Wednesday, April 29, 2009


One of Master Dogen’s students mentioned that it took a long time for him—the student—to grasp the essence of the Way. The student wasn’t complaining, but he was concerned about his slowness.

“I’ve been practicing zazen for years,” he said. “But I feel I’m getting nowhere. I’ve learned not to depend on logic, and not on book learning, but I’ve become discourage, and I don’t know what to do.”

Does this sound familiar?

Dogen answered that neither great intelligence nor reasoning were necessary. Neither should one depend on intellectual brilliance or quick-wittedness.

Brainpower has nothing to do with the matter. Don’t discount a person who is slow, or, most important, someone who thinks he is snail-like.

“However, “ Dogen continued, and I quote, “You should not be like a totally witless person. The true study of the way should be easy. It should be effortless.

“At the same time you should know that even among the many thousands of students in China those who genuinely attain the Way and are awakened are in the minority.”

End quote.

That does not mean the odds are against you. You shouldn’t be discouraged, because the majorities that fall by the wayside and drop out are mere dilettantes. They are in Zen in a make-believe way. They are not sincere. They are not serious about their practice.

Without passing judgment, I suppose I could say there are those individuals who have the utmost purpose and there are those who don’t. Those who have the paramount aspiration and work at it accordingly will attain the way.

Those who are merely fiddling around for one personal reason or another won’t. It’s as simple as that.

Paraphrasing Dogen, bear in mind that how much you study and how fast you progress are secondary matters. What is primary is the seeking mind.

Dogen gave a homey example. He said that those who intend to rob a bank, or to defeat a powerful enemy, or to score with a person of the opposite gender will follow their intention and keep it in mind whether they are standing, walking, sitting, or lying down.

They may not be successful in their infamy, or their mayhem, or their romantic pursuit, but they have given it their all and will go a long way toward making it happen.

In practical terms, you have to stick with your Zen practice.

Now I’m not giving any life advice here. What I am saying, to paraphrase Dogen, is if you sincerely aspire for the Way, as you practice Zazen, then, you can shoot a bird however high in the sky of catch a fish however deep in the water.

You must have a determined mind. And when you have a determined mind . . . . Note: I said when, not if.

When you have a determined mind you will, according to Dogen, invariably be awakened.

It doesn’t matter if you are quick or slow, smart or dull, well-educated or unlearned.

The Chinese Zen master Hui-neng was considered to be illiterate, yet around the year 700 he set the tone of Zen for all time by composing these words:

There is no Bodhi tree,

Nor is there a clear mirror.

From the beginning not one thing exists,

So where is a speck of dust to cling?

Think of the Zen truth that everything is impermanent. That is, nothing lasts forever.

Again to paraphrase Dogen, impermanence is the truth that is right in front of you. . . . . the impermanence of life is in your eyes and ears. . . . You should realize the fact that attachment in worldly affairs is your enemy, and to do so is the way to a fuller life.

We should realize that there is only right now, only this moment. We should concentrate on practicing the Way.

To speak of or think about the slowness or the speed of learning is foolishness.


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