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Sunday, 30 June 2013 17:15

If we claim to know our experience, how can we avoid falling into dualism? Prajna, pre-knowing, is the state prior to knowing and naming.

Zazen is the practice of prajna. We can also call it intimacy, because there is no separation. We can also call it illumination; not because each thing is brighter, but because it is no longer smudged by the fog of the self.

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Sunday, 30 June 2013 17:15

My teacher Michael Luetchford said that people imagine that Wholeness is taking two distinct things –mind and body say, or self and world, and fusing them together by dint of a stupendous spiritual effort.


Which is idiotic. The core insight of Buddhism is dependent origination; in Dogen’s terms, Full Dynamic Functioning. Taen seriously, it is the diamond which cuts through all delusions: self, separateness, grasping and rejecting, time as the container of things and the narrative space of the self; everything.


But it’s no good as an idea. We have to feel it.

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Sunday, 30 June 2013 17:14

Emptiness isn’t conceptual; it’s descriptive. It is experience unencumbered by you. It is felt, not thought.


If the feeling dimension is missed, practice can become very arid.


It was for this reason that, alongside the articulation of Emptiness, the Mahayana School developed the doctrine of the three bodies of the Buddha. Theravadan Buuddhism had two – the actual body of the historical Buddha [Nirmanakaya] and the Dharmakaya, the Truth Body, which is always there and which is identified with Reality. We picture reality sometimes as the myriad things, sometimes as the body of the Buddha.


Mahayana introduced the Bliss Body [Sambogakaya] which, I think, makes explicit the feeling dimension of Emptiness, and the feeling dimension of reality, of all things.


In the same way, the Pure Land sutras give descriptions of the Pure Land which are magical and enchanting  - wish fulfilling trees, jewelled birds, and so on. Obviously, we aren’t meant to take this literally, but the descriptions evoke our feelings – delight, gratitude, grace.


This feeling and felt world is itself the body of the Buddha. The world itself has liberative force.

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Sunday, 30 June 2013 17:13

What is the relationship between language and practice?


“A picture of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger” was a common expression in the China of Dogen’s time, and was taken to mean that language was an impediment to realisation. Hence the tendency of the koan stories to frustrate the student, to push him towards silence.


Certainly, we can see how language can easily become a shell, covering the great ocean of being, hiding the depth, beauty and precariousness of our lives.


But language can break its shell, and liberate: itself, ourselves.


So for Dogen the expression [which, mindlessly repeated, is part of the shell] is a statement of the absolute value of everything: the rice cake exists absolutely. Is is not there simply to assuage hunger. Further, because of this, ‘picture’ ‘satisfy’ and ‘hunger’ are like pillars, holding up the unfathomable present.

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Sunday, 30 June 2013 17:11

We practice from the perspective of the Buddha, not the self.


At the start of the Heart Sutra, there is an exchange between Sariputra, one of the buddha’s historical disciples, renowned for his wisdom, and Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. Significantly, it is Avalokitesvara rather than SAriputra who, whils sitting in zazen, realises that the five skandas are empty, and hence all suffering is relieved. You could say all suffering is relieved because Avalokitesvara, the five skandas and emptiness are all synonymous.


Were Sariputra, from the position of the self, to perceive the emptiness of the five skandas, suffering would not be relieved. The whole world would become suffering.


So, the suggestion is not that in zazen we see emptiness, but rather that the five skandas see the emptiness of the five skandas. And suffering falls away.

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