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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 11 30 Wholehearted Practice of the Way) in the Shobogenzo. These people ask, “Didn’t Zen master Dogen say, ‘I realized my eyes were horizontal and my nose was upright’ and ‘I completely clarified the great matter’? Then for we ordinary people who haven’t experienced satori, isn’t a zazen of ‘just sitting’ rather meaningless?” Not only do I have memories of thinking these same thoughts, I know of many others who practiced under Sawaki Roshi and also felt this way; many strayed from Roshi’s “just sitting” and changed to kensho Zen or koan Zen. Kodo Sawaki had a special appeal as a human being as well as having a distinctive character as a true Zen monk. Those who heard his Zen dis- course for the first time were immediately drawn to him as iron is drawn to a magnet. So despite Roshi’s declara- tion that the practice of zazen will come to nothing (his way of expressing the character of zazen for which there is “no gain and no satori”), many of his audience would conclude that in the course of practicing zazen they would surely attain something. That’s why so many became his students. Those lay practitioners, who come to sesshins from their homes to join us in zazen may not have thought as deeply about shikantaza as those who shaved their heads and were ordained by Roshi, devoting their lives to zazen. They may not reach a point as many of the monks did where they have doubts about shikantaza. No matter how much these monks practice zazen it doesn’t completely satisfy their hunger. It’s as if they never feel completely full no matter how much they eat. For them not feeling sufficiently satisfied now means they haven’t had their fill of the thing called satori. Young people, in particular, who have thrown themselves into a religious practice will wonder whether it is meaningful spending their early lives practicing a zazen in which nothing stays with them. Once they start feeling this way, they begin to feel that the seniors who have practiced for many years are all deluded beings once their exterior coat has been peeled off. So, they presume, they had better attain satori. For this reason many leave Roshi’s community. I too was riddled with doubts. However, I stayed with Roshi for twenty-five years until his death, serving as his attendant and continuing my zazen practice. So I understand how people feel when they have doubts about this practice. On the other hand, I also understand the meaning of shikantaza as expressed by Zen master Dogen and by Sawaki Roshi. Next, I would like to try to interpret the teachings of these two masters. I use the word interpret given the obvi- ous difficulty religious practitioners have in understanding the vocabulary of Zen master Dogen and Sawaki Roshi, and the troubling doubts that begin to envelop new practitioners of shikantaza. They may not understand these two outstanding teachers because the masters’ words do not seem to touch their troubling doubts. Though it may be presumptuous of me, in what follows I will give my commentary on the words of Dogen and Sawaki. An example of what I am referring to is the quote, “I realized my eyes were horizontal and my nose was upright and I could no longer be fooled by people. I returned empty-handed to my home.” How about if I interpret it as, “Breathing this breath now, I realize my life in the present?” I’m not interpreting the Shobogenzo as a Buddhist scholar might, trying to be consistent with a classical text; nor am I reading it as one who is a so-called follower of a sect—stick- ing strictly to each word and phrase as if he were opening a can to be worshiped as is. As much as possible I read it as a seeker in pursuit of a fresh way to live my life. To my mind I am reading the Shobogenzo in a manner to shed light on the true mind of the ancients. And I believe I am interpreting it in a manner consistent with Dogen’s words, “Learning the Buddha Way is learning about your self.” When you read Dogen’s words with a fresh mind, even his statement about the eyes being horizontal and the nose being upright will be understood not as a flat inflexible statement but, I think, it will be properly understood as the recognition of one’s fluid, raw life, as in the living presence of breathing this breath now. And when you approach it this way, you will see it not as some mystical occurrence as a result of practic- ing zazen and intentionally becoming enlightened. It will be a natural expression of the life of reality for everyone. When the true living power of zazen manifests, a very subtle movement occurs. Because of its subtlety, it is not easy to grasp; all we can do is practice it.