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Muchu Setsumu Notes

Lincoln Zen Center Autumn Sesshin Dharma Talk Notes:

 Muchu Setsumu “Expounding a Dream within a Dream 10/5-7/18

Seiso Sensei

Notes: Part 1 & 2

 “The Way through which Buddhas and ancestors appear is prior to any sign of things; it cannot be discussed with our old habitual way of thinking.”

 “Old nest” is often used to refer to “our old habitual of thinking, studying and how we are educated. Habitual ways of thinking can be unconscious, automatic and which we accept as true without question. Old nests determine how we decide what is true or not. Genpo Merzel a modern American Zen teacher said: “There are no truths, only layer upon layer of self-deception.” Old nests, our habitual ways of thinking maintain the self-deceptions. Regarding the dharma, Dogen is saying that habitual ways of thinking are not effective in realizing the dharma. They simply don’t work! However, based on ignorance, we often accept these old samskaras or “habit formations” as true.

Reminds me of Fukanzazengi. Dogen writes: “Nest and snares can’t reach it” We each have our own habitual way of thinking based on life experiences, karma, samskaras. So this seemingly abstract opening comment is really about practice. Why about practice? Although we practice with no gaining mind, previously embedded and unconscious samskara percolate to the surface, which can, through continued practice, be identified, acknowledged, accepted, and dissolved or transformed.

 “Appear” here means “to get out and support” result of certain causes and refers to Lotus Sutra: “These dharmas cannot be understood by power of thought and discrimination. Only Buddhas can understand due to one very great cause appear in the world” What allows Buddhas to appear in this world? This is the crux of Mahayana Buddhism as expressed in the first vow: “I vow to save all beings” “Because the Buddhas desire to cause all living beings to open their eyes [and enter] to Buddha insight so they may gain the pure mind.” Buddhas desire to open, to show, we realize and enter Buddha’s insight of true reality of all being. Dogen is pointing out the structure of Buddha’s activities. Maybe vow is a better word than desire. We have to be free from our “old nests or habitual ways of thinking.” His understanding of dharma is based on the Lotus Sutra. Buddhas: To Open, To Point Out or Show, as a result the rest of us: (All Beings) have the opportunity o Realize, To Enter.

 prior to any sign of things . . .” Meaning concepts, discriminations, dualities

There is a sign of things happening that have not happened yet. An omen. This comes from Taoist idea: From Nothingness comes oneness. From oneness comes twoness, many-ness, everythingness. So this phrase has to do with “before any discrimination, thinking or any concept is formed. Here is a typical Dogen contradiction. Happening-Before Happening, form—formless, emptiness-fullness

 “Because of this, there are the virtues of being “within the boundary of Buddha ancestors“ and of “going beyond Buddha,” and so on.”

 Butsu kojoji “Matter of going Beyond Buddha fascicle. Buddha is always going beyond. Dogen’s expression of neither and nor Mu. True aspect of all Buddhas is to appear, manifest and penetrate true reality. At the same time Dogen is telling us to be free of the limitations of all Buddhas and ancestors. In other words, no identification, reification, no fixed point. How do we appear in different situations? That’s why Kannon has so many arms, because compassion takes many different forms and we encounter and respond to many different situations. How do we function in different situations? Appearing in any situation includes activity and relationship, which is central to Dogen’s thought. What do I mean? Activity and relationship contribute to a perception of self and identity. By “identity” I mean a sense of self that is contingent on causes and conditions that we may attach to and then solidify, reify or concretize. That is, we take a fluid experience and turn that experience, that relationship, that action into something solid that we call “self.” For example: right now, certain behaviors and actions or relationships; what I may say or do, not say, not do, along with your behaviors and actions and ways of relating engenders a dependent-arising, the co-created causes and conditions that contribute to my identity as a dharma teacher and priest, our identity as sangha, your identity as tenzo, doan, eno, etc. I won’t exhibit the same behaviors that would engender the same identity, for the most part, although there might be some overlap, as a passenger on a plane interacting with the person who identifies as flight attendant, or with my patient in my analytic office, or with my sister, children or wife. Especially not with my wife!

 “Because [the Way] is not limited within times and occasions, longevity and life are neither eternal nor short.”

 Any time and anywhere, Buddha can appear. Our Buddha nature will be expressed, based on the context. From an actional or relational perspective we can respond from the perspective and position of wisdom and compassion via prajna. That is, when we intuitively and spontaneously just know what to do or not do.

It’s before thought kicks in. Maybe thought is engaged and involved, but in this way thought becomes the tool of this total functioning of [zenki] Buddha nature.

We are not the slaves of thought. In this context it is useless regarding the realization of Buddha nature, but not useless in our day-to-day life.

Here is an old story:

 Mazu story: Old and dying was asked “How are you?” Mazu answered: “Sunface Buddha, Moon face Buddha.” [Sun –long life, Moon- short life] I have both a short and long life. Our life is short and our life is long. Okumura, commenting on this story notes that “If we live for 100 years, its still short.”

 Uchiyama Roshi asserts: “Though poor, never poor, though sick, never sick, though ageing, never ageing, though dying, never dying. Reality prior to division, here lies unlimited deaths.”

 Our lives are impermanent and simultaneously the eternal life of all Buddhas. This is a reflection of our lives as separate and disconnected beings and our life as oneness and interconnected. No limitation of personal self from this perspective. That is, being free from the two extremes. The middle way. We can see it either way, both ways, or neither way. We can’t really evaluate if our lives are long or short. We might, upon reflection, review the quality of our lives. We might ask ourselves: “Can we live the life of selfless interconnectedness?” Can we get past the individual ego’s tendency to greed, aggression, aversion, and ignorance? For example, Suzuki Roshi has been dead for many years, yet he lives on through his selfless dedication to the dharma, to his vow to save all beings; he lives on through us as practitioners, and through what we bring to our ordinary, everyday existence as we come into contact with people in the world as we enter through countless, boundless dharma gates. In this way, life is not simply the time between birth and death. For Dogen, who takes a cosmological view considers the life of the whole universe. “Whole Being is Buddha Nature!”

“It is far beyond measurements in the world of ordinary people.”

 Dogen goes back to the opening statement. This is an important for Dogen because he repeats it:

 “[Their] turning of the Dharma wheel is also the standard prior to any sign of things.”

 Usually means using words to expound the dharma. For Dogen, its reversed from someone turns the dharma wheel to the dharma wheel turns. He is also repeating the opening phrase. “Prior to any sign of things” refers to before any discrimination. This is spontaneous, immediate, prajna operating naturally; a wide-awake expression of the Dharma in words. A wide-awake dream expounded within a dream.

 “For this reason, though great accomplishment is not extolled,”

 The accomplished is too big to acknowledge. There is no way to give a reward to the sun. It is too big for us. The dharma is too big, too deep for us to return the contribution beyond participating in the sharing. We are too small.

 “It becomes the signpost for the thousands of years.”

So we do our best to study, practice and be a wholesome aspect of the turning of the dharma wheel or network or movement of the dharma.

 “They expound a dream within the dream [about their appearance and turning of the Dharma wheel].”

 The turning of the dharma wheel is in Dogen’s writing is expounding a dream within a dream. So to repeat we study, practice and express. This is a radically different way of thinking and writing about dreams from something meaningless to a meaningful expression of the dharma.

 “Because they see verification within verification, [their activities] are expounding a dream within a dream.”

 Shusho “Practice/ verification” or practice/realization. Shu is cause. Sho is result. Sho is like Satori. Dogen says we see verification within verification. Verification is both a process and a result. Noun and verb. We live the true reality of all beings within the true reality of all beings. Shochu or Kensho is verification within verification. Within practice we already are experiencing, doing, participating Zenki or total function. In this regard muchu setsumu IS OUR LIFE. We live the true reality of all beings. Sound familiar? Immo? Genjokoan? Just this is it? The “Dream” is the lived reality of our life.

 The Entire World is a Great Dream

“This place of expounding a dream within the dream is the homeland of buddhas and ancestors and the assemblies of buddhas and ancestors.

Buddhas’ homelands and buddhas’ assemblies, and the ancestors’ Way and ancestors’ seats are [the place of] verification upon verification and the expounding of a dream within the dream.”

 That means that this entire universe and all things are connected and working together. We can’t say we are not in the buddhaland. We are already there/here but we don’t see that. Again, this core teaching is reflected and expressed in shikantaza. Assemblies and place of verification is the monastery or zendo or place of practice, and we know from Zazenshin that it’s not just the form of zazen…its the mind of zazen in all postures: standing, sitting, walking, lying down. Dogen is carrying forward Hui-neng, the 6th ancestor who says the same thing almost word for word in the Platform Sutra. How do we conduct ourselves in the everyday aspects of our lives? This brings us back to the beginning points that relate and connect identity as a contextually emerging flow based on action and relationship. The Ancestor’s Seat is the monastery, but we can consider this as a reference to all places. The temple can be us walking down the street, sitting at our desk, driving in our car, or eating breakfast. Dogen captures this beautifully and succinctly in his poem:

 Day and night

Night and day,

The way of dharma as everyday life;

In each act our hearts

Resonate with the call of the sutra.

 “Since we have encountered such an utterance and such expounding, we should not consider that we are outside the assembly of a Buddha. This is Buddhas’ turning of the Dharma wheel.”

 Not only Buddha’s speech, but also the way things are as a total function is the how of the dharma working. The way we are sitting here together, the way that we share and at the same time, the way we are all carry on our unique responsibilities, the way we are privately thinking our own thoughts and feeling our own feelings.

 “Because this Dharma wheel is [penetrating] the ten directions and eight aspects, the great ocean, Mt. Sumeru, homelands, and all things are manifesting themselves.”

 Everything expresses the dharma, not just the words. Again, expressed beautifully in Dogen’s poetry. The way we eat, wash a dish, sweep the floor, take care of our zafu and zabuton, the way we bow in the zendo. Consider this waka:

 The mystical cries of monkeys

Resounding from the mountain peaks,

Echoing in the valleys below:

The sound of the sutra being preached.

 “This is the expounding of a dream within the dream prior to all dreams.”

Both meanings of dreams here. From Genjokoan: different ways of seeing water in different ways, depending on karma and conditions, any object will be seen in different ways. Dogen describes the fish view of water as an ancient palace, the bird’s view as a jeweled necklace. Do you recall a number of years back? B.P. (British Petroleum) had a huge oil spill that created a massive environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. What was B.P.’s view of water? What was the fisherman’s view of water? The children’s view? What causes and conditions contribute to our view? “Prior to all dreams” means when we let go of karmic views and we realize no self and interconnectedness. The karmic view remains, but the important point is to be able to take the backward step to see our own view objectively. It becomes a matter of whether or not we “whip the ox or the cart!” We can give ourselves the space to see an other person’s view and broaden our view. Zazen opens ourselves to the rest of the world and we can no longer cling to our small personal view. This creates the possibility of working with others. In this sense, in order to be good Buddhists, we need to be free from Buddhism. We become free from this clinging and we sit in the ground of interconnectedness. So our practice is an ongoing process of letting go. This is only a Buddhist view of interconnectedness and within the Buddhist view, it’s only my view, my perception of the Buddhist view based on my samskara, ignorance, old nests, realization, verification. Going back to Genjokoan, “Is there any kind of water free from all of these different views?” Dogen raises the question, but he doesn’t answer it.

 “The entire world becomes clearly revealed within the dream; this dream is nothing other than the “hundred bright, bright grasses.”

 Expression of layman Ping that is related to the koan “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” The answer “hundred grasses” means nothing special. Everything expresses the meaning of why Bodhidharma came from India. The reality of all beings as it is, is a very clear dream, “Clearly revealed” each and every being becomes revealed as it is. This is beyond subject/object discrimination, such as when Dogen says: “To study the self is to drop the self and be realized by all being.”

 “This is so at the very moment of trying to investigate, [and it is so] at the very moment of tumultuous confusion.”

 What is beyond our personal view we can’t see or think about because if we do, it automatically becomes part of our personal view and it becomes part of our opinion, a new samskara forms. So, how do we know that this is true? Do we have a desire or intention to investigate: “Is this true or not?” But somehow, when we sit, we do know and understand, but not intellectually. It’s deeper than that. Something happens, we can call it prajna, or intuitive knowing. Over time, it starts to make sense, but not intellectual sense. You have been practicing for some time, so I think that you know and feel what I mean. In this regard in answer to the question: “How does shikantaza help us understand Dogen?” Simply stated: It doesn’t! It is our own unique expression of our lived understanding of Dogen. I think that Sawaki Roshi’s famous assertion: “Zazen is good for nothing!” applies here. How do I mean that? Shikantaza from Dogen’s perspective is expressive, as Dan Leighton describes as a “Ritual Enactment” of our realized being. Its not facilitative or instrumental. We don’t reduce zazen to a tool to understand Dogen. We simply sit.

“At this moment there are dream-grass, within-grass, and expounding-grass.”

 Dogen plays with words. Again, grass is a metaphor for all beings, each and every being. Even each element in the title is expounding a dream within a dream. He is deconstructing the title here. mu, chu, setsu, every element or each individual word is part of the dream. Mu one grass; chu in each and every grass; setsu- all grasses

“When we study this, [we find that] the root, stem, branch and leaves, as well as the flower, fruit, light, and color are all great dreams. We should not mistakenly think they are [unreal] like a dream.”

 Again Dogen draws on the Lotus Sutra [Parable of medicine grass] The dharma rain pours down and nourishes every blade of grass. The rain is the same but each seed grows differently. “One dharma.” Not only each seed but each specific part of each seed grows in its own way. We are all in it together, despite our uniqueness despite our differences. Dogen is confronting the common self-centered view and prompting our experience of interconnectedness. Yet, even in this oneness, this absoluteness, we each grow and express the dharma differently. This is because we hear and taste it differently due to the differences in our karmic formations.

“Therefore people who have no intention of studying the Buddha Way, although they encounter this “expounding of a dream within the dream,” vainly think that [this expression] means that a dream-grass that does not exist makes something that does not exist come into existence; [they think] it is like adding delusion within delusion.”

 This refers to the traditional understanding of dream. That is, dreams are not real, there is no benefit in talking or thinking about dreams. It’s a waste of time or nonsense, total nonsense. This orientation might also refer back to the so-called “Southern School” advocates who criticized zazen practice as a form of quietism, or, “entering the ghost cave,” which is a form of nihilism or as one misinformed psychoanalyst put it: “an induced catatonia.” We are adding delusion to delusion. We are just piling up more delusion within delusion.

But Dogen says:

 “This is not the case. Even if we say “being deluded within delusion,” we should make efforts to thoroughly study the path that penetrates heaven, through which the saying “delusion based on delusion” becomes clarified.”

 Dogen uses “muchu setsumu” in both a positive and a negative way and which way is based on our intention, such as when we practice with gaining mind, when we practice only to gratify ego that is delusion within delusion in a negative meaning of the expression. In this context Dogen uses the expression “delusion within delusion” to also have the same meaning as muchu setsumu in a positive way. Even when we are walking on the path of delusion, we study and practice with sincerity. Here heaven means nirvana. So, we study what is in front of us. We practice from the intention of the Bodhisattva vows, which is an attitude of supporting and encouraging each other. This is the central point of Mahayana. “Nirvana within Samsara” The lotus flower blooms IN the muddy water. Our zazen is the flower blooming in the midst of muddy water. So we practice within samsara, simultaneously free from the muddy water. The flower blooms anyway. The zazen itself is the lotus flower. Our deluded ego-generated thoughts are still there, but we keep letting go, we keep practicing we keep blooming and blossoming.


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