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.
REALIZING Beginner’s Mind – Father’s Day June 21, 2015
This month’s one-day retreat (J. zazenkai) was held Saturday the 20th from 9 to 3 as usual; please watch for these each month and plan to attend. The subject was “Beginner’s Mind — the Zen Approach to Working with Mind.” We also recognized Father’s Day in passing, but did not dwell upon it, and we touched upon the depressing news of the day, which gets ample coverage in the media. It certainly raises the question of the Zen mind, and how we can maintain sanity and calm in the face of insanity and chaos all around us.
As a simple answer to the challenge we often hear, questioning whether Zen Buddhists just passively accept the horrors of the world in their nondualistic, absolutist worldview, I tried to make the point that Buddhism is not passive but active, and that meditation is the most we can do, as Matsuoka Roshi often pointed out, to engage reality. So the resolution is actually that proposed by the founder, Shakyamuni Buddha, and the Ancestors of the lineage. Those people around the world who are committing atrocities are primarily proponents of world views that are diametrically opposed to that of Zen. The central problem is the reification of the self and its belief systems, and the logical extension of enforcing them on others in the world. This is, of course, in the misguided belief that they will bring about the kind of world that their religion or philosophy envisions as ideal.
In Zen we speak of “not-knowing” as the preferred alternative to knowing, and the “don’t-know mind” as an aspiration to the highest accomplishment of human consciousness. Just to say knowing is to imply its opposite, in the conventional sense, and to raise obvious questions, such as what do we know, for sure, and what do we not know.
Knowing is usually associated with intellectual knowledge of various kinds. There is the kind of knowledge that can be gained through practice, such as how to sit in zazen or how to drive a car, involving motor muscle memory. There is the kind that can be gained through study, such as history or a second language, involving mental, or conceptual, memory. And there is knowledge of another kind, that is, knowing in the sense of apprehending our present reality, which may involve a kind of memory of past experience of previous periods of time that made a lasting impression on us, and which form a benchmark for comparison.
There is also the knowledge of how we know what we know, that is, the study of learning and consciousness itself, gained intellectually through the scientific examination of cognition, i.e. “brain science.” The study of the brain is a good example of what we think we can know, and how we can know it. Technology has been developed to allow imaging of the brain in real time, illustrating the firing of neurons in various areas of the organ theorized to control or associate with the functions of the body as well as the mind, such as memory.