Friday, August 20, 2010

Like stepping on earth and falling into space

Like stepping on earth and falling into space
It cannot be grasped
Words cannot define it
Thoughts cannot capture it
A songbird without a tongue
A bell without a striker
A frog without a mouth
The old man tries to clap with just one hand


  1. Better to breathe a vacuum
    Than to listen without hearing

    From your earlier post:
    "learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self"

    "Comment:What does Dogen mean by turning your light inwardly and illuminate your self? It means to be aware and present in the here and now"

    Forgive me, but No, No, No.
    Being aware and present in the here and now, is just plain rubbish. Unfortunately, so is most of what follows.

    Look at what Dogen says: "Learn"
    That's the first clue. Once seated in meditation, know that your task is to learn.
    What you are to learn, is "the backward step"
    This is a hint to seek the knack of stepping back from yourself, but this is not all. The backward step is also about learning to navigate internally.
    Next clue is to turn your attention inwardly, but beware, your light is not your attention, however, with repeated attempts you can learn just what your light is.
    Once you know how to recognise your light, and have learned how to turn it inwardly, you can begin the process of illuminating yourself.


  2. BuddhiHermit,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Revisiting this, I think you were right to challenge my interpretation of that line. Dogen clearly seems to be instructing his students to look inwards. Is this an investigation of 'self'? Is it introspection? I'm not sure. However, while this sort of method is found in other forms of meditation, it doesn't sound like any Shikantaza instructions I have heard before.

    Can you support with evidence your claim that this is what Dogen meant?

    OK 'learn' is obvious.
    'the backward step': is it not more straightforward to see this as putting an end to our movement outward towards external objects, and instead directing our movement inwards? Does Dogen say or imply anything about 'stepping back from yourself'? or 'learning to navigate internally'? No. So do you have any other sources that would support the idea that Dogen was referring to such a practise?
    'turn your attention inwardly': Yes, clearly 'learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self.' implies turning the attention inwardly.
    'your light is not your attention': Other than awareness/attention, what else would it be? I've been meditating for many years now (and been alive far longer), of course I have made 'repeated attempts' to turn my attention inwardly and the use of light as a metaphor for the attention/awareness is entirely appropriate in my experience, (for example, some practices involve investigating the self by inquiring 'who am I?' or 'what is this?', others involve paying attention to thoughts, feelings and/or attachments as they arise). Can you explain why it does not correspond to your experience such that you need to give 'light' an altogether new meaning?

    Also, I don't know why you are being obscure - if you have an alternative understanding or interpretation then don't hold onto like it was a piece of gold, please share it with generosity.

  3. Here are some quotes that may give a clue as to what Dogen means here:

    "It is as though you have an eye
    That sees all forms
    But does not see itself.
    This is how your mind is.
    Its light penetrates everywhere
    And engulfs everything,
    So why does it not know itself?"

    Who is hearing?
    "Your physical being doesn't hear,
    Nor does the void.
    Then what does?
    Strive to find out.
    Put aside your rational Intellect,
    Give up all techniques.
    Just get rid of the notion of self."

    "Look for Buddha outside your own mind, and Buddha becomes the devil.'

    "If you want to be free,
    Get to know your real self.
    It has no form, no appearance,
    No root, no basis, no abode,
    But is lively and buoyant.
    It responds with versatile facility,
    But its function cannot be located.
    Therefore when you look for it,
    You become further from it;
    When you seek it,
    You turn away from it all the more."

    "What is this mind?
    Who is hearing these sounds?
    Do not mistake any state for
    Self-realization, but continue
    To ask yourself even more intensely,
    What is it that hears?"

    "Whether you are going or staying or sitting or lying down,
    the whole world is your own self.
    You must find out
    whether the mountains, rivers, grass, and forests
    exist in your own mind or exist outside it.
    Analyze the ten thousand things,
    dissect them minutely,
    and when you take this to the limit
    you will come to the limitless,
    when you search into it you come to the end of search,
    where thinking goes no further and distinctions vanish.
    When you smash the citadel of doubt,
    then the Buddha is simply yourself."

  4. And this:

    This, in turn, is the condition for the arising of ‘Knowledge and Vision of things as they really are’. And this stage represents the point of no-return, the point of irreversibility, in other words, Stream Entry. Another way of giving expression to the experience of Insight into the nature of Reality is called, “turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness” (Paravritti). The “Turning About” is a teaching of the Yogachara School of Buddhism and it is quite complex, so I’m not going to go into it in detail here. Perhaps the most important factor that this teaching is pointing to is the profundity and radical nature of the experience of Awakening. There is a complete “turning about” in the depths of our being. We are, as it were, turned upside down and inside out when we see into the true nature of Reality. This emphasises the fact that spiritual insight is not a matter of gaining knowledge or mastering obscure philosophical points but, rather, a matter of profound and far-reaching change to the heart and mind of the individual. When the paravritti, the turning about, takes place, all distinction between subject and object disappear, all distinction between ‘I’ in here and the world outside is left behind and there is an experience of what is called One Mind (cittamatra) or Mind Only. As Sangharakshita puts it, “The experience of one mind is like a great expanse of water, absolutely pure, absolutely transparent, with nothing in it, not a speck, other than the water itself”.

  5. Hi Shonin,
    I rediscovered this post, having been away from the web for some time.

    My apologies for being obscure - it's just that it's clear to me, but words are inevitably circular.

    One aspect of a master's words is that each word contains multiple dimensions, so that following only one interpretation, or many serially fails to lead to Truth.

    My experience is that each word and concept is to be lived as well as understood, in each present moment. The dilemma here, is that living, understanding, and the present moment, all occur together.

    This is not introspection, though we notice it occurring while we are "within". Hence my reference to navigation.

    I have not yet found any Dogen reference to stepping back from yourself, but Bassui did mention "Just get rid of the notion of self."
    My suggestion was to start this process by first stepping back.

    Thus Light can equate to awareness, but it's a poor substitute, when the reality is more a presence, fresher that the dew kissed petals of a lotus, unfolding understanding as a flower meets the sun.

    Rather than awareness, which has become somewhat encumbered with the weight of wordy interpretations, I found that awake-ness was a better subject for inquiry.

    As to sources that support these ideas - I regret that when I read words of truth, their meaning is self-evident, so my only true source is me.

    The idea that one should create an academic dissertation on "Truth", supported by the words of others seems somewhat ludicrous to me, and I end up feeling that good words have just been sullied.

  6. Here is another reference: