Posted inDogen, Henry's Messages, Meditations

Message from Henry: Wisdom

November 12, 2015

In nothingness there is a way.  –Tozan


Ganto (828-887) once said: “It is better to expel things and inferior to pursue things.”

The Tao Te Ching says:

Those who pursue learning gain something every day.
Those who pursue the Way lose something every day,
loss after loss, until we reach nothing to do –
no doing, yet nothing is not done.

How do we lose things? We watch them arise and pass away, we allow them to arise and pass away; and in time the two become one.

* * *

Meditation is the lamp, wisdom the light that shines from it, an old master said.

We wouldn’t expect to have the light without the lamp. We need the lamp. And if the lamp is there, the light will start to shine, sooner or later.

The records of the early masters in the Zen tradition are known as “lamp records,” or records of “the transmission of the lamp” – of how the lamp was passed from practitioner to practitioner.

As long as the lamp is here, we needn’t be too concerned about the light.

How does this work? What’s the mechanism? There is a wisdom intrinsic to all phenomena. When we meditate, gently, slowly we surrender ourselves, we give up ourselves. Then the intrinsic wisdom of all things becomes apparent.

What is it? It’s not something. Is it nothing? Not exactly. Tozan (807-869) said:

“In nothingness there is a way.”

Only a true taste of this reality could have permitted him to say something like that, which defies logic.

Why go step by step? Every step is precisely the full reality, all there is. Thus Soto Zen says: “No steps.” But the risk in that is “Zen of no consequence,” where we don’t change and don’t grow into bodhisattvas.

On the other hand, there are steps, there is practice, there is realization, and further realization, and forgetting realization, and forgetting the forgetting, says Rinzai Zen. But the risk here is of getting hung up on goals, when we already are any goal we might conceivably seek.

But there is also the wisdom of “Steps with no-steps; and no-steps with steps,” says Yamada Koun. Tozan wrote a famous poem on this wisdom, known as the “Five Ranks” or “Five Aspects” or “Five Modes.” They are steps with no-steps. Sanbo Zen, like Dogen (1200-153), and like other masters in the history of Zen, does not really accept that the different “houses of Zen” are different. Our particular history is non-sectarian.

“I’m not a man of wisdom,” Hyakujo said, who was a towering cliff-face of nothing but wisdom.

We are not wisdom. Wisdom is us.

As Dogen said, the mountains and rivers are the very sutra, the very words of Buddha.

* * *

One Sanbo Zen master describes meditation in the Zen tradition as follows: it is a specific form of meditation where the absorption is focused within, on something without form and without meaning. wound.

Message from Henry taken from our November 11, 2015 Newsletter.
Image: Lonely Reader, by Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND 2.0.

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