Last month’s Dharma Byte was titled “REALIZING Beginner’s Mind – Father’s Day June 21, 2015,” and ended with Matsuoka Roshi’s admonition that we should not give up on zazen too soon. Continuing my infatuation with the gerund, a verb form that acts as a noun in implying ongoing, never-ending action, I would like to focus our attention on “training,” another word that we tend to use casually and perhaps take for granted, never examining its deeper implications in Zen.

The longer you train in Zen, the more you come to appreciate that Master Dogen pretty much said it all, and as well as any other great Master, including the Chinese and Shakyamuni Buddha himself. This is why I do not agree with one of our former Disciple’s teachers, whom she quoted as saying, when she mentioned Zen, “Oh, Zen – too much Dogen; not enough Buddha.” To me, they both, in fact all of the Ancestors, speak with one voice.

In Fukanzazengi: Universal Promotion for Zazen, the first tract that Dogen committed to writing upon his return from China, he says (from our STO Service Book, current Soto Shu consensus translation – emphasis mine):

If you wish to realize Buddha’s wisdom, you should begin training immediately. Forsaking all delusive relationships, setting everything aside, think of neither good nor evil, right or wrong. Thus stopping the function of your mind, give up even the idea of becoming a buddha; not only in zazen, but in all your daily actions.

So training in Zen means training the mind, but in reverse: training it to stop doing what it usually does, including conceptualizing any end result of zazen, such as becoming a buddha, which we might ordinarily consider our highest level of aspiration. So we are, in effect, un-training our mind; reversing the effect of our years of ordinary training, resulting from conventional education and cultural memes and mores. This is why Zen takes so long to have its deeper effect. These habits of thinking and over-thinking are deeply ingrained in our psyche.

A quick look at the onboard New Oxford American Dictionary reveals the conventional definition:

training |?tr?niNG|


the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior: in-service training for staff.

• the action of undertaking a course of exercise and diet in preparation for a sporting event: you'll have to go into strict training.

Dogen goes on to remind us of the physical form of our training:

Sit firmly as a rock, and think of nonthinking — by going beyond both thinking and not thinking. This is the very basis (art) of zazen.

So training, first and foremost, involves taking action, which is in line with our understanding of Dogen’s thought process — nonthinking — being a kind of action. As with all actions, non-thinking has karmic consequences, as surely as do thinking and not thinking. The karmic consequence of non-thinking, however, is of a different order from acts of commission or omission: it is stepping back from our usual knee-jerk, automated response, and observing the flux and flow of our conditioned form of conscious processing from a dispassionate perspective, the backward step that Dogen mentions elsewhere in this same fascicle. This simple act of learning how to stop acting, reacting, and over-reacting, is the very basis of our zazen, which indicates that such physical action leads to mental and emotional effects. But the basis of Zen — zazen — is more like an art than a mechanical method that we can learn from others. We can learn zazen, but we must reinvent Zen for ourselves.

Taking the first of an extensive section on the verb form of the word:

train |tr?n|


1 [ with obj. ] teach (a person or animal) a particular skill or type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time: the plan trains people for promotion | [ with obj. and infinitive ] : the dogs are trained to sniff out illegal stowaways.

• [ no obj. ] be taught through practice and instruction: he trained as a classicist.

we pick up a couple of useful additional dimensions: from the skillful or expedient means perspective, training has to do with the teacher-student problem, calling for a trainer as well as a trainee. Of course, we recognize that, as attributed to Buddha’s last teaching in The Lotus Sutra, we don’t actually need a teacher to accede to this wisdom teaching. It is possible to do on our own. And in fact, when it comes to the immediate awareness of the authenticity of buddhadharma, it cannot be taught; it can only be learned through direct experience. Nonetheless, it is exceedingly difficult, owing primarily to the stubbornness and insidious nature of the survival-oriented mind. So the tradition of finding and following a “true teacher” is one that the lineage and legacy of Zen honors. This is one of the main aspects that makes Zen unpalatable to the average Westerner, with our worship of the cult of the individual.

Here, the particular skill would be that of countering the analytical compulsion to dissect the particulars, with a more intuitive embrace of the whole. The type of behavior might be recognition of obsessive craving and the opportunity to observe it, rather than act upon it. The emphasis on practice and instruction is captured in the Ancient’s instruction to practice—practice—practice as reiterated in the answer to the monk seeking the secret to Zen, as attention—attention—attention. We are training our very attention under the magnifying glass of attention itself. And here, let me repeat that repetition is the key to training, whether of the body or the mind. Both, actually, as they cannot separate. By “practice,” of course, we mean zazen, though in Zen, practice has always implied not only in zazen, but in all your daily actions. Zazen comes first, then daily life.

Later in Fukanzazengi, Dogen mentions training again:

The Buddhas and Ancestors have all preserved the buddha-mind and enhanced Zen training. So you should devote yourself exclusively to, and be completely absorbed, in the practice of zazen. Though it is said that there are innumerable ways of understanding Buddhism, you should do zazen alone.

Or, “The dharma of thusness is transmitted intimately by Ancestors and Buddhas; now you have it, preserve it well,” as we are admonished in Hokyo Zammai: Precious Mirror Samadhi, by our Chinese Founder, Tozan. It seems odd that we are presumed to “have it” already, but I think this implies that IT is innate, and only to be uncovered by the hard work of zazen in non-thinking. It seems doubly odd that we must preserve something that is innate. But I think it means that we must take care to transmit this to others for future generations. We enhance Zen training by designing the program of training to fit the times, reinventing the form, but not the substance. This apparent contradiction is resolved in Dogen’s Jijuyu Zammai: Self-fulfilling Samadhi, where he says:

Thus the realm of self-awakening and awakening others invariably holds the mark of realization with nothing lacking; and realization itself continues without ceasing for a moment.

There may be as many ways of understanding Buddhism as there are human beings, as another translation would have it, but the way to true understanding for most of us is to be found in this excellent method of zazen. In it, there is no real separation of self and other, so that self-awakening, should it transpire, is tantamount to awakening others. We must become the change that we would hope to bring about in the world. That is the bad news, but it tells us all we need to know, and what we need to do. The good news is that this realization, which we may take to be our undefined goal — substituting for training for promotion, or to sniff out illegal stowaways, in more conventional forms of training — is ever-present, universal and absolute, as the great Master reminds us.

Finally, over a period of time expresses both the sense of urgency, and the longer view that we must have in approaching training in Zen. If we are working out to lose weight or to get in shape, we don’t realistically expect results overnight, in spite of the claims of television commercials to the contrary. It took a long time to get into this condition; it is going to take some time to reverse it. If we give up too soon, we can expect the same results as going off our diet, or abandoning our exercise regimen. We will revert to the old normal soon, if not immediately. So, in spite of our poor understanding and inadequate practice, let us simply continue. This is the Zen way of the Ancestors.