Gensha stubbed his toe

The next section of the primary story in One Bright Jewel is:

Once Gensha was leaving the mountain carrying his traveling bag to visit masters widely in the various regions and thoroughly study the Way.  On his way, he stubbed his toe on a stone.  As it bled with terrible pain, he suddenly had a profound insight and said, “This body is not existent.  Where does this pain come from?”  With this insight, he immediately went back to Seppo and did not go on pilgrimage.

It was very common in those historic times, to travel on pilgrimage and visit other teachers.  A Monk would take off and travel, sometimes walking for months, to visit another teacher.  In our age, it is either a great, big, hullabaloo to change teachers with insults, betrayals and hurt feelings or we can go on U-tube and see three different teachers in three different traditions in one afternoon with no commitment at all.  That historic difference being noted, Gensha was going traveling, seeking for a better understanding of the dharma.

On the very beginning of his pilgrimage, Gensha stubbed his toe and had a sudden terrible pain in his foot.  If there is no self, he asked himself, where is this pain coming from? He then had an insight.  How can the two sides of existence and non-existence appear in one moment?  This pain cannot be denied, and there is the Buddhist teaching of no-self.  How can we understand this in a non-dualistic way?  That is Gensha’s insight – that the opposites co-arise in the moment of “ow”.  They happen in the truth-happening-place which is only in the present moment.  Without getting involved with dualism, what is this?

In order to understand how to be in direct contact with an experience and still understand impermanence and no centralized self, we have to understand the working of our consciousness.   Lets go back to the Sutta Nipata #11 “Kalahavivada Sutta, Disputes and Contention” and investigate how a moment is conceived.  We have to look into the interaction of the functioning of the 5 skandhas and the stone that hurt Gensha’s toe.

First, let’s begin with investigating No-Self. Because everything is in constant motion and change, we cannot find a solid self.  This is some of the most primary teaching in Buddhism.  The self is not a solid, isolated unit but a combusting moving system of parts that are an energetic structure that completely interacts with all other energetic systems and cannot be “caught” as one unit.

The Five skandhas which make up a being are:

  1. the body or form
  2. sensations of like, dislike, or neutrality
  3. perceptions coming through all the sense gates, ear, eye, nose, tongue, body, thought
  4. formation – “the together-maker” which brings these senses together and makes a solid form or idea out of the different stimuli
  5. consciousness – many layers and levels of our mind’s arrangements of thoughts

The 5 skandhas are twirling around each other as I imagine an atom works-electrons swirling around the nucleus.  Please forgive my very, very crude understanding of Quantum physics but at some point in the twentieth century, the scientists began to doubt that the particles were solid.  The nucleus was not a solid particle.  Using huge, micro-micro-scopes, they couldn’t find a solid “thing” just as Buddhism suggests that we can’t find solid “things”.  What both scientists and Buddhists find is space and energy working non-dualistically together.  The scientists even called it the wave-particle duality.  The scientist found space and energy but no solid particles.  We Buddhists call this, the form-emptiness duality. Both sides work together and are inseparable.  Can we say, our karmic, historic form-self works together and is inseparably with the self that has no solid particle. We are a self that is not a unit isolated from the rest of the dynamic functioning of the universe.  Which would mean Gensha felt the pain of this very moment and also understood not to solidify his consciousness around it.  That was his insight.

In order not to solidify our consciousness around it, we have to understand how the consciousness works.  The Nipata sutta is an early example of the links that produce our consciousness. It is an earlier and simpler version of the 12 links of causation.  Because it is simpler, i find it easier to understand.  I am going to work with these links in reverse order, starting with unconstructed reality and working towards are preferences producing suffering and a sense of a solid self.

6.  There is a state before form is created, what I have been calling unconstructed reality. It is the unconstructed state before our consciousness divides life into opposites.  Nagarjuna’s Tetralemma describes it thusly:

  • without ordinary perception,
  • without disordered perception,
  • without no perception
  • and without any annihilation of perception.

The unconstructed reality produces nama-rupa.

5.  Nama-rupa is the appearance of an object and the name attached to that object. This is the moment of “ow” when stubbing one’s toe.  Naming establishes a relationship between subject and object.  When there is no name then “mine-ness” does not exit.

Nama-rupa produces Contact

4. Contact is the moment when subject-object-and consciousness connect.  It is a moment.  In order to understand this, we have to understand the working of the moment.  In a moment, becoming and disintegration work simultaneously.  It happens so fast that a moment can’t be caught.

Contact produces Sensation.

3. Sensation is the arising of appealing and unappealing and neutrality.  In and of themselves, these objects of reaction are simply “just reactions” but right after the objects of sensations arise, generally, we add on to the sensation – attachment and aversion.

Sensation produces clinging or craving

2.  Clinging or craving produces the Three Poisonous Minds of greed, anger and delusion.  This is the Second Noble Truth that our craving and attachments produce the obstacles in ourselves and the world and produce our suffering.  Our attachment to pleasure produces greed.  Our aversion to unpleasant sensations produces hatred and anger.  Our misunderstanding of solidity produces the delusion of the world as being solid and alienated.

These preferences produce Suffering.

  1. Suffering  is produced by our preferences.  If there is no flame of the three poisonous minds, there is no suffering.

How does this understanding of the workings of consciousness help us get an insight into how form and emptiness work together.  As I write this, I hear Dogen explaining, that just saying” form and emptiness work together” means that in our language, they are separated. He encourages us to say it differently. How can we experience the truth of the moment?  Ow, and then the next moment, Ow.  By penetrating into the moment’s “Ow”, we become the experience of the essence of that moment. This direct contact has to be practiced and realized in each moment.  It happens before our attachments move us into stories upon stories upon stories of what we want to happen but isn’t happening – all of our dissatisfactions with life.

In order to have direct contact with the moment that is actually happening, we have to have this subtle understanding of the working of consciousness and intervene or interrupt our habituated patterns of response.  This is quite radical. But this insight doesn’t just happen once, – oh, now I understand and this enlightenment will get me through all the future moments.  No.  Our practice is in each moment is to directly contact this moment and be fully present.

Uchiyama Roshi wrote:

“However, despite having handled the current pain moment by moment, if I encounter this terrific pain again, I would only be fooling myself if I thought this past experience would help me get through this current pain.  This is a delusion.  We have to meet or encounter one at a time, these painful experiences.  We are not saved by past enlightenment.  It has to be fresh and new – dried enlightenment doesn’t work.”