Making a Living in the Demons Cave in the Black Mountain #6

Once a monk asked Gensha, “I have heard that you said that the entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel.  How can I understand it?’

Gensha replied, “The ten-direction world is one bright jewel.  What is the use of understanding it?’

I love this.  If we can’t understand the essence and miracle of life through our intellect, how can I understand it? Or why should I bother trying to understand it? Our minds are constantly adding stories to the moment’s reality and that is the problem for finding the truth. This moment is the truth-happening-place.  But bringing the problem of this to consciousness is worth the effort.  In order to live, in order to understand practice, in order to be a human being, we have to use our consciousness.  Our brains are a total mystery and brilliant.  In practice, we don’t want to annihilate or belittle our human life or our ability to think.  But first, we have to understand the process of consciousness and understand that what we think is happening is probably not reality.  That is why so much is written about Buddhism.  All these words are pointers at the moon. But the pointers are not the energy of the moon itself.  But still, we cannot find the moon easily without the need for pointing fingers, especially if there are a lot of clouds. I would not have any understanding of practice if I had not:

  • heard or read the teaching from my teachers
  • contemplated them over and over, day after day
  • and then, had an experience in my own life that verifies the teaching.  Now when the teaching is my own experience, there is nothing to “believe” except my own felt experience.  Buddha said, “You don’t have to believe anything on faith, you have to experience this for yourself.”

What is important to me is “what is the use of understanding?”  This is my big bugaboo.  What good is concentration (samadhi) or wisdom (prajna), if we don’t demonstrate our understanding through our behavior.  This is the use of understanding.  We use all our insights into interdependence and constant change to change our behaviors.  We are less selfish, greedy, afraid, etc.  In order to change our behaviors, we have to have some conscious thinking process about how and why and if, we can change our behaviors.

The translation of Jijiyu Zanmai, a part of the Bendowa, another fascicle of Shobogenzo is “self-receive-use-oneness”.   This is the very important use.  We can receive out total personality.  Total personality is what Katagiri Roshi called our understanding and experience that the self is a merger of our historic self and our buddhahood.  This total personality is received and experienced as Both/and.  We feel the oneness or unity of the opposites- form and essence- within ourselves and within each moment and object.   The phrase “changing the basis of operation in our minds” that comes from Dan Brown, is about having the basis of our actions be this unity, rather than our delusion of separateness.  That is how we use oneness.

The next day, the master asked the same monk, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel.  How do you understand it?”

The monk said, “The entire ten-direction world is one bright jewel.  What is the use of understanding it?

The master said, “I know that you are making a livelihood inside the demon’s cave in the black mountain.”

This is a very cool switching of understanding that is very typical of Dogen’s writing.  Most interpretations say that the demon’s cave in the black mountain is the delusion of the world which we are trying to escape from.  This pre-dogen interpretation says that the repeating of the student’s phrase from one day to the next, is a stale recitation of old business.  He is living in the delusion of the demon’s cave, in his mind, and is not in the present moment.  He is listening to the demons.

But Dogen’s interpretation is so wonderfully pro-life.  Dogen says our livelihood, our day-to-day work, is indeed, always in the demon’s cave.  The demon’s aren’t actually demons.  They are the objects and the stories of our karma that need to be taken care of.  They are our life stories.  Not to be thrown away, but to be taken care of from the vantage point of oneness which is the Black Mountain of emptiness.  That is the use of understanding.  We now know that this story in front of us is the one bright jewel and we have to take care of our stories with compassion and with the understanding of the rules of life – cause and effect or karma.  From the vantage point of the Black Mountain, our stories become lighter, viewing them from a vast perspective, and they become the field of bodhisattva work.

Dogen ends the entire fascicle with another image from the demon’s cave in the black mountain.  He writes:

No action or thought has ever been caused by anything other than the bright jewel.  Therefore, forward steps and backward steps within the demon’s cave in the black mountain are nothing other than the one bright jewel.

Again, this image is so positive towards ordinary life.  We all feel like we are going backwards and forwards in our progress in our storied life.  We have success and failures.  We have hours where we are very present and hours when we have been on automatic or even, unable to interrupt our anger and hatred. But even these negative things are caused by the interdependence of one bright jewel.  All things are hung from the spacious darkness of the black mountain.  In that darkness we have don’t know mind – we don’t know whether we are coming or going, forward or backward.  We don’t know what is “right” or what we believe.  No matter what, however,  each moment is sourced from that dark, unknown, vastness.