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Dialog as Metaphor

Dialog as Metaphor with Seiso Sensei

In the Daigo (Great Realization) chapter of Shobogenzo, Dōgen wrote that “great realization” and “returning to delusion” (kyakumei) are both equally important aspects of the one seamless reality. Dōgen did not view returning to delusion as negative. We are simultaneously always living in oneness and duality. Daigo is realizing the equality and oneness of all beings. Kyakumei is to see the myriad forms as unique and to relate to all beings with wisdom and compassion. This dual relationship to reality finds expression in the Sandokai, “Identity of the Relative and the Absolute” and the “One and the Many.” The “one great ocean and the many waves” serves as a metaphor for this relationship. So, we rely on both great realization and the return to delusion. In Genjokoan Dōgen asserts that conveying the self to all things is delusion. When we read that, we assume that it is a problem. However, he doesn’t necessarily view that as a bad or negative thing, rather this is simply a part of the actions and relationships that make up our lives. We have to convey ourselves toward the myriad things in order to do things, to work with things. And at the same time the myriad things come toward the self and carry out practice enlightenment. Both are happening simultaneously.

The same is true for thinking and not-thinking. Thinking and not-thinking are happening whether we are aware of our thoughts or not. In this regard we can say that when we are aware of thinking, our perceptual reality is engaged in the relative; the world of distinctions; the many; the waves of the ocean. During moments of not-thinking we can say that we are engaged in the absolute; the one; the ocean. In this regard together, both thinking, and not-thinking are real, but they also serve as metaphors for the relative and the absolute. The interrelation between these two alternating perceptions of reality becomes clear through hishiryo. (non-thinking, beyond thinking, or leaving thought as they are).

If we take this orientation a step further, we can say that the dialog between Yüeh Shan and the monk also represents the relative and the absolute. Here is the dialog:

Once, when the Great Master Hung-tao of Yüeh Shan was sitting

[in meditation], a monk asked him, “What are you thinking of, [sitting there] so fixedly?”

The master answered, “I’m thinking of not thinking.”
The monk asked, “How do you think of not thinking?”
The master answered, “Nonthinking.”

 (Translated & quoted in: Bielefeldt, 1988, p. 188-189)

Keep in mind that from the Zen perspective “what” and “how” are not necessarily questions. Rather, they are terms used to express the ineffable and inexpressible reality. The monk is describing what Yüeh Shan is engaged in. In his stillness and silence Yüeh Shan represents the absolute and the oneness. In his comments, the monk’s language represents the relative, the many and distinctions. This understanding of mondo, or question and answer dialogs between student and master becomes very clear in Dōgen’s Ikka Myoju, One Bright Pearl. In this fascicle of the Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye), Dōgen quotes this story:

One day a monk asks him (Gensha), “I have heard the master’s words that the whole universe in ten directions is one bright pearl. How should the student understand this?” The master says, “The whole universe in ten directions is one bright pearl. What use is understanding?” On a later day the master asks the question back to the monk, “The whole universe in ten directions is one bright pearl. How do you understand this?” The monk says, “The whole universe in ten directions is one bright pearl. What use is understanding?” The master says, “I see that you are struggling to get inside a demon’s cave in a black mountain.”

There are several ways of understanding this conversation. The standard interpretation is that Gensha is a realized being and the monk is lost in ignorance or the “dust’ of the world, which requires cleansing. Since the monk doesn’t understand the meaning of Gensha’s pronouncement, he just repeats Gensha’s words. He has the words but not real understanding. The alternative interpretation describes both Gensha and the monk as realized beings. They are simply playing with each other. The metaphor for the “demon’s cave in a black mountain supports both interpretations. The traditional understanding interprets this provocative image as a metaphor for the darkness of ignorance. The alternate view is that darkness functions as a metaphor for non-duality or emptiness.

From Dōgen’s radical non-dualistic perspective, the so-called “dust” of ignorance is exactly where we work from with wisdom and compassion to save all beings. We work in the black mountain cave. We work in the relative world of duality. Dōgen describes Gensha’s comment as a compliment, not a criticism. As I see it, the idea that both are realized comes through in the role reversal the following day. The monk raises the question and Gensha responds exactly the same way that the monk did previously. In this regard, the two, teacher and monk, can be said to represent the relative and the absolute. Further, they both are realized. Hishiryo becomes an expression of this realization of the identity of the relative and the absolute, expressed in the dialog between Yüeh Shan and the monk as “thinking and not-thinking. When we sit in shikantaza we can see this relationship for ourselves. The various forms of concentration practices, while having their own benefits obscures this realization. So, we sit with no gaining mind, with no agenda, with no object of concentration, no picking and choosing, with the openness to all experience, with inclusiveness of all beings, whole being without picking and choosing, just sitting.

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