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Negotiating the Way from Dogen's Shobogenzo

Randy Dible, April 2008

Metaphysics, David Dilworth

In Bendowa (Negotiating the Way), Dogen advocates zazen-sitting practice as the supreme of all Buddhist

activities. Okubo introduces Bendowa by stating that in it, Dogen “gives a concise exposition of the jijuyu

Samadhi” and traces the great transmission of this Samadhi from Shakyamuni Buddha's flower sermon at

Vulture Peak, down through the line of Zen masters.

Buddha-tathagatas, Dogen explains, transmit the Jijuyu Samadhi directly from Buddha to Buddha as the

means of "supreme and complete awakening" (from page 8 of the translation of Waddell and Abe). To

achieve this Samadhi, Dogen says proper sitting in Zazen meditation is the right entrance. "The Dharma is

amply present in every person, but without practice, it is not manifested; without realization, it is not

attained." By this Dogen means that all people, and by extension, all beings, are the Absolute Infinite, are

Ultimate Reality, but they may not know it if they don't practice meditation, and do not "manifest" the

Dharma (from the root "Dhr-" meaning "to hold" or support, as the Infinite does for the finite), if they do

not practice the relatively difficult discipline of proper meditation, by the strict regulations as outlined in

the sermon of Zazengi (The Principles of Zazen), also found in this translation of Shobogenzo. By the use

of "manifest", Dogen must mean, "making a reality" in existence, what was once only in the imagination

(although not the "imagination" as is used colloquially to deny the reality of imaginations; rather, I am

employing this term to best express the un-manifest reality beyond existence). Peirce makes the distinction

between existence (which I take to be technically synonymous with 'manifestation') and reality, in his paper

on God (The Concept of God), denying God's existence without denying God's reality, and with this I agree,

and extend to all other entities which are un-manifest. I also agree with Dogen if he meant by his use of

“manifestation” that we create a reality in the imagination by drawing distinctions, and that our reality, and
any reality, is but one corner of a greater imagination (used here to indicate the actualization of all possible

forms, not in this universe, but realized elsewhere as required by the continuity of the finite within the

Infinite), the tip of the iceberg. I agree with the metaphysics here set forth, but I am in less agreement with

the necessity of the specific technique of meditation outlined by Dogen, which is his conclusion from his

study of the other Zen practices and their origins in the sciences of his time. Whatever the source of these

rigid specifications, I do not believe they are necessary for enlightenment. In the Lin-Chi lu, another text of

the same school of Buddhism, there are given many accounts of illuminations occurring spontaneously

(more than would even be proper to cite). It may be that the monks who achieve spontaneous

enlightenment have been primed by their meditation practice, but this seems unlikely to me. I believe the

truth of Dogen's insistence on Zazen for achieving transcendence lies in the fact that transcendence from

the relative phenomenal experience of forms to the formless ultimate reality must be set-up for those who

seek ultimate reality. But in thinking themselves away from reality, they only deserve (by their karma of

thinking themselves away from their own ultimate reality) the difficult path of sitting, but still do not

require it. Sitting in the way specified may be the best set-up for the human body's general parameters, and

for those of the human mind in general, but every body is different, it is the pure formless subjectivity that

is the same. This divergence from Dogen seems to be supported by the words of Dogen following the last

quotation: "it is not a question of one or many; let loose of it and it fills your hands.... all living beings use

it unceasingly..." (page 8).

My advocacy of Samadhi does not uphold any form of Samadhi, only the formless. In his introduction of

Bendowa, Okubo says that Dogen “gives a concise exposition of the jijuyu Samadhi.” The characters “ji”,

“ju” and “yu” translate respectively as “in himself” (“in itself” perhaps?) “receives [the Dharma]” and

“employs”. In footnote number 1 on page 8, “jijuyu” is compared with “tajuyu”, which means the joy of

aiding others to awakening. So, we could interpret the technical sounding title “jijuyu” as simply “the joy

of awakening”, which isn’t so technical, and doesn’t necessarily mean that the greatest way of

concentration, Samadhi, is connected with Zazen as it is described in Zazengi. This is Dogen’s advocacy,

not mine. If I am to advocate any technicalities within the paradigm of Samadhi meditation, I refer to

Patanjali’s yoga sutras (Rammurti S. Mishra's translation in his The Textbook of Yoga Psychology, from
Concentration and Samadhi, translations of aphorisms 17 and 18), wherein, two ‘forms’ of Samadhi are

distinguished as ‘Samprajnata Samadhi’ (Samadhi with external aid, with support) and ‘Asamprajnata

Samadhi’ (meaning without support). This distinction, and the bit of Sanskrit I learned as a consequence,

means to me that the use of mantras, yantras, mandalas and the like are secondary to the underlying

practice of transcending the duality of the relative and conditioned world. And to me this also means that

however you sit is secondary, however you place your tongue is secondary, because these are all ‘beside the

point’, and that is to say, off-center. I believe what Dogen was getting at in rigorously defining the state of

the body for Samadhi was that often stress and consequently ‘mind-stuff’ is held in the body in postures

and specific positions of limbs and other organs, and we must do our best to sit ‘empty handed’ and thus

‘empty-minded’.

This way of ‘practicing’ Asamprajnata Samadhi does purify subjectivity of the illusion of distinctions of

objects from subjects, but it is not in itself complete, leaving pure being, leaving only one subject, which is

pure subjectivity, the ‘selfhood of the self’, or being in itself, the ‘in’ itself, the self, pure self-reference,

which is formless Samadhi. And Samadhi is only the means to the end. A means is a process, a

Whiteheadian process and the ontological category of becoming as well as precisely the living, the

experiencing subject itself (Whitehead, Process and Reality, chapter 1, section 6). Pure subjectivity is not

Ultimate Reality because that leaves pure superjectivity (pure objectivity) unaccounted for, and it is only, in

Whitehead’s system, the hyphenated subject-superject that is the ‘actual entity,’ the fundamental reality that

is usually indicated merely by the term ‘the subject’ [pure subjectivity] (which is the thesis of his “Process

and Reality”). The Radical One (there can be only one), Asamprajnata Samadhi, if it is pure subjectivity,

is, therefore, penultimate reality, and Nirvana, Moksha, is the end of the process, the end of all process,

ultimate reality. This is the “philosophia perennis” of East and West. And pure subjectivity is found to be

the same as pure objectivity, and there is what seems to be a radicalized notion of nothingness, pure

nothingness, the so-called ‘fecund’ or ‘full’ void, or simply, ‘the void’. I contend, however well this works,

that a better term is ‘the Absolute Infinite’, and it is found to be same as the finite, phenomenal world and

all the imagination, in other words, Nirvana is found to be the same as Samsara. Pure being is not ultimate

reality, I contend, but penultimate reality, whereas the absolute infinite is ultimate reality, which is the
beyond of being in a positive sense of “being” so overwhelming, fundamentally overpowering that not even

a distinction has yet been drawn, not even unity can emerge, much less any dimensional extension!

Whitehead's ultimate reality is creativity itself, novelty, becoming (Whitehead, Process and Reality,

Chapter 2, section2 on Creativity, the principle of novelty, and section 4 on the actual entity as the

abbreviation of the subject-superject or 'actual entity.')

Once again, Dogen says, "without realization, it [the Dharma] is not attained". Realization, however, is not

the end in and of itself, once again; it is the means, the "wonderful means". Samadhi is the springboard, I

like to say, to Nirvana. One must pass the camel through the eye of the needle, to get to Heaven, so to

speak. But Heaven is all around, for we are cosmic, heavenly bodies on heavenly bodies under the

influence of larger heavenly bodies. Just because we are ‘down to earth’ doesn’t mean we’re not cosmic.

Likewise, just because our world is concrete, this does not mean it isn’t abstract and pure. Everything is

pure and abstract. Shutsuro means transcending realization (footnote number 3 on page 9): “As long as

one remains within realization after transcending the realm of differentiation, complete liberation is

unachieved. Complete liberation requires transcending realization as well as reentering the realm of

differentiation in order to work for the salvation of others” (ibid). “Buddhahood means not abiding in

Buddhahood, but rising above the concept and consciousness of Buddha to save others” (footnote 22, page

12, Bendowa).

At the top of page 19 in Bendowa of Waddell and Abe's translation of Shobogenzo, Dogen tells us "Some

among the deva multitude now present in the heavens actually witnessed the ceremony that took place

many years ago during the assembly at Vulture Peak, when the Tathagata entrusted his right Dharma eye,

his wondrous mind of nirvana, to Mahakashyapa alone.... those deva hosts devote themselves to protecting

and maintaining the Buddha Dharma throughout all eternity." "The Buddha transmitted his teaching to

Mahakashyapa in the presence of a congregation of humans and devas. For the devas known as

trayastrimsa (Japanese, toriten) one year is equal to 500 years in the human realm, making it possible that

they are still alive." (Footnote number 44, on page 19.) Dogen refers to these devas again on page 25 in a

somewhat utopian political comment: "When the authentic Buddha Dharma spreads and is at work
throughout a country, it is under the constant protection of the Buddhas and devas.... Under a benevolent

reign, with the country at peace, the influence of the Buddha Dharma is bound to increase." These passages

make it sound like some alien species, or other heavenly bodies, from outer or inner space observes us,

which is a very curious statement. What is the truth of this mythic understanding? On page 28, Dogen

writes: "the spread of Shakyamuni's teaching through the 3,000 world universe took only about 2,000 years.

The lands making up this universe are diverse. Not all of them are countries of benevolence and wisdom.

Certainly their inhabitants are not all astute and sagacious" (page 28, Waddell and Abe's translation). The

presence of a deva is detected by a human whose "Divine Eye" (the 'Divyacaksus', and 'True Dharma Eye')

has been opened, so they can see other planes of existence. But Siddhi powers and deva multitudes are

distracting. Let me leave you from something towards the end of Bendowa; "If people just practice with

right faith, they will achieve the Way..."