Tesshin used his talk this week to continue the discussion on the Mountains and Waters sutra from Dogen’s Shobogenzo.
For convenience, here is an online translation of the sutra …
This week, Tesshin recited the following sections below …
Because green mountains walk, they are permanent. Although they walk more swiftly than the wind, someone in the mountains does not realize or understand it. “In the mountains” means the blossoming of the entire world. People outside the mountains do not realize or understand the mountains walking. Those without eyes to see mountains cannot realize, understand, see, or hear this as it is. If you doubt mountains’ walking, you do not know your own walking; it is not that you do not walk, but that you do not know or understand your own walking. Since you do not know your walking, you should fully know the green mountains’ walking. Green mountains are neither sentient nor insentient. You are neither sentient nor insentient. At this moment, you cannot doubt the green mountains’ walking.
You should also examine walking backward and backward walking and investigate the fact that walking forward and backward has never stopped since the very moment before form arose…
Green mountains master walking and eastern mountains master traveling on water. Accordingly, these activities are a mountain’s practice. Keep its own form, without changing body and mind, a mountain always practices in every place. Don’t slander by saying that a green mountain cannot walk and an eastern mountain cannot travel on water. When your understanding is shallow, you doubt the phrase, “Green mountains are walking.” When your learning is immature, you are shocked by the words “flowing mountains.” Without full understanding even the words “flowing water,” you drown in small views and narrow understanding. Yet the characteristics of mountains manifest their form and life-force. There is walking, there is flowing, and there is a moment when a mountain gives birth to a mountain’s child. Because mountains are Buddha ancestors, Buddha ancestors appear in this way. Even if you see mountains as grass, trees, earth, rocks, or walls, do not take this seriously or worry about it; it is not complete realization. Even if there is a moment when you view mountains as the seven treasures shining, this is not the true source. Even if you understand mountains as the realm where all Buddhas practice, this understanding is not something to be attached to. Even if you have the highest understanding of mountains as all Buddhas’ inconceivable qualities, the truth is not only this. These are conditioned views. This is not the understanding of the Buddha ancestors, but just looking through a bamboo tube at the corner of the sky. Turning an object and turning the mind is rejected by the great sage. Explaining the mind and explaining true nature is not agreeable to Buddha ancestors. Seeing into mind and seeing into true nature is the activity of people outside the way. Set words and phrases are not the words of liberation. There is something free from all of these understandings: “Green mountains are always walking,” and “Eastern mountains travel on water.” You should study this in detail.
What does all this mean?
For Tesshin the idea of this passage understanding what is the “real truth” versus “convenient truth.” He again cautioned us that the above passage is not a poetic metaphor for Dogen – it is reality!! Dogen would agree with us that a rock is a rock and a mountain is a mountain. This is not in dispute! The issue is that we see this truth and assume it to be the entire truth. What Dogen is telling us to do is stop and think deeper. It is delusion to think that surface perception is the whole truth.
Tesshin next mentioned that many people ask him why he stayed in japan to study for so long. It was precisely because these delusions are so hard to eliminate. Zen is not for the impatient – the learning curve is high. Tesshin remarked that his teacher had to gently deconstruct many of his conceptions and delusions over his 20 years of study. All of his inflated ideas had to be deflated one by one. You might start with the stubborn idea that a rock is a rock. You then read Dogen and think that the rock is sentient and is walking. “No, No, No – my precious student. Keep trying – you are missing it!” Start by asking yourself what is a rock and what is walking. Tesshin’s teacher had to patiently show him that there is so much more than surface ideas and assumptions. On top of all of this, it is well known that Americans are especially prone to the malady of lazy thinking. We like our entire philosophy to fit on a bumper sticker!
Tesshin suggested to us that the rocks, grasses, and stones of the mountain are true but it is only a superficial level of understanding. The splendors of understanding how we and the mountain are one is wonderful and deeper, but is still not the entire story. Our practice is to keep digging deeper and deeper – we need to keep going. Again, this tradition is not one for rapid gratification! Progress is not enlightenment it is just progress. Even when we reach the realization of the Buddhas themselves – we are not there yet.
However, Tesshin was clear, our practice is not useless or futile – our work is real and valid. Changing one’s perspective, even in a small way is very valuable. The idea is not to get smug and self-satisfied. A simple metaphor would be weight training. Today you can lift 100 pounds – congratulations! Are you done? No! We can keep working and lift 110 pounds next week. Some of us may become Olympic weight lifters and others will not, but everyone showing up the gym will become a bit more fit. This is our practice – we work ever day to become just a bit more open to the ground truth of reality.