When I’m not talking I can hear it. #7 of 21

It’s very interesting to me that Dogen began this fascicle of “Going Beyond Buddha” with a koan and discussion of “what is talking and hearing?”  One would think that “Going beyond buddha” would begin with emptiness – isn’t that what going beyond buddha might mean?  But quite to the contrary, Dogen’s insistent point is  “Going Beyond Buddha,” does not mean dwelling in emptiness, non-thinking, or silence.  To Dogen, that would be “caught by emptiness” not going beyond.  Going beyond buddha could also mean going beyond duality.  This discussion could move around and around the diamond sliver of Nagarjuna which was discussed in the last blog: not being caught by either side of duality, by simultaneous awareness of both sides of the duality or by the insistence that it is neither.  This “neither”  can be interpreted that nothing exists and that attitude “nothing exists” may becomes a nihilistic view of emptiness which begins to supersede everything. This type of “neither” thinking may go so far as to be interpreted as annihilating our life.  How sad to negate our precious human birth.  Many people think that emptiness (or sacredness) is preferable to form (or ordinariness).  That preference in and of itself causes suffering for humans.  Dogen’s view of the opposites are that there is no distinction and yet they are still have their on integrity.  Not One, Not two.  In our daily practice, we completely merge with ordinary life, the present moment and therefore the ordinary life becomes sacred.

Dogen writes in the Fukanzazengi:

“Making effort to obtain the Way, is itself, the manifestation of the Way in your daily life.  (Translation- Shohaku Okumura)

Dogen begins by talking about dialogue and interaction.  What is talking and hearing?  Are you open enough to dialogue with others and with the universe?  Do you have anything to say?  Do you know how to listen?  Is there an inside and an outside, a subject and an object, in your understanding of talking and listening?  These questions, he precedes to expound on in great detail.

Dogen begins the fascicle with a koan from Dongshan. Dongshan is the name in Chinese and Tozan is the same person’s name in Japanese.  Tozan is the “To” in the school of Soto Buddhism which Dogen is associate with.  Dogen is in the Soto School even though, consistent with his teachings, Dogen would says that there are no schools that define the true understanding.  Tozan is five generations from Huineng.  He is known for many things but he is most famous for “The Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness” which is chanted everyday in Soto Temples and with Tozan’s elaboration on enlightenment known as the Five Ranks.

The koan in this fascicle is:

The great Master Dongshan (or Tozan) once said to his assembly:  “If you have fully attained the matter of going beyond buddha, You will have the capacity to talk a bit about it.”

A Monk asked:  What is this talking like?

The great Master said:  When talking acharya, you don’t hear it.

The monk said: Teacher do you hear it?

The great master said:  When I am not talking, I can hear it.

There are many levels in understanding this koan.  First of all, it’s interesting to note that Dongshan is talking to a rather high-level practitioner.  Acharya is a sanskrit word for the title of master who is someone who has been given permission to give precepts to the younger generation and is qualified to be a teacher.  In these olden days, there were two types of teachers.  The first type was an upajaya who was a practitioner that practiced and taught a strict adherent to the rules and regulation of the Vinaya.  The second type, an acharya, was a teacher who studied the dharma and scriptures.

As in many of the koans that Dogen introduces in his writing, the more old-school understanding of the koan is dissected and changed by Dogen’s reinterpretation and his change of syntax.  Of course sometimes we don’t even “get” what the old-school understanding is.  May I suggest that the most common understanding of this koan is that when I am not talking, when I am not thinking, when I’m in silence, I can hear the voices of the universe and feel the interdependence of all things.

And yet, Dongshan also says, that when you have heard the sound of the interdependent universe, you will have the capacity to say something.  We have to say something.  Katagiri Roshi’s two book titles also work with this idea.  His first book title was “Returning to Silence” and his second book title was “You Have to Say Something.”  Very similar to this koan. You will have the capacity to talk a bit about it.  How will we be able to help other people understand buddha dharma without talking about it?  In Zen circles, this saying a bit about it is called pointing at the moon.  Of course, pointing at the moon is not the moon.  And yet, it does help if someone points out where we might start looking.

“Unless we have reached ‘going beyond Buddha’, we will never fully attain ‘going beyond buddha’; and without talking, we will never fully attain the matter of going beyond Buddha.  Going beyond Buddha and talking neither reveal each other nor hide each other.  Going beyond Buddha and talking neither contribute to each other nor deprive each other.  For this reason, the time when talking is manifested is the matter of going beyond buddha.”

Here is an example of Dogen in one paragraph going around the Diamond Sliver; the opposites, both and neither.  Does the truth lie only in silence? Does the act of ordinary talking take you ‘out of’ the truth? Do the opposites, talking and hearing fight each other or live in mutual harmony?  Does talking and ordinary reality take away something from ‘emptiness’?  So with these either/or questions we will go round and round the diamond of the chart in the last blog and get no where near the truth of the interpenetrated dynamic life of the present moment.  With our intellect we get farther and farther away from the truth.  Yet, if we don’t say something, if we don’t participate in the human world, we lose our human life which is not, from my point of view, the goal of a spiritual life.  Dogen simply says in my words that  the time of talking, the time when we are participating in the human world is included in the manifestation of the matter of going beyond buddha.  Everything is working together,  The Whole Works, and there is no subject and object, no inside and outside, and no ordinary and sacred.  If you have some knowledge of emptiness and silence, you also should have “a little bit to say about it” to help others find the same relief and refuge as you have in the understanding that there is no centralized self.

Dogen emphasizes the mutuality of the opposites.  He says, the opposites neither reveal each other or hide each other, they don’t contribute to each other nor deprive each other. For this reason, they are not one, not two.  The reality prior to division is what we are aiming for and what can give us true relief and refuge.

What appears in the present moment is the Whole Works.  Dogen is refining our understanding of “When I am not talking, I can hear it.”  Talking is not excluding from the dynamic working of a human life.  But he goes on to expand this idea with the investigation of “What is this talking like?”  which I will explore in the next blog.