Spontaneous enlightenment

Do we see enlightenment and delusion as two separate things as people commonly believe? (Jijiyu Zanmai). What does Dogen’s practice-realization mean in terms of our directed efforts in practice to awaken from our stories and see the truth of life? Or how do we actually live if The Circle of the Way is happening simultaneously in every moment. These questions are actually quite similar to Dogen’s original question as he embarked on his pilgrimage to China. If we are always absorbed in inherent enlightenment, always present in the mystery of life, why do we have to practice? Or what is practice?

Dogen placed great emphasis on understanding enlightenment as seen without the veil of our human perceptions. He wanted us to know enlightenment within boundless time and space, which he incredibly and poetically expressed in Jijiyu Zanmai in the Shobogenzo fascicle Bendowa. He did not want us to see enlightenment as an event, a moment, or a certain experience in the timeline of our life but rather as the actually process of living.

Dogen wishes us to understand how to live as clearly and directly as we can, without the two veils of the human mind.

  1. The veil of our reactive emotions which centralize around an “I, me or mine” and our likes and dislikes – our egocentric preferences.
  2. And the veil of our perceptions and hidden assumptions. Our assumptions, as the Diamond sutra explains: of
    1. A self
    2. A “being”
    3. A life span
    4. A soul — something solid that exists endlessly

Another way of looking at the veil of perceptions is to divide it into:

  1. spatial — attached to self and being, seeing things as solid and individual units
  2. temporal — attached to life and rebirth, and the idea of a linear timeline
  3. conceptual — attached to dharmas and no-dharmas, or being and non-being

Edward Conze wrote that no separate dharma can possibly be perceived without a subjective act of perception taking place. He explained “the word “perceptions” comes from per-cap and capio which means “to take hold of, seize, grasp” but to seize on anything, either a dharma or a no-dharma, or enlightenment and delusion, automatically involves an act of preference bound up with self interest, self-assertion, and self-aggrandizement and therefore unbecoming to the selfless.”

I think this is the way Dogen feels about the enlightenment-delusion duality. If we locate enlightenment with a certain time and a certain place, it’s actually being perceived through the misunderstandings of our assumptions – our veil of perceptions. In many of his writings, Dogen tries to break open our categorizations of enlightenment (kensho and satori) and bring it to an understanding of boundless space and time.

He writes in Jijuyu Zanmai: If practice and enlightenment were separate as people commonly believe, it would be possible for them to perceive each other. But that which is associated with perceptions cannot be the standard of enlightenment because deluded human sentiment (our two veils of emotional reactivity and perceptions) cannot reach the standard of enlightenment.

So to understand practice-realization, we have to understand the effort of practice and the letting go that comes from inherent enlightenment. There is an effort to be aware and there is a letting go of our assumptions, to drop into a reality that is not shaped by our karmic consciousness. We need to be settled in the self, which means to me, alive and present in the true reality of this moment without adding on our mental commentary and evaluation. As Katagiri Roshi often said, “your activity here and now is right in the middle of the functioning of the universe.” As we mature our awareness of the working of the universe and its inherent enlightenment, our practice becomes spontaneous, non-perceptual and let go of self-consciousness. This stream of awakening is enlightenment, which never excludes any being or never moves a speck of dust or destroys a single form. (Jijuyu zanmai). In this clarity, enlightenment and delusion are not seen as opposites and we have truly awakened to the aliveness of this moment.

This is in accord with Dogen’s writing in “Daigo” that says, Daily life reflects realization. We are able to freely utilize the realization and realization disappears through the act of letting go.