Dear Sangha members:
Domyo asked me to share an experience of insight as encouragement to other members of Bright Way Zen sangha, since it arose from the same combination of Domyo’s teachings, practice, and inquiry in which we all engage.
I begin with my journal entries for Friday October 22, 2021.
1. Middle of the night
I did not get very drowsy when returning to bed after zazen as usual, but remained alert and in the mode of reflecting for quite some time and never got into a satisfying sleep for the rest of the night. But I did get into an extended reflection that turned directly to the ‘absolute’ or BIG Self.
I reflected that ‘Other power’ seems to be either wrong or I’m looking at it wrong. It is not really taking refuge in something greater than oneself because that posits a self and an Other. Instead it is taking refuge in one’s BIG Self or what Uchiyama called ones LIFE, which includes everything. This includes all sentient beings as well as all non-sentient phenomena. So one doesn’t take refuge in the Buddha as much as recognize the lack of separation. I guess one has to feel like one is merging with the All, the BIG Self that is “life, the world, and everything” in order to recognize that one was never separate from it. This is the same for the Dharma and the Sangha. This BIG Self is an I without an Other, a BIG all.
So if I surrender to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, what I am surrendering to them is the small self or small I. I’m surrendering the feeling of separation to recognize the non-separation that has always been there. It is not ‘me against the world,’ because the BIG Self is the world. Concerning the phrases for taking refuge in the three jewels of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, said another way would be: “there is no I separate from the Buddha; there is no I separate from the Dharma; there is no I separate from the Sangha”. Separation is an illusion.
2. next morning
During my swim this morning two topics came up. First, the first sentence of Genjō Kōan came to mind, about when all Dharmas are Buddha Dharma, followed by a series of dualities characteristic of the relative or dependent. I could see why early commentators instead interpreted this sentence as coming from the standpoint of the absolute, because our LIFE, the great All, is all-inclusive, even of discrimination into polarities such as delusion and enlightenment. Indeed I was feeling this intuitively because the previous night’s reflection was still affecting me.
The second ‘topic’ of my swim felt like an exploding insight. Still imbued with an intuition of the absolute or independent, the phrase “this is it” came to me. I now know that “Just this is it” is the teaching phrase of a kōan from the records of Dongshan and I had heard it in a podcast interview with Rinzai Zen master Henry Shukman.[i] In the pool, it now seemed obvious to me that ‘this is it’ meant everything in the world, everything Uchiyama would call the BIG Self or TRUE Self or Your Life. It seemed that there was nothing that could be apart from it; nothing that could be seen, done, said, or imagined is not already contained in it.
A monk asked Qingyuan,
“What is the great meaning of Buddhism?”
“What is the current price of rice in Luling?”
– Book of Serenity, case 5.
I “abided’ for a while in the totality of “this is it” feeling great joy. Then the voice of Henry Shukman came to me very clearly from that same podcast. As he had done in the podcast, he was repeating the phrase “What is the price of rice in Luling these days?” This phrase that is the teaching line from a kōan in the book of Serenity. With great awe Shukman had kept saying that this phrase said it all. He called it “the heart of awakened reality” and “the wonder, the greatest reality of the ultimate awakening to nothing at all or everything.” And so he kept repeating it with a voice of generosity and amazingly deep metta.
When I listened to that podcast several days earlier, the phrase had no effect on me and I found the repetition irritating. I was put off and came to distrust Shukman for perpetrating some kind of hoax. But this day, in the pool, it seemed to me that Shukman kept repeating the question “What is the price of rice in Luling?” because, like “This is it”, it encompasses “everything that is”. It is a wholeness without boundaries, internal or external, and yet encompassing difference. I saw this unity of sameness and difference in a visual image of a kind of lumpy sauce or stew. Also Suzuki’s Things-as-it-is came to me as pointing to the same understanding.
I kept repeating these two phrases to myself while inwardly laughing because they seemed so glorious. I even considered that the response to the kōan about Bodhidharma’s arrival, “the cypress tree in the courtyard” felt very similar. In different ways they all expressed a totality that is both a one-ness and an all-ness.
I think that this joy and elation I felt in repeating the all-inclusive phrases, “this is it” and “what is the price of rice in Luling?” was partly the result of my total acceptance of the world at that moment, with all the tension and contraction of resistance suspended. This release was euphoric.
The remainder of this note records a few of the thoughts and inquiries I have had in the two weeks since the “pool event.”
I have realized that in the pool, the small self was not absent but certainly overwhelmed by the all-inclusiveness of the insight-vision of the BIG Self. It was clear that there was nothing outside of it, so there can be no division into subject and object or self and other. The all-inclusive BIG Self sees no self and no other because it is all-inclusive and non-discriminating. It is empty of separation. It is the original face before conditioning led to the development of a self differentiated from and thus creating an other. To me the BIG Self, “this is it”, is the paradigm of non-dual. When I reconnect with this understanding, I feel
- less need to resist- since everything belongs and I am part of that everything
- less need to compare
- less inclination to take things personally
Over the next days I’ve also done some research through texts and podcasts. I wanted to read some quotes that seem to be exactly what I felt in the pool:
First, Yamada Koun, who was a student of Maezumi roshi and one of Shukman’s teachers, said
“When we speak about the true self, it’s a matter of grasping the world of oneness. You must clearly realize on your own that the universe and you yourself are one.”[ii]
Second, Henry Shukman in another podcast[iii] made these two comments:
“…when we see through the sense of “me” as a separate being, or “The rest of the world is out there; I’m in here,” when that is gone, we discover that we belong in an utterly wonderful way to and with everything. We find that there is actually another level of our experience and it’s right here now.
There’s another dimension, another aspect, another face of our experience of this very moment in which we are totally part of everything…. there’s this unbelievable wondrous participation that we have. We are part of everything. Even to say we’re part of everything is not quite getting it. We discover in a moment of awakening, we are all.
I also thought more about the kōan teachings in a way that feels like it connects the rational and the intuitive. What I felt and envisioned in the pool when I recalled the phrase “The cypress in the courtyard” made the concept of interpenetration, as in the Net of Indra, much more real and palpable. I saw that the ‘everything’ that ‘just this’ points to is expressed or manifested in every phenomenon, including a tree. It is the fullness of emptiness taking form. And the reverse is also true. It is the form that manifests the emptiness, like the blade of grass, pebble or tile for Dōgen that teach the dharma. In later reflection it has seemed that the general and specific here are not equivalent to the whole and the part because through interpenetration, the whole is indivisible and each non-divided part reflects, embodies, and manifests the whole. So emptiness is form and form is emptiness. In other words, in the cypress kōan, the tree manifests all-inclusive emptiness and all-inclusive emptiness manifests the tree. Through interpenetration, everything manifests the all and the all manifests everything. This then is the interpenetration of emptiness and form, sameness and difference, etc.
Addition from Journal of November 8, 2021
In a restful moment of zazen watching for thoughts and other sense objects as they arise, I began thinking of “this is it” and “the price of rice in Luling.” The meaning had changed because in again hearing Shukman’s voice in my mind, I could now sense that he is not understanding “this is it” so much in terms of the ‘absolute’ perspective on reality as “seamless” but rather is experiencing “this is it” as his (our) life, here and now, enacted through everyday activity in a “seamless” integration of what we have called relative and absolute (dependent and independent). It’s as if the life one is looking for is the life one already has. Domyo talks about this as “being alive to your life.” Indeed, most of the reflections that arose from this point derive from Domyo’s teachings.
On behalf of the Bright Way Board
I would like to share with you a discussion that took place at our last Board meeting. We were discussing the results of the most recent survey that was taken this past spring.
In reviewing the results, overall, they were very positive. Most members feel acknowledged and appreciated as individuals and connected to the Sangha. This was great news! As a Board, we strive to be responsive to the Sangha’s needs in a way that addresses the Strategic Plan and Bright Way’s Mission. That Mission, in a nutshell, is to help people find spiritual peace, deepen their wisdom and manifest compassion.
In the survey, there was the option to write in comments about what is working well, what concerns members have or what other ways Bright Way can fulfill it’s Mission. For example, some of the comments mentioned beginner’s classes, social activities targeted toward particular cohorts within the Sangha (such as young folks) and sensitivity about people’s different socioeconomic circumstances.
In discussing the comments, it became clear that in order to understand more fully and be more responsive to your comments, we need your help. If you submitted comments on the survey and would like to discuss those further, the Board would like to hear from you. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joan Maurer, Bright Way Zen Board Member
“Beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.”
We sit on our cushions and recite this Bodhisattva vow, envisioning a sea of people caught in the throes of greed, hatred and delusion and wishing with all our hearts to free them of their suffering. As Zen practitioners, all we can offer them is the Buddhadharma, which in its essence is just showing up and offering them our unconditional love and unflinching support.
It was out of just this desire to bear witness to the suffering of immigrant families that some members of Bright Way joined thousands of other bodhisattvas last Saturday at a Families Belong Together rally in downtown Portland. We hoped to send a message to all sentient beings on both sides of the political divide that we are all interconnected and that beneath all the fear, hatred and delusion we are all part of the same ineffable Buddha heart. The strength and solidarity generated by the determination of those present to testify to the power of love over hate was very palpable and exhilarating. As it says in the Dhammapada, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule…”
Buddhists practice has traditionally focused on inner transformation by slowly releasing our attachment to ego and the afflictive emotions that this attachment engenders. While this work is essential and can indeed be transformative, it is only when we get up from our cushions and engage with the world that we can truly know whether we have released our clinging to just our own well being and happiness. Also, what is the use of cultivating a heart as wide as Kanzeon’s if we don’t bare witness to the cries of the world?
These are times when the principles of love and empathy are increasingly clouded by fear and delusion. We will all be called to take our practice out into the world to offer support to the distressed and our understanding to the fearful. May we all find what Dr King called “ the strength to love,” to take the fruits of our zazen to all sentient beings, so that when we recite the Bodhisattva vow to save the numberless beings we will know that its not just an empty promise.