Buddhas and non-buddhas #2

Is there such a thing as a “buddha” or a “self”? Our teaching says, and the physicists concur, that there is nothing solid, neither a person, nor a thing. We are all made up of molecules, moving parts and space. When the physicists look into an atom with their most subtle microscopes, they don’t find a “thing.” Even the neutrons, protons and electrons, when investigated, turn out to be space and energy.   We Buddhists smile. This is what we have been saying for centuries!

The most basic teaching in Buddhism are the Three Seals:

  • Everything is moving, changing and impermanent.
  • There is no centralized self (and therefore no centralized god or Buddha)
  • Depending on our perceptions, each moment can be pivoted from samsara and dukkha (suffering) into nirvana and freedom.

Through this most basic teaching of Buddhism, we understand that there is no Buddha and no Self. While investigating the question of “what is Buddha?” these teaching must be the basis of that questioning. Buddha or enlightenment is not a thing, a concept or a word. It is the basic transformation in how we perceive life. This perception is always changing and impermanent.

In this fascicle Dogen shares this koan and a few comments from the old teachers:

The founding Ancestor, Great Master Wuben, said to the assembly, “You should know that there is a person who goes beyond Buddha.”

At the time, a monk asked, “What are persons who go beyond Buddha like?”

The great Master said: “Non-buddhas.”

And the comments:

Yunmen said, “We cannot name or describe them, and so they are referred to with ‘non’”

Baofu said, “Buddhas-non”

Fayan said, “As a skillful means, we call them buddhas.”

Usually we might think of a “Non-buddha” as ordinary things or people that do not “understand”, or do not have wisdom, or just live in the coarse, mundane world. But this is not what this story or fascicle means at all. We are not investigating ordinary verses sacred. Or beyond verses right here. Or high and low. In terms of an omniscient Buddha or in other words Buddha-nature, every object, every person, every phenomena is the mystery itself. This here and now is Buddha-nature and the suchness or thusness of this moment is beyond language.

For the sake of communication and teaching, we often use the idea of the Two Truths – the relative and the absolute. In Okumura Roshi’s teaching, he often uses the terms u-buddha-nature and mu-buddha-nature. U-buddha-nature is the manifestation of the mystery of life or total dynamic functioning, as it is manifested through form. Mu-buddha-nature is the negation of form. This is unmanifested Buddha-nature. This is the half of the mystery that is shown through unconstructed reality, which is beyond discriminative thinking, beyond time constructions, and beyond a self. This unconstructed reality is contacted in non-thinking and makes a non-buddha.

This relates to the paradox that a Buddha needs a form, the 5 skandhas, to manifest the truth of the Buddha, which expresses unmanifested Buddha-nature. This is a Buddha and a non-buddha in Dogen’s language. A Buddha in form is very important. It is the actualization of our understanding of a non-buddha in our own 5-skandhas – our own body and mind. Our understanding of a non-buddha is the essential function of practice in that we do not cling to our 5 skandhas. We our released from our attachment to our self.

Dogen writes:

Such a Buddha who goes beyond Buddha is nothing other than a non-buddha.

 This “going beyond Buddha” or non-buddha means that we are not clinging to a name or an idea of what Buddha is, and we are not clinging to our own 5 skandhas. We are seeing the interactive universe in us, through us, and by seeing that, we deconstruct “us”.

It is a non-buddha simply because it goes beyond buddha, We call it a non-buddha because it drops off a buddha’s face and a buddha’s body-mind.

This is “going beyond Buddha”. Even our idea of Buddha has to drop off its face and its body-mind.

We plunge into this very moment. Leap into the moment, Dogen says. We are free of our ideas.  Uchiyama Roshi wrote that the thing that we drop off, are the things made up inside our heads. Our fantasy life falls away and that’s the meaning of dropping off body and mind.

Dogen explains that rather then living in fantasies constructed in our mind, we leap into the actual experience of the present moment. He writes:

What I mean is a single-minded vigorous way of life.

 That is what Dogen calls “going beyond Buddha.”