The Mudra of Zen

Mark Foote

 

 


Konocti Moon

Dogen's "Genjo Koan"

Dogen offered the following statement in "Genjo Koan":

"When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point." (1)

The statement appears in a pair of paragraphs concerning practice and enlightenment. Here are the two paragraphs in full:

"A fish swims in the ocean, and no matter how far it swims there is no end to the water. A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies there is no end to the air. However, the fish and the bird have never left their elements. When their activity is large their field is large. When their need is small their field is small. Thus, each of them totally covers its full range, and each of them totally experiences its realm. If the bird leaves the air it will die at once. If the fish leaves the water it will die at once. Know that water is life and air is life. The bird is life and the fish is life. Life must be the bird and life must be the fish. You can go further. There is practice-enlightenment which encompasses limited and unlimited life.

Now if a bird or a fish tries to reach the end of its element before moving in it, this bird or this fish will not find its way or its place. When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point; for the place, the way, is neither large nor small, neither yours nor others. The place, the way, has not carried over from the past, and it is not merely arising now." (1)

I find it instructive to compare this translation with another; here's a 1975 translation by Paul Jaffe:

"When fish swim in the water, no matter how much they swim the water does not come to an end. When birds fly in the sky, no matter how much they fly, the sky does not come to an end. However, though fish and birds have never been apart from the water and the air, when the need is great the function is great; when the need is small the function is small. Likewise, it is not that at every moment they are not acting fully, not that they do not turn and move freely everywhere, but if a bird leaves the air, immediately it dies; if a fish leaves the water, immediately it dies. We should realize that because of water there is life. We should realize that because of air there is life. Because there are birds there is life; because there are fish there is life. Life is the bird and life is the fish. Besides this we could proceed further. It is just the same with practice and enlightenment and the lives of people.

So, if there were a bird or fish that wanted to go through the sky or the water only after thoroughly investigating its limits, he would not attain his way nor find his place in the water or in the sky. If one attains this place, these daily activities manifest absolute reality. If one attains this Way, these daily activities are manifest absolute reality. This Way, this place, is neither large nor small, neither self nor other, has neither existed previously nor is just now manifesting, and thus it is just as it is." (2)

I like the phrase "it is not that at every moment they are not acting fully, not that they do not turn and move freely everywhere"; Gudo Nishijima goes so far as to translate this as "each one realizes its limitations at every moment and each one somersaults [in complete freedom] at every place" (3).

In D. L. Bartilink, "No Special Effort", and the "Best of Ways", I wrote about somersaulting in place:

"The trick is to allow for movement in where I am, even when I'm not moving."

The place where I am can "turn and move freely everywhere", and the place where I am can also remain stationary; when the place where I am is free to move yet remains stationary, the rest of me may "somersault [in complete freedom]" around the place where I am.

Cheng Man-Ch'ing spoke of a saying from the classic literature of Tai-Chi, "the millstone turns, but the mind does not turn":

"… the turning of the millstone is a metaphor for the turning of the waist. The mind not turning is the central equalibrium resulting from the sinking of ch'i to the tan-t'ien.

'The millstone turns but the mind does not turn' is an oral teaching within a family transmission. It is similar to two expressions in the T'ai-chi ch'uan classics which compare the waist to an axle or a banner. This is especially noteworthy. After learning this concept my art made rapid progress." (4)

The statement in "Genjo Koan" about finding your place is followed by a parallel statement about finding your way:

"When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point…" (1)

While I sometimes separate out and bring forward certain senses in the experience of place, and at those moments my ability to find where I am appears in fact to depend on the exercise, there is in the wake of such moments an awareness of where I am as contact in any sense takes place. This I believe is why Dogen moves from "when you find your place" to "when you find your way", in the statements I have quoted above.

I am reminded of an account of Layman Pang and his family that Yuanwu offered:

"Layman Pang was with his whole family sitting around the fire. Layman Pang suddenly said, 'Difficult, difficult—ten bushels of oil hemp spread out on a tree.' Mrs. Pang said, 'Easy, easy—on the tips of the hundred grasses, the meaning of Zen.' Their daughter Lingzhao said, 'Not difficult, not easy—eating when hungry, sleeping when tired'." (5)

Yuanwu commented on the story:

"Usually when I relate this story to people, most of them prefer Lingzhao's remark for saving energy, and dislike what Old Man Pang and Old Lady Pang said about difficult and easy. This is nothing but 'making interpretations by following the words'. People who think like this are far from getting to the root of the fundamental design." (5)

I find the descriptions given by Old Man Pang and Old Lady Pang a lot like my experience with "when you find your place where you are" and "when you find your way at this moment".

Further along in the "Genjo Koan", Dogen wrote:

"Although actualized immediately, the inconceivable may not be apparent." (1)

Unlike his statements regarding "when you find your place" and "when you find your way", Dogen's statement about the inconceivable did not mention practice; rather, he said that the inconceivable is actualized immediately.

Dogen closed his "Genjo Koan" with the story of Zen Master Baoche:

'Mayu, Zen master Baoche, was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, "Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not reach. Why, then, do you fan yourself?"

"Although you understand that the nature of the wind is permanent," Mayu replied, "you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere."

"What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?" asked the monk again. Mayu just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply.' (1)

The wind that reaches everywhere actualizes the inconceivable immediately, without any practice occurring, in Mayu's fanning. "Eating when hungry" and "sleeping when tired", for Lingzhao, are similar actualizations.

In "D. L. Bartilink (etc.)", I wrote that Gautama's "comprehension" of the long or short of inhalation or exhalation can occur as practice when I find my place where I am. Dogen's teacher Rujing had these words to say about the long or short of breath:

"Breath enters and reaches the tanden, and yet there is no place from which it comes. Therefore it is neither long nor short. Breath emerges from the tanden, and yet there is nowhere it goes. Therefore it is neither short nor long." (6)

While on the first reading Rujing would appear to contradict Gautama, I would suggest that the difference in their teachings is like that between the statement of Old Man Pang or Old Lady Pang and the statement of Lingzhao.

When "there is no place (the wind) does not reach", the breath enters the tanden (tan-t'ien), yet the place from which it comes may not be apparent; when "there is no place (the wind) does not reach", the breath emerges from the tanden, yet the place to which it goes may not be apparent. The wind that reaches everywhere actualized the inconceivable immediately, in Rujing's breath.

 

References:

1) "Genjo Koan", Dogen; tr. Robert Aitken and Kazuaki Tanahashi. Revised at San Francisco Zen Center, and later at Berkeley Zen Center; published (2000) in Tanahashi, Enlightenment Unfolds (Boston: Shambhala), 35-9. Earlier version in Tanahashi 1985 (Moon in a Dewdrop), 69-73, also Tanahashi and Schneider 1994 (Essential Zen)
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Dogen_Teachings/GenjoKoan8.htm.
2) "Genjo Koan", Dogen; tr. Paul Jaffe (1996), in Yasutani, Flowers Fall (Boston: Shambhala), 101-107
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Dogen_Teachings/GenjoKoan8.htm.
3) "Genjo Koan", Dogen; tr. Gudo Wafu Nishijima, from “Understanding the Shobogenzo”, Windbell Publications 1992
http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Dogen_Teachings/GenjoKoan8.htm.
4) "Master Cheng's Thirteen Chapters on T'ai Chi Ch'uan", by Cheng Man-ching, trans. Douglas Wile, pg 67
5) "Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu", trans. Cleary & Cleary, pg 41
6) "Eihei Koroku", Dogen, vol. 5, #390, trans. Okumura

 

copyright 2015 Mark A. Foote

 

 

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