Eihei Dogen Zenji’s written teaching, Bendowa, translated as On the Endeavor of the Way by Lew Richmond and Kazuaki Tanahashi (Moon in a Dewdrop 143-60), sows the seed of much of what follows in the writings and teachings of Dogen. Bendowa followed Dogen’s Fukanzazengi, and as his second work it opened the field for Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan at that time. Dogen had shortly returned from his time in China, and had not yet formed a group of students or founded a monastery, but was “wandering about like a cloud or a water-weed, studying the wind of the ancient sages” (Moon in a Dewdrop 144). In this context, Dogen wrote Bendowa as an introductory work for Soto Zen in Japan. Following an introduction containing the essence of the practice, as Dogen understood it, he asks and answers eighteen questions concerning the practice of the Soto way of Zen Buddhism. These questions comprise what Dogen saw as probable inquiries of the Japanese people at that time. The questions still have relevance, especially as Soto Zen spreads west to the Americas and to Europe. They resemble concerns proposed by modern practitioners not familiar with Dogen-oriented Buddhist practice, yet endeavoring to practice this way of Soto Zen.
Dogen often lays out the essence of a writing in the first paragraph. In this work, jijuyu zanmai forms the foundation, the gateway into practice: “self-fulfilling samadhi is its standard” (Moon 143). Jijuyu zanmai cannot be easily explained, yet Dogen stresses its importance repeatedly in Bendowa. Kazuaki Tanahashi translates this as “self-fulfilling samadhi: The buddha’s realizing and utilizing the joy of samadhi, sometimes contrasted with the aspect of tajuyu zanmai, the joyful samadhi shared with other beings” (Moon 328). Taizan Maezumi Roshi explains further: “In Japanese, the word for self-fulfilling samadhi is Jijuyu Zanmai. Ji means ‘self,’ ju means ‘to receive,’ and yu means ‘to use.’ So, receive yourself and use yourself freely. […] Self-fulfilling samadhi is to realize the supreme wisdom that has been directly transmitted from Buddha to buddhas and ancestors” (Appreciate Your Life 21). Uchiyama Roshi explains Jijuyu as ‘accepting the function of the self’ or ‘fulfillment of the self.’ Zanmai is ‘samadhi’ or ‘concentration.’ Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Leighton elaborate further:
So we can understand this samadhi of self-fulfillment and enjoyment as the samadhi or concentration on the self when it simply receives and accepts its function, or its spiritual position in the world. The important point is that this is not the self that has an object. There is nothing other than or outside of this self. The enjoyment, fulfillment, or satisfaction is the samadhi of the self, of which there is no other. This is not an experience that is somewhere other than here and now, it is not something to be acquired or gained. […] Jijuyu samadhi is buddha’s practice. In Shobogenzo Genjokoan, Dogen Zenji says, “To study the buddha way is to study the Self; to study the Self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be enlightened by myriad dharmas; to be enlightened by myriad dharmas is to drop off the body and mind of self and others.” This is jijuyu zanmai. This actually occurs in zazen (The Wholehearted Way 43).
Over and over, Uchiyama refers to jijuyu zanmai as the self that that is nothing but the self, the self that is only the self, the self that is nothing other than the self. “In other words, the reality of life settles down into the reality of life itself. The reality of life becomes straightforward and carries out the reality of life in accordance with the reality of life. […] We actualize the reality of life simply because actualization of the reality of life is the reality of life. Since we are living out the reality of life, we actualize the reality of life in accordance with the reality of life. […] Actualization of reality is only reality. As a matter of course, the practice of zazen itself is the reality of life” (Wholehearted 164). To repeat this until it becomes the bones of practice, to sit with it as a koan, to then let it go and practice only reality, only the true self, this points toward the practice of jijuyu zanmai. The questions and answers in Bendowa, the long introduction, the stories and koans cited, they all come back to this point.
Jijuyu zanmai is the practice of enlightenment. Everything else is included. To do this practice is to actualize realization, to experience enlightenment. This is called practice-enlightenment or pratice-realization, and it is all-inclusive. Dogen first studied Tendai Buddhism in Japan, then moved on to practice Rinzai Buddhism. He had a burning question, though. ‘If we are already inherently enlightened, already all Buddhas, if we all contain, or actually are Buddha Nature, then why must we practice?’ Dogen could not find an answer to this in Japan, and so made a great voyage to China to find an answer. The second paragraph of Bendowa addresses this: “Although this inconceivable dharma is abundant in each person, it is not actualized without practice, and it is not experienced without realization” (Moon 143). This second point, that practice and enlightenment are the same, that they do not differ, is of utmost importance. Dogen is very clear about this, and speaks frankly: “To suppose that practice and realization are not one is nothing but a heretical view; in buddha-dharma they are inseparable. Because practice of the present moment is practice-realization, the practice of beginner’s mind is itself the entire original realization” (Moon 151). If jijuyu zanmai, or self-fulfilling samadhi, is the gateway to the path, then what is that path? It is not a path toward realization, but a path that actually is realization. This is the first realization—that there should be no expectation of realization outside of practice. This must be fully embodied: “If you become free from the original realization, the inconceivable practice is upheld with your whole body” (Moon 152). Where, then, does the motivation to practice come from? If trying to achieve realization is not true practice, then why does anyone practice? In fact, “how can zazen, just sitting uselessly and doing nothing, be depended upon for attaining [practicing] enlightenment?” (Moon 147) These questions continue to be asked in the modern world. ‘Why do we practice? Why do we sit still doing nothing?’ The first aspect of this has been answered: practice and realization are one. But then where is the motivation? Dogen’s answer is multifaceted. First, practice must be embodied. “The realm of buddhas is inconceivable. It cannot be reached by consciousness” (Moon 148). Secondly, the necessary condition of practice is right trust. “Only those who have right trust and great capacity can enter this realm. Those who have no trust will not accept it however much they are taught. […] When right trust arises, you can practice and study” (Moon 148). Shakyamuni Buddha, himself, illustrated this point. In an exercise of ‘skillful means,’ he spoke to an assembly at Vulture Peak. People grumbled that he had no new teachings, and only continued to teach the same dharmas. Shakyamuni said to the crowd, “You may leave if you wish,” and five-thousand arrogant people left. These people did not have right trust, and thus could not hear the Dharma. This fundamental of trust hints at the practice of vow. To vow to practice the way can start as a concept, but must move into the realm of intention. Intention resides in the body, in the hara, the tanden, in every cell. Intention is related to intuition, and it is what is acknowledged in dowsing or muscle testing. To do 108 prostrations in the morning, or three or nine, or even one. This moves our intention, our vow, into the body. To face the Buddha and exhale the small-self and lower the body toward the earth and touch the head once, or even three times—invoking the three treasures, then to raise Buddha Nature above the ego, to lift the Buddha above the small-self. This, especially when repeated as a practice, embodies the sense of vow, invokes a bodily trust and a great capacity. It empties the cup, and true practice begins. This is but one of ten-thousand gateways into practice. Only then, with this beginner’s mind, will the practitioner find realization. This is being a true student. The phrase, ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will appear,’ is not something esoteric, metaphysical, or mystical, but is direct and pragmatic. Marcel Proust once said, “The real art of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” The teacher may be standing before us, but will not be established until the student opens, or empties the cup. This is echoed in Dogen’s Genjokoan: “Conveying the self to the myriad things to authenticate them is delusion; the myriad things advancing to authenticate the self is enlightenment” (Sounds of Valley Streams 66).
Uchiyama’s commentary on Bendowa is titled The Wholehearted Way. This short phrase tells much of the essence of Bendowa. The feeling of the work as an entirety is that of wholehearted practice. Dogen acknowledges the merit of other practices, “in spite of their different styles, each of the Five Houses holds the single seal of the buddha mind” (Moon 145). Yet, if Soto Zen is to be practiced, then zazen, shikantaza, or jijuyu zanmai must be practiced wholeheartedly, since it is the foundation of Soto practice. Uchiyama acknowledges the merit of Pure Land practice, and states that if that practice is done wholeheartedly, it can also actualize Buddha mind. In Soto practice, the sutras, the chants, the prostrations, the teishos and dharma teaching, these all function as instructions for the practice of zazen. Zazen could be called a yogic activity. To make an analogy, the practice of asana yoga, hatha yoga, raja yoga, or ashtanga yoga is also an activity. One could read about the primary series, study the alignment of the various postures and the form of each series, the practice of the breath (ujjayi) and the locks (bandhas), but to become a yogi or yogini, one must actually practice those postures (asanas). It seems absurd that one could become a yogi-adept through reading about them alone. The same could be said for Soto Zen. One must practice zazen to become a Zen adept, to actualize and experience realization. Reading, chanting, or studying are merely tools that point toward that practice. The classic picture of Dogen looking at the moon—the original hanging at Eiheiji—shows Dogen facing forward, sitting squarely and solidly. Upon a closer look, i.e. looking into his eyes, he shows the viewer which direction to look to see the moon. The moon could be said to represent realization, enlightenment, or the way. The moon, however, is not shown in the picture, for the practitioner must see it him or herself. Dogen does not stand and obviously point, but shows only subtly, by looking himself. This is much like the writings of Dogen. The teachings are straight-forward and direct, like Dogen’s posture, yet subtle and layered like Dogen’s gaze, and require a certain effort, an actual looking into Dogen’s eyes, and in the end they do not show the moon at all, but only in which direction to look.
This brings up another point, closely related, which is that of right effort. To know conceptually that mind or self is Buddha, that sentient beings are already true reality and buddha nature is not enough. It could be said that to project concepts onto reality is delusion. This is the idea of inside and outside. The conception that we are inside a room and we walk out the door and we are outside the room. The entire journey was done while asleep. To engage fully, being aware of each breath, of the sound of a creaking board, a bird in the distance, a sore ankle, the wind on our face, the secretions of the brain (Uchiyama’s word for discursive thoughts), and to allow the world to arise, born into mind in every miniscule mind moment, to engage life as activity, the ongoing process of impermanence, no-self, to be fully awake, this has no inside and outside and is outside of concepts. This allows the myriad things to actualize and authenticate the self. The self that is nothing but the self. Free of concepts. Being awake and living in activity, rather than entity, is the world of non-duality rather than subject and object, it is the magnanimous mind, the self that includes everything, that includes the creaking board, the wind, the chirping bird, the sore ankle, and even the secretions of the brain. To experience this is to practice zazen or jijuyu zanmai. Right effort is not just to know, but to engage wholeheartedly in the practice of zazen in every moment. It is truly the space of not-knowing. Seung Sahn often said, “Only don’t know!” Indeed, he spoke clearly: “Only don’t know!”
In Bendowa, Dogen cites a koan to illustrate right effort. It is a matter of orientation toward practice, of being situated in vow, of a positionality of trust. This is the koan:
Once a monk called director Xuanze was in the assembly of Zen master Fayan. Fayan asked him, “Director Xuanze, how long have you been in my community?”
Xuanze said, “I have been studying with you for three years.”
The master said, “You are a latecomer. Why don’t you ask me about buddha-dharma?”
Xuanze said, “I cannot deceive you, sir. When I was studying with Zen master Qingfeng [Baizhao Zhiyuan], I mastered the place of ease and joy in buddha-dharma.”
The master said, “With what words did you enter this understanding?”
Xuanze said, “When I asked Qingfeng, ‘What is the self of a Zen student?’, he said, ‘The fire god is here to look for fire.’”
Fayan said, “That is a good statement. But I’m afraid you did not understand it.”
Xuanze said, “The fire god belongs to fire. So I understood that fire looks for fire and self looks for self.”
The master said, “Indeed, you did not understand. If buddha-dharma were like that, it would not have been transmitted until now.”
Then Xuanze was distressed and went away. But on his way he said to himself, “The master is a renowned teacher in this country, a great leader of five hundred monks. His criticism of my fault ought to have some point.” He went back to Fayan, apologized, and said, “What is the self of a Zen student?”
Fayan said, “The fire god is here to look for fire.”
Upon hearing this statement, Xuanze had a great realization of buddha-dharma.
(Moon in a Dewdrop 157)
This koan illustrates many of the points so far discussed. Xuanze finds right trust, right effort, and engages in wholehearted practice. He opens into beginner’s mind, with an empty cup, and actualizes not only his teacher, but realization itself. In engaging in genuine practice, he engages in practice-realization. This true practice becomes true realization, and this true realization becomes true practice. What is the difference between the first time he hears the statement and the second time? The first is conceptual, an outward projection, whereas the second time it is a matter of practice, it advances forward.
Dogen ends Bendowa with an emphasis on right trust. In the eighteenth and final question, he says, “If you practice with right trust, you will attain the way, regardless of being sharp or dull. Do not think that buddha-dharma cannot be understood in this country because this is not a country of wisdom and the people are foolish. In fact, everyone has in abundance the correct seed of prajna [wisdom]” (Moon 159). As much as this was meant to reach the people in thirteenth-century Japan, it can apply to people in the West in the twenty-first century. All that is necessary is right trust, right effort, and wholehearted practice.
Dogen Zenji, Eihei. “On the Endeavor of the Way.” Trans. Lew Richmond & Kazuaki Tanahashi. Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen. Ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi. San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1985. PP 143-160, Notes 251-252, Glossary 257-356.
Dogen Zenji, Eihei & Francis H. Coo Sounds of Valley Streams: Enlightenment in Dogen’s Zen: Translation of Nine Essays from Shobogenzo. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989.
Dogen Zenji, Eihei & Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dogen’s Bendowa with Commentary by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. Trans. Shohaku Okumura & Taigen Daniel Leighton. Boston, MA: Tuttle Publishing, 1997.
Maezumi Roshi, Taizan. Appreciate Your Life: The Essence of Zen Practice. Ed. Wendy Egyoku Nakao & Eve Myonen Marko. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2001.
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