In Kuge Dogen comments on a passage from the Surangama Sutra, where the Buddha says:

‘’It is like a person who has clouded eyes

Seeing flowers in space

If the sickness of clouded eyes is cured,

Flowers vanish in space’’

In the chapter Dogen sometimes renders ‘Flowers in space’ as ‘Flowers of Emptiness’ and comments: ‘’When we have seen flowers in space (then) we can also see flowers vanish in space’’.

He takes a straightforward passage as delusion and turns it into a profound reflection on Emptiness.

It seems to me...

When we see the Flowers of Emptiness appear

Then we can see them disappear

When we see the Flowers of Emptiness disappear

Then we can see them appear.

‘Then’ is not one thing following another. ‘Then’ is this time. In this time we can see the Emptiness of all things, neither existent, nor non-existent, and this is instantaneous appearing/disappearing. Disappearing/appearing is one expression of the full dynamic functioning of Emptiness.




My earlier teacher, Jean Baby, who died during our Winter Retreat, said to me once: ‘’ You can’t break the mirror of the self with the head’’.

What I took this to mean is that sitting isn’t a heroic activity. It is simply understanding where delusion and liberation are located.

We can see our delusive and endless tendency to conceptualise, to continually make a map of the world, thinking we need this to navigate our lives. But if we take Emptiness seriously the world is whole, immediate, inconceivable, alive. And it is always prepared to burst through the map we make of it, if we don’t lead with the head, if we just let ourselves fall backwards into reality.

So Liberation, Enlightenment isn’t hidden within ourselves, it is abundantly available if we care to see. We are saved by all beings.




We often talk about Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, and Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, but we misunderstand Wisdom and Compassion.

We think that Wisdom is some state where we know and Compassion is another state where we feel.

But what is rendered as Wisdom, Prajna, isn’t knowing. It is a state before knowing where everything is intuitively whole. If someone throws a ball at us unexpectedly and we catch it, we don’t catch it with our mind and we don’t catch it with our body. And Kanzeon is portrayed as having manifold hands and eyes. She sees and then she acts. She is never portrayed as having manifold hearts, bleeding or otherwise.




In Shoji Dogen says:

‘’It is a mistake to understand that we move from birth to death. Birth is a position at one time and it has its own before and after. Therefore within Buddha-dharma it is said that birth is no-birth. Death is a position at one moment and it has its own before and after. Therefore, it is said that death is no-death’’ (from Okumura, adapted)[1]

If enlightenment is a universal quality not a personal one, the question we have to answer is how the sediment of the self darkens the world.

In this passage Dogen answers the questions. If we assume the continuity of the Self then we assume linear time. If we assume that, then time is a kind of steamroller, crushing and extinguishing what we call ‘the past’. If, however we see from the perspective of Indra’s Net, then every event maintains its dharma position as part of the infinite fabric of Being Time. Or, as Dogen says in Uji, we are standing at the top of the mountain at this moment and look out in every direction to endless mountains.


[1] Also from Okumura (on the Genjokoan):

"It is a mistake to think that life turns into death. Life is a position at one time with its own before and after. Consequently, in the buddha dharma, it is said that life is itself no-arising. Death is a position at one time with its own before and after. Consequently, it is said that death is itself no-perishing. In life there is nothing other than life. In death, there is nothing other than death. Therefore, when life comes, just live. And when death comes, just die. Neither avoid them nor desire them."




The Buddhist state is the feeling state: alive, momentary, soft, dynamic; prior to the interpretation which creates emotions and thoughts; prior to the stories constructed on top of these emotions and thoughts; prior to the creation of the self as the chief character of the stories.

This interpretative tendency is the origin of our delusion. And so, our practice is falling backwards into this simple feeling state, over and over. We do not need to wish our delusions into nothingness. The ladder that takes us out of our feeling state can also lead us back in.


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