Sunday, February 04, 2007


In my talks I often draw on—and I often quote—Dogen Kigen, the Zen master who lived from 1200 to 1253. Here’s a question. What possible relevancy is there for us—for modern Westerners—modern Westerners in the words and thoughts of this Japanese guy who lived more than 750 years ago?
     Dogen was a monastic. We are social animals. His Eastern society then was completely different from our modern-day Western culture. His way of life was totally alien to ours. His language, and that of other early Zen masters, was laced with images that were understood in their Asian context, but in our Occidental society they are usually incomprehensible.
     So, what does Dogen have to offer us?
     The answer lies in the universal nature of what Dogen had to say.
     Based on modern Western thinking, Kamakura-period Japan was primitive, archaic. There were no airplanes, no mobile telephones, no credit cards. There were fast food businesses, but they served soups, noodles, and pickled vegetables, not deep fried potatoes and the fatty flesh of dead animals.
     Over time, technology changes. Clothing styles change. Life styles change.
     Another question.
Does human nature change?
     Not much.
     Human concerns were pretty much the same then as they are now.
     The same with human behavior.
     Seven hundred and fifty years ago in Asia, humans slaughtered one another in Asia as humans slaughter one another today in the Middle East.
     A thousand years ago—two thousand years ago, and more—humans slaughtered one another.
Over the ages, what have humans learned about compassion for others, about common sense in ourselves?
     Not much.
     Today we can make fatty hamburgers. We can kill more efficiently and more expensively. We can swindle on a grander scale.
     Does all this doom and gloom mean we should give in to it? That we should accept the inevitability of wars and greaseburgers?
     Not at all.
If we give in we shorten our lives, we lose self respect, and we abandon compassion.
Dogen taught patience.
Patience is the ability to let things happen as they happen without approving them of condemning them.
     As you know, Dogen and most other Zen masters of his time dealt with the complexities and realities of life, but they did not speak in a linear, logical manner.
     Nor did they offer answers to the twists and turns of life, as do most modern day ministers and preachers.
     Other people’s answers usually do not apply to other people. Or to you. You have to think for yourself.
     Metaphors and analogies have their place in attempts to simplify an idea for us. However, they should not be taken as literal truth or they may lead us astray.
     For example, don’t mistake the finger pointing to the moon as the moon.
     In the Western world there are plenty of serious Zen enthusiasts and plenty of Zen dabblers that claim Zazen will yield universal peace, personal happiness, even greater sexual power, and other rewards. But if Zen is practiced to gain something, that sort of Zen is bogus.
     One Japanese master was known for saying, “No matter how many years you do zazen, you’ll never become anything special.”
     I say, maybe so, maybe no.
     Another master said, “Just sit.”
     The point is, just sitting in shikantaza goes beyond facing the wall and emptying the mind.
     Dogen said:
“To study Buddhism is to study the self.”
     I say:
To understand Zen is to understand the self.


Anonymous Dee said...

You say here: "But if Zen is practiced to gain something, that sort of Zen is bogus."

And then you say: "I say:
To understand Zen is to understand the self."

In the latter statement, aren't you saying that you practice Zen to understand the self? Is that not the same as practicing Zen to gain something, the understanding of yourself?

Which by your former statement would that not make your practice of Zen bogus as you are seeking to gain something from it?

Saturday, January 05, 2008 2:31:00 AM  

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