Nomon Tim Burnett - Plática sobre Dogen Xalapa 2011

(Good evening, I am very happy to be here. It is wonderful to be in a group of people devoted to the practice of meditation, because this tells me that it is also a group of people dedicated to kindness, to clarity, and to generosity.

I am sorry I cannot speak Spanish well enough to give a lecture. I have to admit I used Google Translate to help me say this much.

But Sergio will interpret for me. Thank you for your kind attention.)

Buenas tardes, estoy muy contento de estar aquí. Es maravilloso estar en un grupo de personas dedicadas a la práctica de la meditación, porque esto me dice que es también un grupo de personas dedicadas a la bondad, a la claridad y la generosidad.

Lo siento, no puedo hablar bien el español lo suficiente como para dar una lectura. Tengo que admitir que he usado Google Translate para ayudarme a decir esto.

Pero Sergio interpretará para mí. Gracias por su amable atención.

Tonight I would like to share with you some thoughts about practicing the Zen of Master Dogen. Dogen was the 13th century monk in Japan who went to China and returned to establish Soto Zen. Soto Zen is the school of Zen I trained in and is the main inspiration for Montaña Despierta.

Dogen was unusual for a Zen master because he wrote a lot about this vision and understanding of Zen. In his master work Shobogenzo, the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, he has a very famous chapter called Genjo Koan, Actualizing the Fundamental Point. And I see that you have a translation into Spanish of this text in your chant book so I am happy to recommend it to you and talk about one small section.

Dogen’s writing is very dense. It is full of metaphors, allusions, paradoxes and references to the stories of the Chinese Zen tradition that he studied. Actually his writing is quite amazing. In a short time he absorbed a very large amount of teachings from his Chinese Zen ancestors and found new ways to think about and interpret them that are relevant to us to this day and across the different cultures.

But because his writing is so dense it can be a little difficult if we read it in the usual way of reading. It is good to instead read his texts with a very open mind, slowly, and to notice when a particular phrase or section feels interesting, even if we don’t really understand it intellectually. Then we can contemplate that phrase, perhaps talking to other sangha members or looking for commentaries by teachers about it. I don’t know how much is available in Spanish yet. For this particular chapter, Genjo Koan, there was recently a very wonderful book published by Shohaku Okamura – a Japanese priest who lives in the United States and lectures in English. I hope that will be translated into Spanish.

If you would like to take out your chant books and open to page 16. We can read together this wonderful teaching of Dogen. It is the last paragraph on that page. Let us pause after each sentence to digest.

Estudiar el Camino de Buda es estudairse a si mismo.

Estudiarse a si mismo es olvidarse de si mismo.

Olvidarse de si mismo es ser actualizado por miriadas de cosas.

Cuando miriadas de cosas se actualizan por si mismas,

tu cuerpo y tu mente, asi como el cuerpo y la mente de todos, desaparecen.

No queda rastro de iluminacion, y este no-rastro continua sin fin.

Estudiar el Camino de Buda es estudairse a si mismo.

This makes sense. The practice of Buddhism starts right here. Right here with this body and mind. With this idea of a self, a person. This idea that I am “me” with my history and preferences and ideas and problems.

Estudiarse a si mismo es olvidarse de si mismo.

But now it gets interesting. We come to practice with some idea of improving the self. To become – to become – calmer, or kinder, or as a help for our problems.

But Dogen says no. He says that as we study the self, we forget the self. “Forget” is maybe not the best word for what he is saying. I do not know what the Japanese character is that he used. For the next time I come I will find out and tell you.

With this forgetting the self, Dogen is talking about our feeling of separation. Of the great suffering that comes from this feeling of being isolated. Or being alone in and cut off from our world. Isolated from our friends, family, all people, all beings in some important ways which cause us much suffering. Do you know what I mean?

Psychologically and physically of course we need to take care of ourself. But Dogen and Buddha are pointing out we create a rigid shell around ourself when we do this. A shell to try to protect us from what Buddha called the three messengers which came to him when he was a prince in the palace. The three messengers were for the first time seeing a sick person; for the first time seeing a very old person; and for the first time seeing a dead person.

And I know with the narco violence on top of all of the other troubles in Mexico that these messengers are lately visiting you in a strong way. And this is very difficult. So naturally we want to protect ourself in some way. To be stronger and hold it all at an arm’s length.

But Dogen is making a different recommendation. Instead of making a self which is a strong shell, forget the self. Maybe a better word is to soften the self, to release the self.

And in zazen practice you can experience this directly, no? When you settle into the stillness of mind and body a little more at peace. When you soften around your thinking, letting the thoughts come and go, sometimes you have some feeling that there is not some kind of fixed person in the middle, that there is not a “you” who is doing the breathing and sitting and thinking. That it’s just that breathing is happening, just that sitting is happening, just that thoughts arise and depart. Dogen is saying there is a great healing power to allowing this process to occur. That the self can be softer and more porous than we can imagine. And that the whole process moves beyond any idea of self. That ultimately there is no “I am sitting zazen” – there is only “sitting zazen” and that this spirit can be carried into our life making us more able to respond with openness and kindness.

And the wonderful think about this is then there is more intimacy. Sometimes we say “getting out of our own way” in English – do you have this idiom in Spanish? Dogen’s “to forget the self” is like this “getting out of our own way.”

And Dogen goes on to say that with this forgetting the self there is a wonderful intimacy and connection with the world, that does not select between all of the sorrows and all of the joys of the world:

Olvidarse de si mismo es ser actualizado por miriadas de cosas.

To forget the self – let us think instead to “soften the self” – is to be awakened by all things. To let all things be our teacher, to let all things be our friend even if we don’t like them. And that if we allow this – if we allow this process to happen he says the result may be:

Cuando miriadas de cosas se actualizan por si mismas,

tu cuerpo y tu mente, asi como el cuerpo y la mente de todos, desaparecen.

That if we really let our experience to fully enter. If we release from this rigid shell of self and get out of our own way. If we can practice this way then our body and mind will be so soft, so gentle, so flexible and responsive to all things that we are not stuck in anything.

What you have translated here as desaparecen I think might not be the best translation. Dogen is here using a phrase he often used to describe this radical opening and integration with the world that can happen if we are not so bound by self. In English the phrase he uses is “dropping away body and mind” – maybe caer is a better verb?

“que el cuerpo y la mente se caigan”. ¿Será correcto?

I don’t know. It is not that the body and mind disappear – they still exist, but our understanding and personification of the body and mind are quite different. Not so tight!

So far this teaching might sound like just a better way of self improvement. Instead of holding tightly to our separate self in order to improve it, we release it, we let in our experience, we let in the others, and then the body and mind drops away and we are much better person. It sounds like this so far, no?

But this last sentence takes it further. To beyond the conceptual world. And this is very important. Buddhism offers a vision through the teachings of emptiness of a broader view of the human experience than one bound by concepts. To understand this directly may be a great way to help the world.

Cuando miriadas de cosas se actualizan por si mismas,

tu cuerpo y tu mente, asi como cuerpo y mente de todos, desaparecen.

That when we soften in this way it is not just for us, all beings benefit. I think we experience this when we are in the presence of someone who is very grounded and content, yes? You can feel the benefit from their practice, from their presence.

No queda rastro de iluminacion, y este no-rastro continua sin fin.

But not only does your own practice help all of those around you, Dogen says that this beneficial practice spreads out throughout the entire universe in a way that is beyond any holding and grasping. That there is no trace of this awakening.

“No trace” sounds bad at first. We do this big effort to practice Zen for a long time – 10 years, 20 years, even longer – and we awaken in some way to the true nature of our heart and then there is no trace! Nothing there! This does not sound good!

And yet it is a very good thing. It is completely letting go. It is like the teaching of “opening the hand of thought”. It is not holding on to anything for yourself but giving away the benefit so freely that there is nothing left. Complete giving. And Dogen says this has such a great power of transformation it continues endlessly throughout the universe.

Este no-rastro continua sin fin.

This sounds great in Spanish. What a gift to get to study these teachings in different languages.

So this is the teaching of emptiness. But please don’t misunderstand it doesn’t mean don’t do anything practical. We still should make effort in the practical world to help others. I was talking with Bertha Laura about this the other day. You live in a very stratified society and probably those of us who are able to sit in this room are the lucky ones. Our bodhisattvas vows call us forth to help in both the practical ways – helping others to have a safe, healthy, dignified life – and also in the ways beyond the conceptual and practical. To forget the self and allow the world to awaken you completely and allow the no-trace of that practice to continue endlessly. We can do both of these things together.

Please consider these teachings carefully. The world depends on us and we depend on the world. And in opening more to our life as it is be can be of more benefit and we can have a wonderful joyful life even when it is filled with tears from the great suffering and great joy all around us.

Muchas gracias por escuchar.