I have been contemplating what “doing nothing” means. “Doing nothing” certainly goes against my achievement drive, or my idea of bettering myself, or my idea of attaining enlightenment. I know that “doing nothing” doesn’t mean simply “doing nothing” like a couch potato lost in the dream of TV. But “doing nothing” has something to do with the relinquishment of my “I.” My “I” is completely involved with “getting something for itself.” My “I” likes to “do” things that helps me improve. She likes skilfull means; “means” in order to get to the “result.” She is attached to freedom and no-suffering. What are the means to get me where i want to be?
Dogen addresses this problem of human beings’ deeply engrained belief in subject and object, and in getting something better. The future will be better then the Now, we think. Dogen counters this deeply engrained belief by saying things like — “Do not have designs on becoming a Buddha.” Fukanzazengi.
In the question and answer section of Bendowa, He tries to explain why zazen or his teaching of shikan taza (Just Sitting), which is a time of sitting quietly and relinquishing “doing,” is the best expression of the wonderful means for attaining the Way. In the Bendowa, he is addressing an audience of Buddhist who use many other skillful means like chanting, bowing, visualizations, reciting sutras. These other schools of Buddhism challenge his view with the question:
“How can you be certain that if you pass your time sitting idly, doing nothing in zazen, enlightenment will result?
Though he himself uses many of these same skilful means, he is trying to encourage and defend his position (which differentiates his teaching from the other schools of Japanese Buddhism at the time) of the supreme importance of zazen and a zazen that is not filled with the greed for gain. My understanding is that the instant we insert a goal into zazen is the instant that we have inserted the “I.”
“Such practices are difficult to relinquish for those who are deeply attached to gain — this is because of the depth of their greed.”
I have been observing the depth of my greed that arises endlessly and is so part of the human consciousness. It seems to me that this is Zen practice itself. Seeing the arising of; “this is good for me” or “I need to get that” or “What is happening now isn’t good enough” and then not following that thought, but returning to the body/mind of this very moment of expression. This is a very deep and subtle level of letting go of fame and gain. It requires us to let go of the control the “I” thinks it has, and to allow the whole dynamic functioning to work with me and with my environment as a Whole.
When we are speaking of doing and non-doing, I think the expression: “You turn the dharma wheel and then the dharma wheel turns you” is a wonderful practice saying. Often in the frenzy of trying to gain what I want through my personal power, I don’t leave any space or time or have faith that the dharma wheel will respond. I have little faith that the universe will respond and turn me. It may also mean that the dharma wheel will turn me in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. Though I exert effort, I am not in control. I can head in a direction but I can’t anticipate the result.
When we practice zazen, we are practicing forgetting the separation of self and other and awakening to the mutuality of the whole system of the functioning of life. Even though compared to other schools in Japanese Buddhism, Zen is often called the school of self-power, Dogen’s zazen is not done by personal self-power. This zazen is the life-force beyond self and others. We have relinquished the notion of self and are sitting in the midst of no separation. It is not a personal, individual effort to makes ourselves a better person. The sitting Dogen encourages is the sitting of enlightenment itself not a method to gain enlightenment. It is the expression of mutuality and no centralized self.
He writes in Answer 3 of the Bendowa:
“To call zazen “sitting idly” is to defame the triple treasure.
It is as profound an illusion as to declare there is no water when you are sitting in the midst of the ocean. Fortunately, the Buddhas are already seated firmly established in jijuyu Samadhi”.
We are constantly sitting in the sea of enlightenment just as a drop of water is always at one with the ocean. The drop of water cannot see the ocean, but nevertheless it is completely absorbed in Ocean. Just as in our sitting, we do nothing but just sitting. We are completely absorbed in the life energy of the present moment. We sit without doing anything with our consciousness, without mind or thought. This individualized consciousness is dropped off and we are completely absorbed in jijuyu zanmai with no self and other, no inside and outside.
It is not achieved by this person’s effort but by letting go or giving up our personal effort.