Saturday, May 30, 2009

PRACTICE 2 - Dotoku, Sendaba & Buddha Nature

Some of the fruits from my recent study of Dogen's religious philosophy


DOTOKU
"I await the time when I do not speak and then hear immediately"
TUNG SHAN
Dotoku is the central concept that all Dogen's philosophy subsequently develops out from. He does this by fully exploiting, then expanding further, the linguistic ambiguities inherent to Chinese characters, where they can mean two things simultaneously. Essentially dotoku means both - attainment of the Way & the means to the attainment of the Way- the actuality & the possibility simultaneously. This idea Dogen adopts and then takes it off into territory, that sometimes is only implied in the early Buddhist sutras. Dotoku provides the essential underpinning for his contention that Practice and Enlightenment are 'intimate', are one with each other.

We can become accustomed to seeing practice only as a self-initiated endeavour that will help us realise Enlightenment, practices that at some point we'll need to abandon. So its hard to shift perspective from this, to seeing the action of practice as being initiated by Enlightenment, urging itself to be made manifest through our practice. The danger in this view is that it can be taken too literally - it isn't meant to imply that we are already Enlightened. The emergence of the Enlightened state is still entirely dependant on conditions. For Dogen we express, in accordance with the degree of our faith, vigour and application to our practice, the Enlightened state through that practice. Likewise, all things which we think of as 'standing in for' as representations of this ineffability, are not just symbols of them, but manifestations of the symbolised itself eg - the
vajra - the 'adamantine' symbol for the energy that cuts through to the true nature of reality - isn't according to this view only something that represents this energy, it is a manifestation of it.

SENDABA

"You experience and penetrate the inaudible when words are uttered"
DOGEN
Sendaba is a word that has an infinite variety of possibilities for meaning and expression. It is traditional in Buddhist doctrine to see language as a rather inadiquate means for transmitting the truth of the Dharma. The emptiness of sunyata, of our self, language, ideas and concepts, is fundamental. But, rather than seeing language as being limited by its emptiness in its ability to express the ineffable, Dogen turns this assumption on its head and says that linguistic expression of the ineffable is sendaba - infinite -as infinite as the means through which the Enlightened state can be manifested - through words, sutras, mantras, symbols, sraddha, nature, dreams, myth, philosophy, illusion and the creative imagination. Through all these things the ineffable can become 'intimate' with us, because they are all essentially sunyata - empty - without a defined, and therefore fixed, meaning. But what makes this sense of them grow and develop in this 'intimacy' is wholehearted action - 'the mustering of the whole body-mind' - 'the total exertion of a single thing, is one with that of all things' This means that intention, volition and action is vital for creating the conditions for this 'intimacy' to arise in our consciousness. Enlightenment/Buddha-nature is not a passive, but an active state


BUDDHA - NATURE

"Buddha- nature and becoming a Buddha always occur simultaneously"
DOGEN
Buddha-nature cannot in Dogen's scheme of things be divorced from this 'intimate' wholehearted exertion. This is seen as a form of 'actional understanding', that any positive spiritual action can have a consequence in making Buddha-nature arise and be more manifest. So Dogen's view of Buddha-nature is not that it is either eternally present, nor provisional, but that it is realisable through the devoutness of our actions. This means that Buddha-nature has to be 'intimately' connected with - prattitya samutpada - conditioned arising -as truly seeing the nature of the latter is, according to Dogen, an expression of the former. In this, Dogen was parting from the contemporary Japanese view of 'original enlightenment' as some sort of permanent, and therefore eternal force.

I've been seeing this relationship as being similar to that between a light bulb and a light switch. A light bulb is designed to be able to manifest light, but it needs to be switched on. In this sense you could say it has potential for light, but does not yet possess it. It is probably more helpful to say that a light bulb has the capability for manifesting light, but it is only able to do so if certain conditions are in place. Primarily, that there is a means of creating the energy, a means to connect that energy to the bulb. a means of creating and fixing a switch to that connection, someone to turn the switch on, and once switched on, a working light bulb through which the energy can manifest as light. If all these conditions are present then the light bulb maybe said to be capable of being lit. This metaphor outlines
the relationship to Buddha-nature to us - we have the capability for the realisation of Buddha-nature - but if we don't create the conditions for it to through practice, it simply will not fully manifest.


1 comment:

Paul Crummay said...

" Dogen's view of Buddha-nature is not that it is either eternally present, nor provisional, but that it is realisable through the devoutness of our actions. This means that Buddha-nature has to be 'intimately' connected with - prattitya samutpada - conditioned arising -as truly seeing the nature of the latter is, according to Dogen, an expression of the former. In this, Dogen was parting from the contemporary Japanese view of 'original enlightenment' as some sort of permanent, and therefore eternal force."


Good stuff! Nice to read someone engaging with Dogen, especially in Triratna!
.
With your permission, I'd like to add...
that Dogen does not see Buddha-nature as arising dependent on conditions, but as the very fact of arising-conditions. It is equivalent to the part of the Heart Sutra -"so, in emptiness, no form, feeling, concept, path etc". Buddha-nature is his word for "impermanence", not as a thing but as the profound nature of every action. To realise this, one does not have to "set up conditions", as that is the very buddha-nature of everything already; one has to drop off the ideas we have of anything and find that truth in every action as it arises.

I understand Dogen's notions of "practice-enlightenment" as equivalent to the "emptiness-is-form, form-is-emptiness" part of the Heart Sutra. Not two things that are intimate with each other, but two ways of seeing the same event. And the event is not to be framed as any kind of thing, or set of conditions separate from this very moment that one day we might attain if we create the conditions...it's already going on in every action we take in our life. That is what 'intimacy' means here, I think.

So, when we do zazen (Dogen's fullest expression of buddha-dharma), dropping off body and mind is the Way - of "in emptiness, no form..." Direct, here now, whenever we drop our identification with process, with goal, with trying to make things happen by setting up the right conditions. And yet, central to Dogen is also ACTION! That is to say, there is nothing until we act, until we actualise it. In this sense, Buddha nature is not potential, or eternally present. "pratityasamutpada" = Dogen's Buddha-nature or emptiness. What do you think?