In zazen we lay down our arms. We place one hand on top of the other. The world is unmanipulated and not held at bay. It comes right up to the heart.



The Buddha said:

“The Buddha’s true Dharma body

Is just like space

Manifesting its form according to things

It is like the moon in water”


In talking about Emptiness, visual metaphors are often used. The familiar world is like a mirage, or an image in the mirror, or like the moon in water. And similarly, visual metaphors dominate practice; we need to see through the veil of illusion, as if the world or our consciousness is like an obscuring fog which will clear. ‘Kensho’ means to see into one’s true nature.


This was not Master Dogen’s view. In his rendition, ‘like’ is re rendered as ‘thusness’, ‘in’ is re-rendered as ‘middle’, and the character he uses for moon also means ‘full dynamic functioning’.


So, his re-rendering of the line is something like


“It is/ thusness/middle/moon-in-water/total dynamic functioning”


It is important because it relocates Emptiness in this world, and re-conceptualises it as the vibrancy of the whole universe manifesting itself moment to moment. And our practice, rather than being a sustained exercise in disappointment, is giving all things life. Giving all things life.



A principal way in which we maintain ourselves in delusion is imagining that our life and practice should be something other than it is. We locate delusion in the wrong place. We imagine that our transient thoughts and emotions are obstacles, and if somehow we got rid of them, we wouldn’t be deluded any more. But this is precisely the idea which is the engine of delusion. When Dogen says that delusion is carrying the self forward to experience the myriad things, and realisation is the myriad things expressing and experiencing themselves, by ‘myriad things’ he doesn’t just mean trees walls and sky, he means everything, including our thoughts.


If we obsess on our thoughts, it is as if we take all the light and concentrate it on that, so that everything else – the body, the senses, the breath – is in darkness. Throwing the light over all experience makes the dualism of thought and world impossible to sustain. We see the tremor and evanescence of our thoughts as one aspect of our aliveness, which is to say, the aliveness of everything.



We can talk of our practice and life in terms of form and emptiness, or delusion and enlightenment. We can also talk of both in terms of ground and space, earth and sky, heaven and earth.


In Inmo, Dogen comments on the phrase “Those that fall to the ground get up relying on the ground. To get up without relying on the ground is, in the end, impossible”


One of the most difficult things for people to experience when they start zazen is their ungroundedness. They are caught up in a storm of thought and emotion. And through practice, they learn to experience falling back into the feeling, experiencing body, the ground.


We can experience this physically. If we sit properly, allowing our weight to drop down through our sit bones, then we can receive a reciprocal push upwards from the earth, up our spine and up through the top of our head.


This falling down and getting up is the activity of our lives. And in this activity, we actualise heaven and earth.



When we chant the Heart Sutra, we’re not just making a noise. But we are making a noise. Seen from the concrete perspective, it’s just noise. Seen from the abstract persective, it’s just meaning. But both these persectives are expressed and transcended by the simple action.


If we see zazen as a concrete act, we understand neither zazen or the concrete. If we see it abstractly, it’s lost too.


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