Nothing Held Back

Don't Hold Back


Tesshin Roshi continued his discussion of Dogen’s Shobogenzo this week.  He reminded the group that that Dogen’s work is actually part of a long line of inquiry of the Lotus Sutra which actually has no beginning or end.  What does this mean?  Starting from the Lotus Sutra itself, we know that it was authored by a number of highly educated Buddhist monks and was developed in four major sections spanning from 50CE to 100CE.  As this is over 500 years from when the historical Buddha was alive, we can safely say that the Lotus Sutra is a reflection on earlier teaching of the Buddha.  Getting a bit more mystical, it is noted that the Buddha is not the first enlightened one, but one of many enlightened ones who have appeared throughout time and space.  As such, the universe has been pondering the the Lotus Sutra for a very long time.  


On the other hand, once the Lotus Sutra was actually created, it was studied by many east Asian masters including many famous Chinese masters.  It is these Chinese masters who influenced Dogen as he sat down to write Shobogenzo.  However, the chain does not stop there.  Many scholars have analyzed and translated Dogen.  This work has led all the way to Tesshin Roshi on this very Saturday morning!  Even here the chain is not finished!!  We absorb Goroshi’s talk and form our own understanding of the message in the Lotus Sutra.  Our life,  influenced by this message, affects still more people.  Looking of this, the phrase “Hokke Ten Hokke” springs to life!  The Dharma flower turns the Dharma flower – on and on and on!


Roshi next moved on to discuss how language affects our ability to understand the message in the Lotus Sutra and Shobogenzo.  Unfortunately, translation is not an exact science and how a word is translated from one language to another can completely change the tone and tenor of a phrase or an entire work of literature.  Combine this with the fact that the work of the Lotus Sutra has been translated between many languages over the years and we begin to wonder if what we are studying today is really the message from the historical teachers.  This is a fair question and it is a good reason why the Sutras can only take you so far.  They serve as a guide, but can never substitute for the real work of Zen – namely training the mind to apprehend unmediated reality in all of its glory.  This can only be done in the crucible of meditation.  


Roshi next quoted a line from Dogen…


“When the mind is in delusion, the flower turns the mind, but when the mind is realized it turns the flower.”


What does this mean?  What is realization?  Again, we must remember that “realization” is an English word.  The choice of this word sets the tone for our understanding of this passage.  Roshi wondered if the tone would change if we substituted “Perfectly Exhausted Energy” for “Realization.”  In other words, when the mind meets reality with this perfectly exhausted energy it then turns the Dharma.  So, can we face existence with no reservation?  Can we face our life with nothing held back?  We only need to look at the world to see that this is the normal state of things.  The sun does not shine less today because it is tired.  It shines its nature with nothing held back.  Can we live our nature with nothing held back?  Could this be the “realization” Dogen is pointing to?  


When we are deluded, we expect the Dharma to “turn” or “fix” us.  If I can only sit a few more hours or solve the next koan – all will be well.  We are expecting Zen to do something to us.  Roshi commented that this does happen to some degree.  We improve as people and hopefully our suffering decreases over time.  However, at a point, we begin to understand “true authenticity.”  We begin to live our lives with no reservations.  We stop holding back.  At this point, we turn the Dharma.  Our very lives become the Dharma for the next generation – even if we are not formally teaching.    


How do we get to this point?  How do we live with nothing held back?  For now, we need to be turned by the Dharma.  We need to practice in order to “burn off” all of our delusions and conditioning.  This is our work on and off of the cushion.  We vow each day to save all beings from delusion.  We do this by practicing and realizing.  We do this by joining the chain of being from the earliest historical Buddha to this very moment and beyond.  Our lives become part of the flowing Dharma.  The Dharma flower turns the Dharma flower on and on through all time.