Bob Schwartz

Tag: Dogen

Without Labels

Labels harm us as much as they help us. They may destroy us. Social, cultural, political, religious, intellectual labels. Even as we use labels as shorthand that helps us identify our friends and our kind and our foes and our others, we are mistaken. They keep us from reality, keep us from the rewarding but hard work of knowing more and deeply, keep us apart. Labels are as much weapons and disabilities as they are conveniences.

Can we live without labels? In some circumstances they appear to us essential. Don’t we want to know, and want others to know, what party or cause or religious denomination or ethnicity or gender we associate with? We may want that, and we may find benefit in it, but as with most benefits, they may be illusory and they have a cost.

Dogen was the 13th century founder of the Soto Zen school of Buddhism. It is one of the many schools and sects that were developing during Dogen’s time and that have developed during the centuries since.

He fiercely opposed the naming of schools of Buddhism, Zen or otherwise:

In this way, know that the buddha way that has been transmitted from past buddhas is not called Zen meditation, so how could there be the name “Zen School”? Clearly understand that it is an extreme mistake to use the name “Zen School.” Those who are ignorant assume that there is an “existence school” and an “emptiness school.” They feel bad not having a special name as a school, as if there is nothing to study. But the buddha way is not like that. It should be determined that in the past there was no such name as “Zen School.”
The Buddha Way, from Treasury of the True Dharma Eye

The first verse of the Tao Te Ching addresses the way that naming may keep us from the reality of things:

A name that can be named
is not The Name
tr. Jonathan Star

The name you can say
isn’t the real name.
tr. Ursula Le Guin

Names that can be Named
Are not True Names.
tr. John Minford

the name that becomes a name
is not the Immortal Name
tr. Red Pine (Bill Porter)

Red Pine continues: “During Lao-tzu’s day, philosophers were concerned with the correspondence, or lack of it, between name and reality. The things we distinguish as real change, while their names do not. How then can reality be known through names?”

Dogen and Heschel on Time

Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253) and Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) would have understood each other, liked each other, despite the seven centuries that separate them. Brilliant, visionary and overwhelmingly articulate, they were heirs to two rich traditions, Zen Buddhism and Judaism, which they further refined into pure essence. Their inspired prose is poetry, the poetry of the thing itself.

Both wrote about time in ways that exceed our comprehension by a step or two, so we run to keep up: Dogen most astutely in his essay Uji: The Time Being; Heschel in his book The Sabbath.


When you are at this place, there is just one grass, there is just one form; there is understanding of form and beyond understanding of form; there is understanding of grass and beyond understanding of grass. Since there is nothing but just this moment, the time being is all the time there is. Grass being, form being, are both time.

Each moment is all being, each moment is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment….

Mountains are time. Oceans are time. If they were not time, there would be no mountains or oceans. Do not think that mountains and oceans here and now are not time. If time is annihilated, mountains and oceans are annihilated. As time is not annihilated, mountains and oceans are not annihilated.

Zen Master Dogen, Uji: The Time Being, translated by Dan Welch and Kazuaki Tanahashi, in The Essential Dogen.


Every one of us occupies a portion of space. He takes it up exclusively. The portion of space which my body occupies is taken up by myself in exclusion of anyone else. Yet, no one possesses time. There is no moment which I possess exclusively. This very moment belongs to all living men as it belongs to me. We share time, we own space. Through my ownership of space, I am a rival of all other beings; through my living in time, I am a contemporary of all other beings. We pass through time, we occupy space. We easily succumb to the illusion that the world of space is for our sake, for man’s sake. In regard to time, we are immune to such an illusion.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath.


 

The Heart of Shabbat

The Heart of Shabbat

On Shabbat
The mountains walk away
Gone beyond
Not to distract
With grandeur in space
Reminders of time
In their absence

Further reading:

The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel

Mountain and Waters Sutra, Dogen (“The green mountains are always walking”)

The Heart Sutra, translated by Red Pine (“Gate gate, paragate, parasangate, bodhi svaha”)

 

Recommending a Round Cushion to All People

The official story
Says to sit upright
On the round cushion
Legs crossed
Hands positioned
Breathing in and out.

But you are not a citizen
Of the land of cushions
No reason to follow
The party line.

Lay your head on it and nap
Roll it across the room
Throw it in the air
Or out the window
(don’t hit anyone)
Admire its color
Its fabric
Its filling
And its roundness.
Play with it.
Sit on it or don’t.
Remember however
To breathe in and out
With or without
The round cushion.
That’s not following
Anything or anyone
That’s just good sense.

Note: One of the most famous Zen texts is Dogen’s Recommending Zazen to All People. Dogen was in a masterful position to make such a recommendation. I am not. But round cushions, which come in many colors, fabrics, and fillings, are easy to recommend, because even if you don’t use it for sitting, there is a lot you can do with a round cushion.

Days of Awesome: Day 1 (Rosh Hashanah)

 

I brought them out of the land of Egypt and I led them into the wilderness. I gave them My laws and taught them My rules, by the pursuit of which a man shall live. Moreover, I gave them My sabbaths to serve as a sign between Me and them, that they might know that it is I the Lord who sanctify them.
Ezekiel 20:10-12 (New Jewish Publication Society translation)

Note from The Jewish Study Bible:

The Sabbath is the foundational sign of the covenant (Exod. 20.8–11; 31.12–17). Scholars have suggested that the Sabbath became particularly significant in the exile, as holy time replaced the vacuum of holy space (the Temple); this might explain why the Sabbath plays such a significant role here. As in Exod. 31.13, 17 (from the Priestly tradition), it is viewed as a sign, namely a symbol acknowledging God as Creator.

Here we are confronted with the phenomenon at the heart of this holiday. At the heart of every holiday. At the heart of religion and reality itself. We are concerned with space. We are concerned with being. We are concerned with time too. But we may not be properly concerned, in a balanced way that accounts for time, space and being.

We can rule space, or at least pretend to. If you visit New York or other great cities, you see how people have shaped space to their liking and purposes. But where in New York or elsewhere have even the richest and most powerful ultimately shaped time? We can mark time, but do we understand? To help us understand, time is set aside. It may be by God, it may be by our society or community, it may be by and for those close to us.

The Sabbath each week, and the Days of Awe each year, are set aside to be different than the other days of the week or of the year. Different in fact than any other days of eternity. In part to remind us of present eternity.

For more, see The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel and The Time-Being by Zen Master Dogen, which can be found in Enlightenment Unfolds.

This is the first post in a very small project/experiment in random wisdom I call The Days of Awesome. In addition to the standard and traditional forms of worship and contemplation associated with the Jewish High Holy Days (also known as Days of Awe), each day of the holiday I will be studying a randomly selected chapter of the Tanakh (also known as the Jewish Bible or the Old Testament), which has 39 books containing a total of 929 chapters.

Among other things, this is inspired by the I Ching and by social theorist and philosopher Gregory Bateson, who is quoted as saying “I am going to build a church someday. It will have a holy of holies and a holy of holy of holies, and in that ultimate box will be a random number table.”

Dragon Poems (About a Plant)

Madagascar Dragon

The Dragon at the Wall

The dragon guards the wall
I sit before.
A fine pair we are.
I breathe in the oxygen
He breathes out.
He asks for water and light
I ask to learn to sit
As naturally as he does.

The Dragon Awakes

The dragon wakes up
When I open the blinds
Long green scales
Gracefully still
In the morning light.

These poems are about a plant. A dracaena marginata, which means “Madagascar dragon.” Whether or not it is a real dragon is a question.

In his Treasury of the True Dharma Eye (Shobo Genzo), Dogen Zenji also writes about a dragon and a plant. Actually, a tree. Fascicle 65, Dragon Song, includes the question “Is there a dragon singing in a withered tree?” Is there?

Touzi, Great Master Ciji of Shu Region, was once asked by a monk, “Is there a dragon singing in a withered tree?”

Touzi replied, “I say there is a lion roaring in a skull.”

Discussions about a withered tree and dead ash [composure in stillness] are originally teachings outside the way. But the withered tree spoken of by those outside the way and that spoken of by buddha ancestors are far apart. Those outside the way talk about a withered tree, but they don’t authentically know it; how can they hear the dragon singing? They think that a withered tree is a dead tree which does not grow leaves in spring.

The withered tree spoken of by buddha ancestors is the understanding of the ocean drying up. The ocean drying up is the tree withering. The tree withering encounters spring. The immovability of the tree is its witheredness. The mountain trees, ocean trees, and sky trees right now are all withered trees. That which sprouts buds is a dragon singing in a withered tree. Those who embrace it one hundredfold, one thousand-fold, and one myriadfold are descendants of the withered tree.

Outsmarting a Coffee Machine

Zen Tea

When I arrive at my hotel room, I find a very modern coffee machine. Very smart. It tells me to place the coffee pod in its holder. Close the lid. Another lid opens to accept water. Pour in water and close that lid. Place the cup on the pedestal, which it then knows is in place. Press the brew button. And in a matter of seconds, hot coffee.

But what if I just want hot water? Then I have to outsmart it. When it directs me to place the coffee pod in its holder, I don’t. I just pretend. I put the water in the tank, put the cup in place, and proceed as if what I want, what I am expecting, is a cup of coffee. What it gives me instead, what I want instead, is simply a cup of hot water. Which I can then use for any of the things you can do with hot water. Such as making a cup of tea with a teabag.

The machine is smart. Or I am smart. The machine is stupid. Or I am stupid.

Have a cup of tea.

 

Zhaozhou’s Cup of Tea
(Koan 233 of Zen Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans)

MAIN CASE

Zhaozhou asked a newly arrived monk, “Have you been here before?”

The monk said, “Yes, I have been here.”

Zhaozhou said, “Have a cup of tea.”

Later he asked another monk, “Have you been here before?”

The monk said, “No, I haven’t been here.”

Zhaozhou said, “Have a cup of tea.”

The monastery director then asked Zhaozhou, “Aside from the one who has been here, why did you say ‘Have a cup of tea’ to the one who had not been here?”

Zhaozhou said, “Director.”

The director responded, “Yes?”

Zhaozhou said, “Have a cup of tea.”

COMMENTARY

In the real truth, there is no other thing that is present. In worldly truth, the ten thousand things are always present. We should clearly understand that real truth and worldly truth are nondual and that this, in and of itself, is the highest meaning of the holy truths.

The monastery director was lost in the differences between the two monks, so Zhaozhou moved in all directions at once to help him see it. If you go to the words to understand this, you will miss it. If, however, you see into it directly, it will be like the bottom falling out of a bucket. Nothing remains. How do you see into it directly? Have a cup of tea.

Mountains Walking

Jesus, Dogen and Donovan each have something to say about mountains. In some ways the same thing.

Jesus says that faith can move mountains, by which he may mean that understanding the nature of things, including mountains, will allow us to see that mountains are always moving, if we will see it. Jesus is all about what we don’t see that is right in front of us.

Dogen says that mountains are mountains and mountains are walking. If you can walk, mountains can walk. Those without eyes to see mountains cannot notice, understand, see, or hear this reality.

Donovan sings about this reality of mountains appearing, disappearing, appearing.

Jesus

He answered, ‘Because you have so little faith. In truth I tell you, if your faith is the size of a mustard seed you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.’ (Matthew 17:20, New Jerusalem Bible)

Dogen Zenji

Priest Daokai of Mount Furong said to the assembly, “The green mountains are always walking; a stone woman gives birth to a child at night.”

Mountains do not lack the characteristics of mountains. Therefore, they always abide in ease and always walk. Examine in detail the characteristic of the mountains’ walking.

Mountains’ walking is just like human walking. Accordingly, do not doubt mountains’ walking even though it does not look the same as human walking. The buddha ancestor’s words point to walking. This is fundamental understanding. Penetrate these words.

Because green mountains walk, they are permanent. Although they walk more swiftly than the wind, someone in the mountains does not notice or understand it. “In the mountains” means the blossoming of the entire world. People outside the mountains do not notice or understand the mountains’ walking. Those without eyes to see mountains cannot notice, understand, see, or hear this reality.

If you doubt mountains’ walking, you do not know your own walking; it is not that you do not walk, but that you do not know or understand your own walking. Since you do know your own walking, you should fully know the green mountains’ walking.

Green mountains are neither sentient nor insentient. You are neither sentient nor insentient. At this moment, you cannot doubt the green mountains’ walking.

From Mountains and Waters Sutra, Shobo Genzo, Fascicle 15 (1240)

Donovan

The caterpillar sheds his skin to find a butterfly within
Caterpillar sheds his skin to find a butterfly within
First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is
First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is

From There Is a Mountain

Time

Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory

Driving down a country road, a man sees a farmer. The farmer is holding up a pig so that the pig can eat apples from a tree. The man stops and says to the farmer, “You know, that’s not very efficient. If you put the pig down, shook the tree and let the apples fall to the ground, it would save a lot of time.” The farmer says, “You may be right, but what’s time to a pig?”


The result of our thinginess is our blindness to all reality that fails to identify itself as a thing, as a matter of fact. This is obvious in our understanding of time, which, being thingless and insubstantial, appears to us as if it had no reality.

Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, except to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space. As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face. Time to us is sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives. Shrinking, therefore, from facing time, we escape for shelter to things of space. The intentions we are unable to carry out we deposit in space; possessions become the symbols of our repressions, jubilees of frustrations. But things of space are not fireproof; they only add fuel to the flames. Is the joy of possession an antidote to the terror of time which grows to be a dread of inevitable death? Things, when magnified, are forgeries of happiness, they are a threat to our very lives; we are more harassed than supported by the Frankensteins of spatial things.

It is impossible for man to shirk the problem of time. The more we think the more we realize: we cannot conquer time through space. We can only master time in time.

Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Sabbath


At the time the mountains were climbed and the rivers were crossed, you were present. Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.

As time is not marked by coming and going, the moment you climbed the mountains is the time being right now. If time keeps coming and going, you are the time being right now. This is the meaning of the time being.

Does this time being not swallow up the moment when you climbed the mountains and the moment when you resided in the jeweled palace and vermilion tower? Does it not spit them out?

Zen Master Dogen
The Time-Being
The Essential Dogen

Notes on Interstellar

Interstellar

1

Christopher Nolan’s movie Interstellar is more interesting than it is imperfect. See it if you like space movies, sci-fi movies, intellectually curious movies, spectacular movies, etc.

It is filled with wonders. It is like the car trunk stuffed with luggage for a vacation, so much colorful and significant luggage creatively crammed in that when you open it on arrival you say: Wow, I wonder how we ever got all that stuff in there?

No spoilers here, but a couple of things.

Look for all the tiny (and not so tiny) echoes of space and sci-fi movies past. Star Wars, Close Encounters, etc., but most of all 2001. Why not? Right now, “they” are probably having a good 5th dimensional laugh watching Stanley Kubrick’s proto-human apes tossing that bone.

Interstellar has the most subtly cool robots ever. TARS doesn’t sing like HAL, but he has moves like Jagger and is great with the snappy patter.

2

The movie is much about cosmology—the origin and nature of existence. Cosmology is the domain of all kinds of people, including religionists and philosophers. But in greater part, we have handed over many of those considerations, as in this movie, to theoretical physicists—Einstein, Hawking, etc. I am a big fan of cosmology.

It is not a spoiler to mention that plenty of people, including some in this movie, believe that the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked. Which raises this way-out-there question: What if the moon landing was real but all the cosmological theoretical physics is faked? Going back before Einstein, theoretical physics spends much of its time (as we understand it) looking for physical proof of those theories. What if all the theory is so utterly astounding and enlightening that when the evidence failed to support it, all the scientists engaged in the study conspired to make it seem as if those theories are supported?

Faking the moon landing mission has never been put entirely to rest because, in fact, only three people experienced it first-hand. Everyone else was second-hand or more distanced from the actuality. But the basic elements of it are well within our understanding: astronauts, rocket, spaceship, lunar lander, moon, television pictures. The cosmological speculation and supporting discoveries are so far beyond anything that most of us can fully—or slightly—grasp that we could easily be fooled into taking it for “reality.”

By the way, for those wondering about the earnestness of all that, be assured that I am just playing. Or am I?

3

We don’t have to be space pilots to experience cosmology, or be theoretical physicists or movie directors to think about it. Cosmology is ordinary. Interstellar and other movies and thousands of works of art and literature point to this. Everybody is a cosmologist, like it or not.

Cosmology is an excellent topic that does not necessarily require specialized knowledge. You may not know a worm hole from a black hole. But you already know a ton about time, space, being, and gravity. You just have to know how to know and that you know.

This is from an essay almost 800 years old. No more or less spectacular than Interstellar, it is no more or less a non-theoretical description:

Do not think that time merely flies away. Do not see flying away as the only function of time. If time merely flies away, you would be separated from time. The reason you do not clearly understand the time being is that you think of time only as passing.

In essence, all things in the entire world are linked with one another as moments. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being….

You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives. Although understanding itself is time, understanding does not depend on its own arrival.

People only see time’s coming and going, and do not thoroughly understand that the time being abides in each moment. Then, when can they penetrate the barrier? Even if people recognized the time being in each moment, who could give expression to this recognition? Even if they could give expression to this recognition for a long time, who could stop looking for the realization of the original face? According to an ordinary person’s view of the time being, even enlightenment and nirvana as the time being would be merely aspects of coming and going….

Mountains are time. Oceans are time. If they were not time, there would be no mountains or oceans. Do not think that mountains and oceans here and now are not time. If time is annihilated, mountains and oceans are annihilated. As time is not annihilated, mountains and oceans are not annihilated.

Dogen
The Time Being (1240)
Treasury of the True Dharma Eye