Friday, June 08, 2007

Letting the Other (3): Impermanence

Fifty years

Isn't long

To make a friend

Of being wrong...


GYOSHITSU: the body, physical substance
SO: grass
RO: dew
NO GOTOKU: be like

"The body is like a dew drop on a blade of grass."

"The universal law is realized."

I think that when Master Dogen looked at the real world, he saw the law of energy change, i.e. the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Energy changes. It is not that sitting-zen practice creates energy change. Energy changes. That is the fundamental rule. That is the Law.

In regular daily practice of sitting-zen we can gradually begin to observe and to understand the law of energy change - how flowers fall, how weeds grow. The fragility of this dew-drop life.

The Law is not susceptible to any interference from us whatsoever, however excellent we might be at sitting in the full lotus posture for x hours per day.

The power of even a great sitting buddha is not a change that he or she creates. The energy that is available to us in sitting-zen comes only from digestion of the food we eat; it is not a change we create; the potential for change was already there in the food that is now releasing its energy for us.

The possibility does arise, however, of us learning in practice to re-direct this energy more and more autonomously.

“Learn the backward step of turning light.”

The question that then arises is: How? How might I re-direct my energy?

That is the question we tend to jump to. That is the essence of Saddha’s question in the previous post.

A few years ago I asked Marjory Barlow if she was aware of her student’s progress from lesson to lesson. “Oh yes,” she replied, “I know it in my hands.” “Can you put into words what are the criteria of progress?” I asked. “Three things.” Marjory answered: “Less trying. More freedom and ease. Less misdirection of energy.”

The way she phrased the last criterion is all-important.

Similarly, when the Buddha set out the fundamental rule for his new order of wandering mendicants, he said:

Not to commit wrongs.
To let rights be done.
Naturally purifies the mind.
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Notice where the Buddha started -- with a negative. Stop doing the wrong thing first. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to do the right thing. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to learn how to direct your energy more effectively. Start by learning how to misdirect your energy less.

Without explicit neuro-physiological knowledge of the vestibular reflexes, what both Gautama and Marjory understood, as I see it, is that it is all too easy, when dealing with an imperfectly co-ordinated person, to start by over-exciting the Moro reflex, in which case the whole vestibular system is knocked out of kilter, and confused grasping ensues.

Thus, in his rules of sitting-zen for everybody, the English translation of which you can read on my webpage at, Master Dogen starts with his fundamentally optimistic view of the world -- a view that signals that there is no emergency, no reason to panic, no urgent need to dash to the bookshop and start learning Russian.

DO: the truth, bodhi, the Buddha’s enlightenment
MOTO: originally, fundamentally
EN: all around
ZU: pervades
IKADEKA: how...?
SHUSHO: practice/experience
O: [object particle]
KARAN: ... could it borrow?

“The truth originally is all around. How could it rely on practice and experience?”


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