In Joshu’s koan: “Does a dog have buddha nature?”, my version of one of the questions is “Since everything is mu-buddha-nature (emptiness or suchness), why do we even have this skin bag? or why do we even bother taking care of form? If everything and every moment is already complete and whole, why act? Or why do anything? This is similar to Dogen’s original question that started his searching pilgrimage in China: “If everything is Buddha-nature, why do we even have to practice?” Joshu answers: “Because a practitioner knows, yet deliberately transgresses.”
What do we know? That in spite of appearances, everything is not solid and unitary. All things are fluid, porous and interconnected. That everything is constantly changing and impermanent. From an absolute point of view, there is a one-flavored life; unity or no-birth-no-death.
Ordinarily, we have a preconception about time. We have an idea that there is one being that exists continuously behind the idea of change. We say that we want to live in the present moment, right here, right now, but as we say that, this moment has already disappeared. This truth is called emptiness or mu-buddha-nature.
Coming from the realm of “this moment has already disappeared”, how can we relate to the form life (u-buddha-nature), our ordinary day-to-day activity? How do we act?
Joshu said: “We know but deliberately transgress.”
Katagiri Roshi wrote: When you manifest yourself right now, right here, becoming one with zazen or with your activity, this is Buddha-nature manifested in the realm of emptiness or impermanence.
Given everything we know, we still intentionally try to do something or make something but with no gaining idea. Our activity is the functioning of Buddha-nature. Our practice and engaged activity is the functioning of total dynamic working. Gyobutsu is the practicing, active Buddha.
Bodhidharma’s precepts tell us that all speech cannot actually tell the truth because the truth is beyond words. And yet, both Joshu (the silver-tongued teacher) and Dogen (the founder of our school) used words over and over to help humans by pointing to the truth. They knew but knowingly transgressed. They used speech as a function of human life. They used their “me” (5 skandhas) as a way to serve and actively participate in the world of form of which they belong.
Dogen uses the words “our daily activities constitute the emancipated body of suchness.” Usually we think that form and our daily life gets liberated or emancipated by the freedom of emptiness. But Dogen, in his strange upside-down pointing at the truth, reverses that, and says that emptiness or suchness gets emancipated by daily life. That through the vehicle of the form that is arising in this moment, suchness blooms and is emancipated, given life.
In this beautiful notion that form emancipates suchness, I return to my life and my karmic conditions with joy. Dogen in “Daigo” calls this “returning to delusion.” Form and emptiness are integrated into the wholehearted activity of this moment. We deliberately transgress. We totally, wholeheartedly, engage life and our stories (ie. our karma) with the view of impermanence.