Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Matter of Buddha Ascending Beyond

The matter of buddha ascending beyond, in my limited opinion, as I understand it now, is a tendency.

Yesterday on Dogen Sangha blog I revealed my stupidity again. I let out an outpouring of criticism of James Cohen -- who I have never met. As soon as I had pressed the publish button, I realized that the tendency I criticized in James Cohen is a tendency which it is all to easy for me to follow myself.

As Gudo’s self-styled protector and legal enforcer against a world of bad guys, James Cohen sees himself as an archetypal good guy, on the side of right. He sees me as one of the bad guys.

Thus, faced with Cohen’s hostile words and actions, it is all too easy for me to think: No, it is the other way round. I served Gudo for years and years before Cohen even arrived on the scene. The truth is that I am the good guy, the true long-time servant of Buddhism; Cohen is the bad guy, the Jonny-come-lately fame and profit seeker. To follow that self-justifying tendency is all too easy for me to do: like staying in a warm bath -- “easy to slip into, difficult to get out of.”

I think that Gautama Buddha established and encouraged us to investigate for ourselves another, extremely difficult tendency, which is to rise above right and wrong, good and bad, self and others. He laid down the great challenge of Zazen, which is to ascend beyond all our easy habitual tendencies of thought and action. In other words, to use Master Dogen’s imagery, the challenge is to follow the vigorous road of getting the body out.

In Shobogenzo there is a chapter called BUTSU KOJO NO JI. During the second half of the 1980s, Gudo and I discussed together several times how best to translate BUTSU KOJO NO JI. It was one of the phrases in Shobogenzo that I struggled with most. In the end, the translation we agreed upon was “The Matter of the Ascendant State of Buddha.”

A couple of years ago we discussed it again by email and agreed that a better translation would be “The Matter of Buddha Ascending Beyond,” or “The Matter of Buddha Ascending Beyond [Buddha].”

The point I am trying to make, mainly for my own benefit this morning, is that I think that the matter of buddha ascending beyond is best understood not as a state, but as an upward tendency.

Ascending beyond is an upward tendency -- a natural tendency, but not an habitual one. It is like water flowing vertically upwards. It does happen in nature--as in a geyser, or a naked baby boy lying on his back and peeing--but it is a relatively uncommon happening, against the usual stream.


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