Dogen Zazen as Other Power Practice

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Dōgen’s Zazen as Other Power Practice Taigen Dan Leighton The Institute of Buddhist Studies T IS CERTAINLY TRUE that Japanese Sōtō Zen founder Eihei Dōgen (1200–1253) encouraged his students to apply themselves diligently to zazen, the sitting meditation that he espoused as a primary practice throughout his career. Dōgen frequently challenged his students to active inquiry into the teachings and to a vivid meditative awareness informed by penetrating questioning. And Dōgen was not seeking for a
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  23 Dōgen’s Zazen as Other Power Practice Taigen Dan Leighton The Institute of Buddhist Studies I T IS CERTAINLY TRUE that Japanese Sōtō Zen founder Eihei Dōgen(1200–1253) encouraged his students to apply themselves diligentlyto zazen  , the sitting meditation that he espoused as a primary practicethroughout his career. Dōgen frequently challenged his students toactive inquiry into the teachings and to a vivid meditative awarenessinformed by penetrating questioning. And Dōgen was not seeking for an“easy practice” as a response to concerns about mappō   , in the spirit of hisfellow Kamakura period innovators. But none of this means that Dōgenwas advocating a self-power practice with which its practitioners couldaccomplish great realization through their own efforts. On the contrary,many aspects of Dōgen’s meditation teaching assume the practitioner’sdevoted acceptance of and support from “other” sources.This is not to claim that Dōgen was relying solely on some OtherPower with the same humble and insistent devotion as his contemporaryShinran. But in this paper I will focus on the aspects of Dōgen’s zazenpractice that do imply receiving support from Other Power. “OtherPower” here does not refer to reliance on any single other source suchas the Vow of Amitābha, but Dōgen did see the necessity for awakenedrealization of receiving support and strength from a variety of external“other” sources and the importance of sincere devotional gratitude tothese benefactors. The material in this paper does not relate directly to Jōdo Shinshū devotional traditions. But we will see some of how Dōgen’szazen is deeply grounded in a strong devotional orientation. It is hopedthat some aspects of this context might perhaps be informative to theformulation of an appropriate modern Shinshū meditative praxis.For Dōgen, external support derives from three main sources: thelineage of historical (or quasi-historical) buddhas and ancestors, the cosmic buddhas and bodhisattvas, and perhaps most importantly, the phenomenalworld of the environment informed by buddhadharma. This latter energysource, which we might trace back to the early teaching of the buddha-fieldor buddhakṣetra  , has striking parallels with the role of Sukhāvatī (the Landof Bliss) of Amida Buddha in Pure Land Buddhism. Dōgen emphasizedin his teaching of nonduality the ultimate nonseparation of self and other,  Pacific World24  but he did at times acknowledge the aspect of these sources as “other,”conventionally at least.Before exploring these three sites of his devotion, we may note thatDōgen makes clear in many of his writings that the zazen he advocates isnot a meditative skill for his students to learn, or a technique for achievingsome future heightened or exalted state. In his “Universally RecommendedPractices for Zazen ” (“Fukanzazengi,” the earliest version of which waswritten upon Dōgen’s return from China in 1227), he says, “The zazen Ispeak of is not meditation practice [in the traditional Buddhist sense]. It issimply the Dharma gate of peace and bliss, the practice-realization of totallyculminated awakening.” 1 Dōgen’s zazen is a ritual expression and celebra-tion of awakening already present. He repeatedly emphasizes the onenessof practice-realization, in which practice does not lead through one’s ownefforts to some subsequent realization. For example, in 1241 he said, “Knowthat buddhas in the buddha way do not wait for awakening.” 2 For Dōgen, zazen is not an activity aimed at results. In 1234 he said,“A practitioner should not practice buddha-dharma for his own sake, togain fame and profit, to attain good results, or to pursue miraculous power.Practice only for the sake of the buddha-dharma.” 3 Practice is the effect of realization, rather than its cause. In this way, Dōgen’s meditative praxis is afaith expression of the beneficial gift of grace from the buddhas and ances-tors, analogous to how nenbutsu and shinjin are provided to the Shinshūdevotee thanks to the Vow of Amida.The first locus of an otherly power for Dōgen, and indeed in most of the Zen tradition, is the lineage of ancestral teachers going back to the his-torical Buddha Śākyamuni. The structure of Dharma transmission, whichis central to the Zen Buddhist lore and tradition, itself expresses a type of Other Power reliance. Without the guidance and power of the realizationof previous historical teachers, the ancestral teachers going back genera-tion after generation to ancient buddhas including but not limited to thehistorical Śākyamuni Buddha, realization in the current generation would be impossible. Modern scholarship has clarified how the lineage of namesvenerated in Zen, especially in the traditionally accepted Indian lineage,was concocted later and is not historically accurate. However, the personswho kept alive the practice in each generation, sometimes not known withhistorical accuracy, may remain for present practitioners not only the objectof gratitude, but also an active source to call upon for support.Dōgen regularly expresses deep gratitude to all the buddhas and an-cestors for transmitting the teaching and invokes their support for currentpractice. In his Shōbōgenzō  essay, “Only a Buddha Together with AnotherBuddha” (“Yuibutsu yobutsu”), he expands on a line from chapter 2 of the Lotus Sutra  , “Only a buddha and a buddha can thoroughly master it,”to describe how realization depends on interaction with the realization of   Leighton: Dōgen’s Zazen as Other Power Practice25 other buddhas. He begins by saying, “Buddha-dharma cannot be known by a person.” 4 Here Dōgen is not only acknowledging indebtedness to thelineage of buddha ancestors and the personal teachers of each practitioner, but also starkly clarifying the limitations of self-power. He says, “What youthink one way or another is not a help for realization.... If realization cameforth by the power of your prior thoughts, it would not be trustworthy.Realization does not depend on thoughts, but comes forth far beyond them;realization is helped only by the power of realization itself.” 5  In his 1243 essay from Shōbōgenzō   , “The Ancient Buddha Mind”(“Kōbusshin”), Dōgen talks of the pervasion of the buddha-mind through-out the world, for example that, “Its ten directions are totally the worldof Buddha, and there has never been any world that is not the world of Buddha.” 6 And yet he gives various cases in which noted historical Chanmasters referred to the assistance and inspiration of their predecessorswith profuse gratitude and called them “ancient buddhas.” Commentingon an instance when Xuefeng referred to the great Zhaozhou as an ancient buddha, Dōgen says, “In his action now, as he relies on the influence of anancient buddha and learns from an ancient buddha, there is effort beyondconversing, which is, in other words Old Man Xuefeng, himself.” 7 Theexertion and practice from the buddha ancestors themselves thus providea reliable external power that allows buddha practice now.In his  jōdō  (dharma hall discourses) in Eihei Kōroku  , Dōgen frequentlyrefers to zazen as a practice bestowed by the buddha ancestors and the buddhas and bodhisattvas. For example, he emphasizes this in discourse516 in 1252, in which he cites Nāgārjuna (from the Dazhidulun attributedto him) criticizing other forms of sitting meditation by those who “seek tocontrol their own minds, and have the tendency of seeking after nirvāṇa.” 8  For Dōgen, zazen is already the expression and benefit received from the buddhas and ancestors, and is not about seeking to gain some other statethereby.In a slightly subsequent jōdō 522, Dōgen cites his own teacher TiantongRujing’s saying, “Right at the very time of sitting, patch-robed monks makeofferings to all the buddhas and ancestors in the whole world in ten direc-tions. All without exception pay homage and make offerings ceaselessly.”Dōgen then avows that, “I have been sitting the same as Tiantong,” simplyas a ritual of devotion and gratitude for this practice, an offering to all bud-dhas and ancestors. He concludes by equating this zazen to “taking a drink of Zhaozhou’s tea for oneself,” 9 referring to the great Tang dynasty Chinesemaster who is celebrated in a notable kōan for kindly offering tea to all stu-dents who arrived before him, regardless of their level of experience.Dōgen’s devotion to and reliance on Śākyamuni as primary Buddhais fully exhibited in his strong emotional responses in his many memorialdiscourses in Eihei Kōroku on the occasions of commemorating Śākyamuni’s  Pacific World26  birthdays and parinirvāṇa days. But clearly he expresses devotion to all buddhas as well.One of the dozen final essays in Shōbōgenzō   , edited after his death byDōgen’s successor Koun Ejō, is a lengthy discussion of “Veneration of the Buddhas” (“Kuyō shobutsu”), which concludes with ten methods forvenerating a buddha. 10 These include building a stūpa or various ways of making offerings to one, but also include offering one’s meditative practiceas gratitude to the buddhas. Throughout this long essay Dōgen praisespractices of making offerings, clearly indicating his strong devotional at-titude, as he says, for example, “Making venerative offerings in this wayis the essence and life of the Buddhas in the three times.” 11 As a second primary locus of devotion, Dōgen certainly speaks of relying on the cosmic buddhas and bodhisattvas for assistance, and evenin totally entrusting them. In the undated Shōbōgenzō  essay “Birth andDeath”   (“Shōji”), Dōgen says simply, “Just set aside your body and mind,forget about them, and throw them into the house of buddha; then all isdone by buddha.” 12 Dōgen frequently uses a similar phrase, dropping off  body and mind, shinjin datsuraku  , to indicate both zazen and completeenlightenment itself. But the Shōji passage clarifies that his critical notionof shinjin datsuraku is not something one does through one’s own effort, but it “is done by buddha.”Dōgen’s trust in the buddhas and bodhisattvas is indicated, for example,on an occasion in 1250 when he gave a dharma hall discourse appealing tothe power of buddhas and bodhisattvas for clear skies. He ends by quotinghis own teacher in appeal, “Make prostrations to Śākyamuni; take refugein Maitreya. Capable of saving the world from its sufferings, wondrouswisdom power of Avalokiteśvara, I call on you.” 13  Dōgen especially invokes the power of Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisat-tva of compassion who is attendant to Amida Buddha. For example, afterrelating a dream or vision he had that included Avalokiteśvara, Dōgensays poetically, “When Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva makes an appearance,mountains and rivers on the great earth are not dead ashes. You shouldalways remember that in the third month the partridges sing and the flowersopen.” 14 For Dōgen the vitality and renewal of awakening practice ariseswith the grace of Avalokiteśvara’s presence.One traditional Mahāyāna expression of devotion to the buddhas and bodhisattvas is the formal practice of taking refuge in the three treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and sangha. In an undated Shōbōgenzō  essay “Mind of theWay” (“Dōshin”), which may perhaps have been among his last writings,Dōgen emphasizes devotion to these three jewels. He says to “Aspire torespectfully make offerings and revere the three treasures in life after life.” 15  He also encourages chanting the three refuges, and specifically the practiceas the end of life approaches of ceaselessly reciting “ Namu kie Butsu .” Among
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