleeping at a friend’s house, the host sews a valuable jewel into his cloak. The cloaked man then wanders for many years, slipping into deep poverty and despondency. Eventually he visits his friend again, only to have the friend show him how was carrying wealth with him all the time, sewn into his cloak. The man had lived as if he was poor even though he was wealthy. There was a big difference in his subjective experience before and after realizing his wealth, but the reality had not changed.
When we are living in poverty despite the jewel in our coats, we are living beings. This is not pejorative, it’s just an observation.
Furthermore, there are those who attain realization beyond realization and those who are deluded within delusion.
Dogen can’t be satisfied with a tidy analogy. If he left us with buddhas realizing delusion and living beings being deluded about, or in, realization, that would be too easy. We’d fall into dualistic thinking, wondering if we’re really awake or not, or whether we’ve found the jewel in our cloak or not. Am I a living being at this moment, or a buddha? Oh, I guess if I’m thinking about it, I’m a living being.
So he goes further: the moment we become aware of awakening, we inhabit the world of living beings again. Just being, moment after moment, is realization beyond realization.
And then we may pity ourselves because we’re just living beings at any given moment, but if we know there are moments of awakening, we are not completely deluded. At other times we are lost in delusion and believe that’s all there is in life – this is being deluded within delusion.
When buddhas are truly buddhas they don’t need to perceive they are buddhas;
This is really about what we hope for: that we will reach oneness or awakening or whatever and be able to know it – to contrast our experience as a buddha with that of our experience as a living being and say, “Oh, this is much better.” When we are living beings we imagine that when we manage to become buddhas we will be fundamentally better people, or in possession of something special. But this is not the nature of awakening.
However, we don’t need to perceive we are buddhas, or awakened, in order for buddhahood or awakening to be wonderful, essential, and worthwhile. That’s all we care about, after all. This is why Dogen says need, not just “they don’t perceive they are buddhas” – which is also true, but not the point here, because:
however,[even though they do not perceive they are buddhas] they are enlightened buddhas and they continue actualizing buddha.
Somehow, being awakened does not involve a consciousness of being awakened, but there is still awakening. Think about this. How can this be? How can we be awake without having a sense that “I” am awake? Sometimes we lose our sense of self-consciousness in activity, entertainment, or thinking, but then we cannot be said to be awake in this liberative sense.
How can we be awake – engaged, aware, alive, ready – without self-consciousness? This is our koan, or the big question in our Zen practice. We explore this question for ourselves in our zazen, in retreats, in our daily lives. It’s because this question is so central that we study the Genjokoan.