Message from Henry: Genjo Koan

To study the Way is to study your self.
To study self is to forget self.
To forget self is to be awakened by all things.
To realize this is to cast off the body and mind of self and other.
When you have reached this stage you will practice awakening continually, without awareness of it.
~ Dogen

A Quick Look at Dogen’s famous paragraph from the Genjo Koan.

To study the Way is to study your self.

      Turning to Zen practice is not about Zen, it’s about you: what is a human being, this box of experience, this “sensorium,” this “all,” as Buddha called it. Let’s start analyzing it. We can do this by becoming aware of what we are experiencing as we sit: sounds, sights, emotions, thoughts, body sensation, breathing, and so on.

To study self is to forget self.

      Seeing the dynamics, energies, impulses, habits that constitute the sense of self, “me” itself can be seen through. What are we, beyond what we experience? Are we more than the processes that are going on? If so, what is this “me”? Where is it located? How can I clearly see and identify it? As we search for it, it simply disappears. It is gone. It was never really there. It was an addition, an invention, a fabrication. It invented itself, conjured itself, then believed in itself. We see that what we took our self to be was never there in the first place.

      An important point: it’s one thing to empty, to extinguish, to become one with our practice, to have a reduced sense of self, or none at all. But it’s another thing to clearly see through it. To realize it had been a complete invention all along.

      However, to clearly see through our self is much more than just extricating a certain element from our experience. It is also to see through the world that our self constructs. It is a most radical and startling breaking down of the world we thought we knew.

To forget self is to be awakened by all things.

      All things awaken us. Not vice versa. It happens to us, we don’t make it happen. We merely set up the conditions through our practice whereby it is easier for it to happen. As long as we are somehow still in control of our practice and what we experience, this is not yet realization. Realization is like suddenly hitting a cable with 10,000 volts in it. It is encountering a creative power that erases all we ever knew. This is where we truly experience not our kinship, but our inseparable identity with all other things. They show themselves to be none other than who we are.

To realize this is to cast off the body and mind of self and other.

      In other words, there is a further step beyond the previous line. In the previous line, we were thrust into the intimate reality of having let go of self and discovered our oneness with all things: that we share our reality, our very existence with all phenomena, without exception, and without separation of any kind anywhere. But here we don’t just taste, glimpse or see this. Through ongoing practice beyond the previous stage, this becomes the real state of affairs. This is how it is. No longer a flash, a revelation, an epiphany. Now we actually live reality. We take up our place for the first time in the true world.

When you have reached this stage you will practice awakening continually, without awareness of it.

      As Dogen said elsewhere: Sentient beings have no awakening in their consciousness; Buddhas have no consciousness in their awakening. This is where our life and practice really begin. No longer concerned in any way with awakening and delusion, both equally our home, both forgotten, we are starting to take up the real life of a bodhisattva. Our body is just as it is, and fills the universe. There is nothing else. Just this…  Just this…  Just this…

Message from Henry is from our October 30, 2017 Newsletter
Image: Buddha Flower by Brenkee,  Sky Fantasy by cocoparisienne, images are Public Domain CC0 1.0
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