Mountains and Water

Mountains and Water


Tesshin started with a Zen Joke this week …

Why there are so few monks in the world – they could not get the “chants.”  Ha Ha Ha!!


Tesshin next commented that we are entering the season where the days get short and cold.  It should be no surprise that the ceremonies of the season focus on providing light and warmth.  One reason we may do this is to fight off the depression that this darker and colder season brings.  However, perhaps there is something else we can do.  Tesshin suggested that we should look towards Dogen for some ready answers.  To help us along, Tesshin will be spending the next few weeks exploring the Mountains and Waters Sutra (book 29) of the Shobogenzo.  Tesshin likened this Sutra to a “All you can eat buffet of Wisdom!

(Some helpful links below…)


Wikipedia Entry

Translation with Commentary


First, Tesshin quoted some key passages from the Sutra…

The blue mountains are constantly walking; the stone woman gives birth to a child in the night.” The mountains lack nothing, hence they are constantly at rest and constantly walking. We must devote ourselves to a detailed study of this virtue of walking. The walking of the mountains is like that of people; do not doubt that mountains walk simply because they may not appear to walk like humans. These words of the Patriarch Ta-yang point out the fundamental meaning of walking, and we should thoroughly investigate his teaching on “constant walking.” Because the blue mountains are walking, they are constant. Their walk is swifter than the wind; yet those in the mountains do not sense this, do not know it. To be “in the mountains” is a flower opening in the world. Those without eyes to see the mountains do not sense, do not know, do not see, do not hear this truth. [They] who doubt that mountains walk do not yet understand [their] own walking. It is that [they do] not yet understand, have not yet made clear, [their] walking. He who would understand his own walking must also understand the walking of the blue mountains. The blue mountains are neither sentient nor insentient; the self is neither sentient nor insentient. Therefore, we can have no doubts about these blue mountains walking.


What does this mean?  Our first reaction may be to assume that these phrases are some type of poetic license on Dogen’s part.  Perhaps it is a riddle to catch our attention for a deeper lesson.  Here Tesshin was clear – there is no poetry or riddle here.  This is “ground truth” according to Dogen!


Tesshin next started to explain.  If we look at our lives in a Newtonian perspective – we have size and space and time.  We deal with common problems the best we can in this framework.  This is our truth.  However, if we take the here and now and look at it from a different perspective – say a quantum perspective – our daily perceptions no longer have size and shape – and common meaning.  So does the Newtonian reality exist – YES!  Does the quantum reality exist – YES!  Tesshin asked the group – how can they both be true when they are so very different?  


This is what Dogen is trying to get us to see.  Sometimes what we see in our day-to-day life baffles us and only becomes clear when we look at it in another way.  Of course, Dogen did not use the terms “Newtonian” and “Quantum!”  He used the terms Mountains and Rivers, but the point is the same.  When you look at a mountain in the conventional sense, you have split the world into you and the mountain.  The mountain is static and unchanging.  Can you change your perspective?  How about if you were on or in the mountain?   What happened if you BECAME the mountain?  Suddenly “mountain” is very different.  Dogen says, “To be in the mountains is a flower opening in the world. Those without eyes to see the mountains do not sense, do not know, do not see, do not hear this truth”

He is imploring us to experience the mountain in a different way!  


Another way to think of this is that in the past the term mountain was understood to mean stillness like Zazen or timeless wisdom of the Dharma.  Zen masters were sometimes referred to as mountains.  On the other hand, water or rivers are in constant motion.  Our evolving Buddha nature is seen to resemble water.  So, is our mind a mountain or is it a river?  That is the wrong question!  Dogen tells us that our stability is the stability of water and our evolving spirit is like a mountain.  It is the same thing.    


Tesshin commented that the mountains always walk even though they cannot move.  The problem is not with the mountains walking, but your expectation of what walking is and means.  We make presumptions about existence, but are they all really true? Tesshin suggested that our assumptions about walking derive from how we walk and how we think we exist in the world.  Dogen says that the stone woman gives birth at night.  Again, we immediately project our prior experience on a statement like this and reject it.  What is a stone woman and what is birth in the absolute sense?


Tesshin next brought the discussion back to the emerging season.  We perceive the days as being shorter and colder.  We react by celebrating the light and giving presents.  However, have we ever stopped to wonder if these cold days are actually already perfect?  The mountains do walk and the stone woman does give birth.  It is not about fixing perceived problems – it is about studying ourselves and our whole conceptual framework.  It is about seeing more!  Once we find the abiding perfection – we are liberated.  There is nothing to do – it already exists.


Tesshin stated that this change in perspective is not easy – we cannot see the mountain walking because we have a fixed perspective of what a mountain is.  However, we only see it from a distance.  We see it with our assumptions – thus we never really see it.  We see it with our own personal karmic package.  Dogen is telling us to get closer – and then even closer!  Can you do that?