Dogen has a famous phrase: shinjin datsuraku, which is translated “dropping off body and mind.” This famous phrase needs to be understood in order to appreciate Dogen’s writing.
There is a sentence in this fascicle, which refers to this phrase.
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.
To go beyond Buddha we have to understand what a non-buddha is, which I have discussed in a previous blog. A non-buddha is not defined by our language, naming, conceptualization or thought. It is the expression of unconstructed reality. Knowing the experience of a non-buddha, we then have to return to relative life through our 5 skandhas in order to actualize our life in this moment. We jump into the present moment beyond our thinking and this is sometimes called “returning to delusion or relative life”. In the Ox-herding pictures, it is the Buddha with open arms returning to the marketplace. This is what Dogen is calling going beyond Buddha. It is the leap of faith, which allows us to fully enter the moment. We jump off a hundred foot pole with abandon. Dropping all our thinking and our ideas ABOUT the moment, we just leap into the arising energy and just live.
In order to accomplish this leaping, we have to know how to take care of our 5 skandhas without clinging to them. This is essentially letting go of our personal desire system (our likes and dislikes, our attachments and aversions) and using our body and mind to express the ultimate nature of reality. In doing so, our minds are clear enough to help others. One beautiful phrase of Okumura-Roshi is: Our practice is to express eternity through our impermanent body and mind. Or you could say, we express our interconnection with all things through the dynamic ever-changing system of our five skandhas (aggregates or components.) (Body, sensations, perceptions, formations and consciousness)
Simply put, releasing our five skandhas from the idea of a self, is dropping off body and mind. There are many interpretations of what that might mean. The most enlightening information I have received is the conversation between Dogen and Tiantong Rujing, Dogen’s teacher in China. The conversation of Rujing teaching Dogen about this phrase is found in the “Hokyoki, Record in the Hokyo Era” which is Dogen’s personal record of his discussion with Rujing. The translation I have been using is found on page 81 in Okumura Roshi’s book, “Realizing the Genjo Koan.”
Here is my condensed summary of this discussion. Rujing presents what we have to let go of, or drop off, in order to function in this human world as a non-buddha.
First, we have to drop of the Three poisonous minds which are one of the most basic teachings in Buddhism. They are positioned in the center of the Wheel of Life and Death and considered the stimuli for turning the wheel of samsara and suffering.
- Attachment, greed, and clinging to pleasure
- Aversion, anger, hatred and pushing away pain
- Ignorance, denial, and the misunderstanding of reality-The belief in a solid, isolated unit as a “self”.
Second, we have to drop of the Five Desires. The Five desires are the attachment to the five sense organs and their objects – eye and sight, ear and sound, nose and smell, ear and sound, body and sensation, brain and thought. This is also a subtle and difficult practice. We are very much attached to all our sense gates and clinging to our sensual pleasure. If we do not like the sense objects, we have aversion and push them away. This is what I call our personal desire system based on like and dislike. Our personal desire system is what we must drop off. We need to teach our mind not to chase after things or escape from things. This is a radical acceptance of the sense objects exactly as they are in each moment. Without attachment or aversion, we can simply be. This “isness” would be dropping off body and mind.
As you can see, there are many overlaps in this teaching. However in my practice, I can’t repeat this teaching enough. Over and over, I tell myself to let go of my desire system. This is not to say that I can’t try to produce happiness in my life. Because I understand the influence of cause and effect, I can help produce good conditions, which may fruit my happiness. But even though this is true in a small measure, basically, Buddha said, it is my clinging and aversion that produce my suffering.
The last of Rujing’s instruction is to drop off the Six Coverings. The six coverings are simply the five hindrances with the addition of ignorance. This is a repetition of the teaching with a slightly different slant.
The five hindrances are:
- Sensual desire or greed
- Hatred and aversion
- Sleepiness, dullness or sloth
- Restlessness and distractions
- With the addition of Ignorance.
For many decades, I had a very narrow understanding of dropping off body and mind. I thought it was expressed only in the meditative state which is non-perception. The perceiving mind is so shut down that you can’t name or identify your body or your consciousness. This is a rare state in a human being and is one that comes after many, many years of intensive sitting. Though this state is attainable and deeply informs one aspect of “dropping off body and mind”, it is not the whole of what “dropping off body and mind” means for Rujing and Dogen as indicated in this writing. This discovery has been truly exciting for me and has helped bring my practice back to each moment as it arises, in whatever state of mind I’m currently in.
Each moment is an opportunity to drop off our personal desire system. If we are aware enough and have enough mindfulness, in each moment we can drop off our attachments and be free. This gives this teaching a great broad application. Anytime, anywhere, we can drop off body and mind. We can pivot our minds away from the three poisons, the five desires and the six coverings.
Uchiyama Roshi talks about this broad understanding of the phrase. He describes it as dropping off our fantasies we construct in our heads and returning to this moment.
“If we open the hand of thought, it drops away. This is Dogen Zenji’s famous phrase shinjin datsuraku (dropping off body and mind.) Hearing the words dropping off body and mind, many people imagine something like their body becoming unhinged and falling apart. This is not what it means. When we open the hand of thought, the things made up inside our heads fall away; that’s the meaning of dropping off body and mind.”
This is why Dogen emphasizes the combined words of practice-realization. In each moment we practice by noticing and letting go of our clinging and in the actualizing of that practice we are simultaneously enlightened. We are not building up to an enlightenment in the future because in Dogen’s world, there is no future. Everything is happening right now, right here, in the truth happening place of the Now. In order to be in the Now, we drop off our thinking and our clinging. We let go of our wishes for the now to be different than it is.