Monday, December 17, 2007

Study the Way/Self

“To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.”

Dogen’s famous commentary on the self deserves careful consideration. “The Way” of course means the way of a Bodhisattva and Dogen says this way concerns the study of the self. Buddhism is essentially the way of taking a hard and thorough look at the most fundamental aspect of reality—the nature of identity, resolving the matter, putting it completely aside and moving on. He did not say to just move on with the presumption that everything will be OK. That, of course is a prescription for continued suffering which is a function of the self. It is the self/ego that suffers and creates suffering.

He rightly arranged the order: First, study the self. Second, resolve the matter. Third, forget about it. And forth, be enlightened by all things by not continuing to dwell on this central issue once resolved. This order reflects the order taught by the Buddha. To be attached to anything is to insure suffering and that includes being attached to the self or even Buddha.

It is critically important to firmly establish our real identity as one and the same as Buddha. We are not the fake and imaginary non-Self. We are the Self, which is Buddha. If we don’t resolve this matter we will forever be guided and dominated by our non-Self and remain self-absorbed, leading to delusion, greed and anger. It is only when we have finally resolved the phantom nature of the non-Self and accepted the unborn/never-die identity of Buddha-Nature that we can genuinely do away with delusions, greed and anger. The reason why this must be the preliminary phase is that otherwise we continue to see ourselves as separate from and in competition with the rest of life. When we clearly see that we are interdependent and in harmony with life then we can rest and begin to reflect the ever-present, virtuous qualities inherent in our Buddha-Nature.

In that state of unity with all, we can be enlightened by all things because all things are a part of us. It is impossible to be intimate with anything which we are separated from. We can imagine unity, in some abstract way but that abstraction is still separate. Dogen knew this so he said, “cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others.” Body and mind are just form elements—outward trappings, which keep us locked into the delusion of separateness and cause us to say things like “my” body, “my” mind. From the perspective of Buddha-Nature (our real nature) there is no “my.” There is only “us.”

The ending of Dogen’s commentary is especially instructive. He says “life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.” What could that possibly mean? There is only one aspect of life with no tracks and lasts forever: Buddha-Nature, which is wholly enlightenment, and where there is wholly enlightenment there is no enlightenment. Everything-Nothing is the same thing. We can’t see it because of self-created delusions, but it’s there. Only when there is duality can there be tracks because a track is otherness. Buddha-Nature is whole. No tracks.
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