My practice with you this week includes writing a daily post for this blog. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, listen more closely: It’s not! Which is not actually the whole truth: It’s both easy and not easy, and neither easy nor not easy. Maybe I could say that it’s easy when I include both « it’s easy » and « it’s not easy » AND neither « it’s easy » nor « it’s not easy. »
That translates simply as just this: right now, Tuesday morning in Montreuil, right here, bathed in Bach and desk clutter, typing these words – click, click, click – and watching as they appear one letter at a time on the luminous MacBook screen, I am thinking of you, dear reader, fellow traveler on this way into the heart of our lives, for whom I now write.
Dogen’s Genjokoan is not other than that. It begins like this:
When all dharmas are the Buddha-dharma, there are delusion and enlightenment, practice, birth, death, buddhas, and sentient beings. When the myriad dharmas all are without self, there is no delusion, no realization, no buddhas, no sentient beings, no birth, and no death. Since originally the Buddha way goes beyond abundance and scarcity, there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentinent beings and buddhas.
There are many different translations and interpretations of Dogen’s text in a multitude of languages. You can find them all over the Internet and in bookstores everywhere. But while words may differ here and there, in all the texts the core remains: this opening passage outlines the three « steps » that Dogen points to as the essential reality of our lives. Basically, we can say: the first sentence is about « setting up differences, » in the words of the Zen master Hakuun Yasutani (easy and not easy); the second sentence is about « sweeping away differences » (neither easy nor not easy); and the third sentence is about « transcending » the setting up (abundance, easy, not easy) and sweeping away (scarcity, neither easy nor not easy). My explanation is brief and conceptual, and probably says too much without saying anything.
So let’s move on…
What does that mean for you, now, in the heart of your life? In fact, Dogen’s opening paragraph is talking exactly about this retreat of ours: First, there is practice and daily life, then there is no practice and daily life. When we live those two fully, then we’ve gone « beyond, » and there is just this, practice and daily life.
Like in the photo above: There is the many, there is the one, and when they are « transcended, » when they are both « included, » there is « amazing grace. »
But don’t believe me! As Yasutani notes, « Explanations are dead words. » Look into this greatest of matters for yourself today, in the heart of your life, and tell us what you find.