Tuesday, June 28, 2011


In one of Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo talks he speaks at length about Daigo. This is not the name of a monk. It’s a Japanese word that translates roughly as “Great Realization.”

Now that’s a dicey term in English as well as in Japanese. Many Zen intellectuals, including the renowned D.T. Suzuki, interpret “Daigo” as denoting enlightenment.

However, in all of Dogen’s writings he downplays the shopworn notion that enlightenment is the goal of Zen. Dogen insists that zazen—that is, meditation—and enlightenment—that is, awakening—are the same.

This is a wonderful example of where one plus one equals . . . one.

Therefore, according to Dogen, Daigo, or Great Realization, is something else.

Let’s take a look at what Great Realization might be.

To paraphrase Dogen: “To carry into effect great realization is to arrive at the truth without realizing it and to let go and act.”

That seems clear and straightforward. I’ll say it again:

“To carry into effect great realization is to arrive at the truth without realizing it, and to let go and act.”

Of course, Dogen, being Dogen, can’t leave well enough alone. He goes on to say that, first, Buddhist masters experience being used by the twelve hours. That could be said the other way around. Masters use the twelve hours in that they are fully aware.

In American terms, they are up to scratch.

Next, masters take things up, and they throw things away. That is, they live each moment totally, but they don’t cling to anything.

Finally, Dogen says that masters play with mud-balls, and they play with the soul.

Mud balls?

I see bewilderment on your faces.

What he means is, they live with the mundane, such as rinsing sand out of spinach, but they continue to be alive each moment, no matter how ordinary those moments may seem to an observer.

As radio-impresario Garrison Kiellor might say, they have the get-up-and-go to do the things that need to be done.

Dogen lists several kinds of humans that identify with great realization. Not to worry if you don’t immediately grasp the significance of these categories. Just listen, and let the words sink in. Maybe they will make sense today. Maybe they will tomorrow.

Here are Dogen’s four kinds of humans:

1. The innately intelligent. These are individuals who by living become free of life. Let’s be careful here. I don’t say that humans become immortal, or that they live for a hundred years. They do have—somewhere during their lifetime—a realization of their physical being. It’s a point at which they realize, “Hey, I’m a man, or I’m a woman. I’m not sure which, but, sure as shootin’, I am me.”

2. The learned intelligent. These are individuals who master the state of themselves. That is, Dogen claims, they realize the skin, flesh, bones and marrow of themselves.

A slight detour: Remember the occasion when Bodhidharma gathered his disciples to test their awareness, and one of them said truth is beyond affirmation or negation, and Bodhidharma said, “You have my skin.” Another said that Buddha-land is seen once and forever, and Bodhidharma said “You have my flesh.” Another said that spirit is reality, and Bodhidharma said, “You have my bones.” The fourth disciple didn’t say anything. Bodhidharma said, “You have my marrow,”

3. There are the people of Buddha-intelligence. In short, they are individuals who are free from the restraints of goal-oriented intelligence.

4. There are people of the teacher-less intelligence. These are individuals who don’t rely on counselors, or on sutras. Furthermore, they are individuals who don’t run around trying to drag others into their way of thinking.

Each category seems like a pretty good road map to living, doesn’t it?

So, what is the point of all this heady stuff?

The point is that these categories of Dogen are not individual niches for fitting oneself into. They aren’t road maps. They aren’t like blood types or post office boxes. They are collective examples of what Dogen calls great realization, and together they help to define an ideal principle.

The point is this.

Great realization isn’t enlightenment, or awakening, or a blessed state in which an individual transcends desire and suffering.

Great realization is not related to the past and future because it is a momentary state.

Great realization is you, right here, you right now.


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