What I've been reading: Zen Edition

August 27, 2015

Moon in a Dewdrop - Zen Master Dogen

*Master, what should we do if hot or cold comes?
Why don’t you go to where there is no hot or cold?

  • Dongshan*

In the buddhist tradition, hot and cold refers to birth and death. Therefore, this could be read as a master prompting his student to try to escape the cycle of samsara (suffering).

I feel this is also meaningful from a secular, phenomonolgical perespective. Hot or cold seems like anger or fear, like confrontation or avoidance, like desire or aversion.
Dongshan seems to be saying, when external events cause you to suffer, it is your reaction that precisely defines your suffering and therefore it is that reaction that you should attend to.

When [hot or cold] comes, it comes from the summit of cold or the summit of heat and manifests from the eye of cold itself or heat itself. The summit is where there is no cold or heat. The eye is where there is no cold or heat.

Even if you try millions of times to avoid cold or heat, it is like trying to put a tail where your head is.
Cold is the vital eye of the ancestor school. Heat is the warm skin and flesh of my late master.

Dogen clarifies the point of Dongshan, to draw attention to the subtleties of his teaching. It is not that we should avoid hot or cold, and indeed such a thing we could never manage, but rather we should delve into them, or rather, let them penetrate us.

The question raised asks about the world around us - and what our emotional reactions to it are. Do we try to impose our dogma onto the world - are our actions based on the way things “should” be? Or do we engage with the world as it manifests itself to us and through us?

To understand that the skin of the face is very thick is all-inclusive study.

Much is made of the importance of face-to-face transmission and of uninterrupted connection to buddha ancestors. This quote seems important but its precise importance eludes me.

To say “A painting of a rice cake does not satify hunger” is like saying “to refrain from all unwholesome actions and to respectfully practice wholesome actions”. It is like saying “What is it that thus comes?”. It is like saying “I am always intimate with this”. You should investigate it in this way.

Is it possible that there are, or there has been, multiple people in existence who are functionally equivalent to each other? I.e. a person is not just a singular entity and instead is a category of phenomenena, that must produce certain reactions to a given set of events.

The koan of a painted rice cake seems to be very popular, and is very challenging, moreso for it’s simplicity. It initially seems to be a simple statement about form and representation, similar to “the map is not the territory”. As Dogen disects the problem, we see instead that there are more and more layers to the subject at hand.

The green mountains are forever walking. A stone woman bears a child by night. If you doubt mountains walking you do not know your own walking.