Round and Round

Dogen Flower


Tesshin Roshi noted that writers and teachers should work with what they know and like the best. However, for this week, he decided to ignore that advice and start a discussion on something he has always found very challenging – namely Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Roshi likened this document to Mount Everest in its depth and complexity, and he still considers himself a mere “student” with it. As a bit of background, Roshi explained that Dogen was alive during the period of 1200 to 1253 in medieval Japan. He started his Buddhist upbringing in the Tendai tradition which prizes the Lotus Sutra. This influence continued throughout many of Dogen’s teachings. The Shobengenzo is Dogen’s commentary on the Lotus Sutra.


For this week, Roshi focused on the 16th chapter of the Shobogenzo entitled “Hokke Ten Hokke


Roshi first noted that the kanji for “Hokke” can be translated as “Flower.”  The interesting thing is that this kanji could be a noun or a verb. So does it mean that something is a flower, or that something is flowering? In this case, it means both at the same time! In addition, the word “Ten” means “turning” or “affecting” or “setting in motion.” As such, one translation of this chapter title could be “The Flowering of the Dharma Sets the Dharma’s Flowering in Motion.” Roshi also noted that this title could be “looped” infinitely. The Flowering of the Dharma Sets the Dharma’s Flowering in Motion which causes the Dharma to Flower … and so on and so on! Even more interesting is that Japanese can be read from left to right, right to left and top to bottom. As such, not only does can this title endless loop, it can be read and understood in any direction.


So, all Buddhas in the past, present, and future in all the ten directions have enlightenment and thus move the progress of the Dharma forward. However, it is also correct to say that all of these Buddhas are affected by the Dharma as well. What is important here is that the enlightened ones are no more separate from the flow of reality than you and me. To emphasize this point, Roshi talked about what is meant by the “10 Directions.” This is much more than North, South, East, and West. It is meant to encompass all space, time, dimensions, universes – basically everything. He noted that there is nothing external to this reality. Even the Buddhas and ancestors are a part of reality. As such, the enlightened ones create the Dharma, but at the same time they are being transformed by it. Nobody stands alone and separate!


Roshi wrapped up by noting that modern science is just now catching up to the ideas Dogen wrestled with all the way back in the 1200’s. This year’s Nobel Prize in physics went to three researchers studying the entanglement of particles at the quantum level.  Essentially they found that what happens to one entangled particle determines what happens to the other particle even if they are far apart in space. Roshi noted that in our everyday life we see things on a very restricted “flat plain” and thus are surprised by findings like this. We are like ants seeing just the ant world and not understanding all the vastness beyond our anthill. Dogen challenged us to view the universe differently. We do this by stopping and calming the mind. We do this through our practice. We slow down and open ourselves up to the possibilities. We realize that reality affects us, and we affect reality. Round and round in the cycle of karma reality exists.