Wednesday, April 22, 2009


To study the Way is to study the self.

To study the self is to forget the self.

To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.

To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others.

Zen Master Dogen wrote those words. If you understand them comprehensively and wholly there is little else that needs to be added to them. They are simple and profound.

So I could quit babbling right now, but I won’t. You may remember the account of Bodhidharma responding to statements of his disciples by saying, “You have my skin; you have my flesh; you have my bones; you have my marrow.”

In a few words I would like to add some flesh to Dogen’s bones, in the hope it might help you to realize your own marrow.

Let’s resurrect that time-worn phrase “enlightenment,” which I prefer to call awakening, or awareness, or self-realization. The synonyms enlightenment, or awakening, or awareness, or self-realization all refer to one’s state of mind before it was conditioned by society. To have spiritual insight. To understand things as they are rather than to want them to be how we would like them to be.

Interestingly, a couple of antonyms of any of these words are perplexed, or bewildered.

That is to say, most individuals go through life inwardly confused and unable to make sense of a world that is basically senseless. That’s what is meant by the first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths that states all life is suffering.

“Suffering” meaning essentially screwed up.

In any sort of writing or verbal communication, lists can be a useful tool in breaking down a large subject and treating it in small bits. Buddhism is known for its lists. There are the four truths, the eightfold path, the four elements, the ten oxherding pictures.

In one of his talks Dogen mentioned eight characteristics of Zen awakening that, according to tradition, were formulated by the Buddha. These eight characteristics are:

1. Unselfishness.

2. Satisfaction.

3. Quiet.

4. Conscientiousness.

5. Remembrance.

6. Meditation.

7. Wisdom.

8. Avoidance of hearsay.

This talk touches briefly on each of these eight qualities of Zen awakening.

Dogen lists unselfishness as freedom from greed. A person who isn’t greedy doesn’t strive to be wealthy. A person who isn’t greedy doesn’t cater to others to gain their approval or patronage, nor does that person give in to self-centered urges and whims.

The second characteristic—satisfaction—means to be content with what one has. The Buddha reportedly said that a satisfied person is happy, even though he has to sleep on the ground. On the other hand, an unsatisfied person may live in a multi-million dollar house, with servants running all over the place, and be discontented.

The moral is, the more a person possesses, the more a person desires.

The third quality of Zen awakening is quiet.

Dogen says quiet means leading a solitary life. But that does not necessarily mean to lead a solitary life, to become a hermit and withdraw from society. Quiet implies being untouched by worldly conflict and turmoil. That, in turn, does not mean shutting one’s eyes to the common inhumanities of humans. It doesn’t mean steeling oneself to cruel and barbarous actions.

There’s a fine line between being so furious over human indignities that you suffer mental paralysis, and being compassionate enough to do something about the situation.

In Dogen’s talk on quiet as one of the aspects of enlightenment he uses a metaphor to the effect that an old elephant is unable to free himself once he is stuck in the mud. That’s a good image, but for the life of me I don’t grasp how it pertains to being quiet.

The fourth aspect of awakening is conscientiousness, or diligence. That means to stick with your practice. Don’t dip in to it and dip out of it.

Dogen’s metaphor here is easier to understand. He said one should be like running water because no matter how little the action is, it will eventually wear away a rock.

The fifth aspect is termed remembrance.


To be honest, no matter how many times I read Dogen’s take on this aspect, I cannot get a handle on it. I’ll read his words. If they are clear to you, let me know. I quote (from the book Zen Master Dogen, An Introduction with Selected Writings):

“Monks! If you wish to find a true master who can give you good advice, you should preserve correct remembrance, for those who do so remain free from various delusions.”

Does any one have any clues to offer? Any hints? Hunches?

If not, we’ll proceed to the sixth aspect, meditation.

Number six. Meditation.

Now we are on solid ground.

Meditation implies an undisturbed mind, and an undisturbed mind not only leads to awareness, it is awareness. Don’t leave yet. There is more to be said about meditation.

But first let’s hit number seven: wisdom.

In short, wisdom allows us to make proper choices. It enables us to appreciate all of life. It is the result of awakening, which is the result of meditation, which leads to number eight, hearsay.

That’s not heresy, but hearsay.

In legal terms, hearsay is evidenced based on the reports of others rather than the personal knowledge of a witness and therefore not admissible as testimony.

The nature of wisdom is the power to see the truth, and this is enabled through meditation.


We are back where we started. All this time we have been on an

enso. A closed circle. No beginning, no end.

Existence is a sort of enso. But, you say we beings start at birth, don’t we? And we end at death, don’t we?

But do we begin at birth?

Do we end at death?

At birth—and even before birth—we are a product of the form and the essence (the spirit, if you prefer) of our parents, and of their parents, and so on and so on. And at our death doesn‘t our essence, our spirit, a part of our being, pass along to someone or something else that has grown with us?

A human, a tree, a flower?

I’m not talking about reincarnation here. That is a subject for another talk.

Shortly before the Buddha died he told his followers that all things are subject to destruction and decay, so they should seek earnestly for the Way.

He said, “Stop talking for a while for time is slipping away.”

So I will stop talking for a while.

Just remember:

To study the Way is to study the self.

To study the self is to forget the self.

To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.

To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others.


Blogger Lucy Weir Bingham McAndrew said...

Perhaps rememberance is the ability to recall or remind ourselves of the sorts of patterns we have followed in the past, the sorts of relationships we have called to ourselves. So if we are looking for a teacher, and have rememberance, we will be aware enough that we can develop a different kind of relationship, one that loosens worn synaptic paths that have led us to having the same reactions time after time, and which tie us to patterns of action and reaction.

Sunday, July 01, 2012 2:56:00 AM  
Blogger Lucy Weir Bingham McAndrew said...

Forgive my spelling!

Sunday, July 01, 2012 2:58:00 AM  

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