“To be verified by all things is to let the body and mind of the self and the body and mind of others drop off.”
— Genjokoan, Dogen
“Dropping off body and mind” is a key phrase in Dogen Zenji’s teaching. This is an expression that was originally used by Dogen’s teacher, Tiantong Rujing in Chinese or Tendo Nyojo in Japanese. Dogen in his autobiography Hokyoku (Record of the Hokyo Era) gives an account of Rujing’s exposition of this phrase.
My summary of Dogen’s writing on three encounters with Rujing about “dropping off body and mind” is:
- Practice (sanzen) is dropping off body and mind. Dropping off body and mind is zazen. This is an elucidation of practice/enlightenment. Through the simplicity and surrender in doing zazen, we surrender body and mind and merge with universal functioning. By being 100% mindful, merging the “I” subject with the activity of the moment, we are also dropping off body and mind.
- Dropping off is being freed from the 3 poisons, 5 desires and 6 coverings. Dogen was questioning if the old teachings were still important in Zen. Rujing answered in the affirmative that we must include the old sacred teachings as they are the teachings of the Buddha. Dropping off means to drop off:
- The three poisons of attachment, hatred, and ignorance
- The 5 desires which come out of attachment to the 5 sense objects.
- The 6 coverings which are the 5 hindrances plus ignorance: sensual desire or greed, hatred, sleepiness and dullness, restlessness and distraction, doubt. To drop off ignorance is the essential practice of the buddhas and ancestors.
- Sitting itself is the practice of the buddhas. It is the only method of being free of the 5 desires and the 6 coverings.
- Buddhas and Ancestors do not forget or abandon living beings in their zazen; they offer a heart of compassion to all. The zazen of buddhas and ancestors places primary importance on great compassion and the vow to save all living beings. In doing so, we free ourselves from the three sicknesses: attachment, mistaken views and arrogance.
- Affirming the dropping off body and mind of the buddhas and ancestors is the flexible mind. This is called the mind-seal of the Buddhas and ancestors. This flexible, pliant mind is a mind that is concentrated but fluid. It doesn’t snag on anything. It doesn’t grab or reject. It meets every phenomena as buddha. The ancestors have called this fluid mind, like a pearl rolling in a bowl.
If you are interested in reading more about this or the primary sources, please read Shohaku Okumura’s book, “Realizing Genjokoan” pages 81-97.