Common sense tells us that the cause of suffering is impermanence. We die, nothing lasts, we know this, ergo we suffer.


However, Dogen ascribed the opposite view –ascribed to Senika – that the body and mind/soul are separate, and the latter is permanent, as the root of suffering. The root of suffering.


To make sense of this claim, I think we have to assume that for Dogen, separation, dualism, was the cause of suffering, not impermanence. And so, a belief that we have an eternal essence solidifies dualism. And it follows from that, that impermanence has the primary function of waking us up to dependent origination, the dynamic wholeness of everything, waking us up from the dream of suffering.


We practice from the perspective of Buddha, not from the perspective of the self. But that doesn’t mean you are Buddha. Buddha is the state when the you has fallen from a central position.


The congealing of experience into a you is the primary grasping. All other grasping follows from it. It is the lodestone of suffering.


An asthmatic thinks he can’t breathe in, when really he can’t breathe out. His lungs are too full to allow any air in. Buddha is like breathing out. Mara is like breathing in. We affirm the self, we cast the self off. This is our life, and this is why practice isn’t an ego project, isn’t a vassal territory of psychological imperialism, where the thought may arise that one more in breath might do it


You are hanging by your teeth from a branch above a void. Someone asks you to express something about Buddhism. What do you do?


Dotoku – expression – consists of two Chinese characters: ‘do’ meaning ‘the way’ or ‘to say’ , and ‘toku’ – ‘to attain’ or ‘to be able’


So for Dogen, everything is expression: the branch is expressing itself, the void is expressing itself, the teeth are expressing themselves, the words are expressing themselves.


Implicit in an ordinary reading of the story is an assumption that the world is just the backdrop to the drama of us, when in fact the world is continually leaping out of itself. As are you.


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.


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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