Judith Blackstone, 'The Empathic Ground':
"Although nondual realization is considered, in Asian spiritual traditions to be an advanced level of spiritual attainment, I have found that for many people it is easily accessible. It is important to understand that nondual realization is a process. Complete nondual realization is said to be extremely rare, if it is possible at all. But an initial realization requires between one and three years of consistent practice intention."

I saw this quote in your forum thread Any living enlightened Master? I wonder why you quoted it, it doesn’t seem relevant. Nevertheless with the recent insight into anatta, I am sure you no more concur with Judith Blackstone that “Complete nondual realization is said to be extremely rare, if it is possible at all.” In fact not only is complete non-dual possible, it is simply the beginning. In the realm of no-mind, all experiences are implicitly non-dual and effortless. This should not be a mystery to you by now.

The purpose of bringing up Judith Blackstone quote is not to boast about one’s achievement but to convey an additional point in practice. That is in addition to experience and realization, you have to embrace the ‘right view’. I have mentioned to you in the article Realization and Experience and Non-Dual Experience from Different Perspectives, I will re-iterate it here:

To mature this realization, even direct experience of the absence of an agent will prove insufficient; there must also be a total new paradigm shift in terms of view; we must free ourselves from being bonded to the idea, the need, the urge and the tendency of analyzing, seeing and understanding our moment to moment of experiential reality from a source, an essence, a center, a location, an agent or a controller and rest entirely on anatta and Dependent Origination.

Therefore despite the clear realization and right experience, seamlessness and effortlessness of non-dual experience will not be smooth without ‘right view’. The reason though obvious is often overlooked; if deep at the back of a practitioner’s mind he still hold the dualistic and inherent view, how is it possible to have seamless and effortless experience of in seeing, just scenery; in hearing, just sound? How unreserved, open and seamless can a practitioner be in transcending the self altogether into the transience? Hence equip oneself with a view that can integrate with the realization and experience, it will help practitioners progress more smoothly. Understanding the impact of view in practice is what I find lacking in many of your posts. You may want to look into it.

With regards to the attachment of view, it does not apply to practitioners that have gone pass certain phases of insights. Practitioners after certain phases of insights are constantly abolishing ground and are clear that whatever pith instructions and views are merely provisional. There are masters that caution practitioners and there are students that parrot their masters’ advises, so do not follow blindly. In fact if understood correctly every deepening of view is a giving up. In the case of anatta, it is the total elimination of Self.
"Bhikkkhus, as purified and bright as this view is, if you covet, cherish, treasure and take pride in it, do you understand this Dhamma as comparable to a raft, taught for the purpose of giving up [i.e. crossing over] and not for the purpose of grasping?" "No, venerable sir." "Bhikkhus, as purified and bright as this view is, if you do not covet, cherish, treasure and take pride in it, would you then know this Dhamma as comparable to a raft, taught for the purpose of giving up [i.e. crossing over] and not for the purpose of grasping?" "Yes, venerable sir."
source: http://www.leighb.com/mn38.htm

Coming back to your practice, there are 3 experiences that you should be familiar:

1. Frequent occurrences of mini absorption states in sensory experiences of the 6 entries and exits.

2. Getting grounded in the ‘here and now’.

3. Occasional brief moment of experiencing oneself being transcended into ceaseless activity (This is the beginning of maha interconnectedness aka 一合相 according to your dharma grand master).

I would like to hear from you the followings:

1. How is 1,2 and 3 related?

2. What in your own opinion is your next natural progression?
In your Taiwanese teacher's reply, he pointed out to you about seeing the equality of all dharma and all appearances. Is this your next natural progression? If in a flash moment you are able to intuit what your Taiwanese teacher is pointing at, then all gaps are filled and transmission beyond verbal inadequacies is attained; otherwise there is no rush for experience and realization. The mind has not given up enough to rid itself of artificialities to intuit what that is plainly simple, gapless and direct.

Whatever arises dependently originates.
Life is so, Death is so.
This is so, That is so.
Here is so, Now is so.
Therefore no life, no death, no this, no that, no here, no now.
No Self to create the hierarchy to complicate matters.
Marvelously simple, primordially pure.
Diverse yet equal!

3. Is grounding in the ‘here and now’ something to seek after? Relate this to Ted’s article and the article on Stainless. You have written a post about relinquishing attachment to the 'here and now'. The improvement is indicative of the increase in understanding and expression of no-self.

4. How and why does the experience of 一合相 (the experience of interconnectedness) arise and why only occasionally unlike your non-dual experience?

5. How is your Taiwanese teacher’s reply related to Ted’s article?

Lastly, I want to comment on the following 3 points found in Ted's article "A" is "not-A", "not A" is "A". They are related to the questions above and is a little beyond you at this point in time. Take your time to refine your understanding and experience in army. I will update it along the way.

1. The myriad things advance and confirm the self
2. Kaiin Zammai (Ocean-reflection Samadhi) 海印三昧
3. Do not anticipate, Do not oppose

1. The myriad things advance and confirm the self
Zazen is “mustering the whole body-mind (the whole of existence-time, inclusive of “A” and “not-A”) to look at forms and listen to sounds,” which is described by Dogen as “direct experience.” This “direct experience” is not only hearing, seeing, etc.; it is the arising of an ‘I’.” As in Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, “The myriad things advance and confirm the self.

The whole article would be beautiful without the above texts quoted in bold. This emphasis is no difference from the need to find ground in the ‘here and now’. There is another article posted by you in the blog Genjo Koan: Actualizing the Fundamental Point that in my opinion provides a more accurate translation:
To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.
To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

If “the myriad things advance and confirm the self”, then practitioners will be leaving trace. This also reminds me of my conversation with Gozen (a Soto Zen teacher) in dharmaoverground:
24. RE: The mind and the watcher
Apr 7 2009, 5:46 PM EDT | Post edited: Apr 7 2009, 5:57 PM EDT
"I AM: Paradoxically, one feels at the same time that one is both essentially untouched by all phenomena and yet intimately at one with them. As the Upanishad says "Thou are That."

1.a. Body and Mind as Constructs: Another way to look at this is to observe that all compound things -- including one's own body and mind -- are **objects to awareness.** That is to say, from the "fundamental" point of view of primordial awareness, or True Self, even body and mind are **not self.**"

Ha Gozen, I re-read the post and saw **not self**, I supposed u r referring to anatta then I have to disagree...:-). However I agree with what that u said from the Vedanta (True Self) standpoint. But going into it can make it appears unnecessary complex.

As a summary, I see anatta as understanding the **transience** as Awareness by realizing that there is no observer apart from the observed. Effectively it is referring to the experience of in seeing, only scenery, no seer. In hearing, only sound, no hearer. The experience is quite similar to “Thou are That” except that there is no sinking back to a Source as it is deemed unnecessary. Full comfort is found in resting completely as the transience without even the slightest need to refer back to a source. For the source has always been the manifestation due to its emptiness nature.

All along there is no dust alighting on the Mirror; the dust has always been the Mirror. We fail to recognize the dust as the Mirror when we are attached to a particular speck of dust and call it the ”Mirror”; When a particular speck of dust becomes special, then all other pristine happening that are self-mirroring suddenly appears dusty.

Anything further, we will have to take it private again. :-)
source : Emptiness as Viewless View and Embracing the Transience

Therefore to see that all dusts are primordially pure from before beginning is the whole purpose of maturing the insight of anatta. The following text succinctly expresses this insight:
...According to Dogen, this “oceanic-body” does not contain the myriad forms, nor is it made up of myriad forms – it is the myriad forms themselves. The same instruction is provided at the beginning of Shobogenzo, Gabyo (pictured rice-cakes) where, he asserts that, “as all Buddhas are enlightenment” (sho, or honsho), so too, “all dharmas are enlightenment” which he says does not mean they are simply “one” nature or mind.

Anything falling short of this realization cannot be said to be Buddhist's enlightenment and it is also what your Taiwanese teacher Chen wanted you to be clear when he spoke of the "equality of dharma" as having an initial glimpse of anatta will not result in practitioners seeing that phenomena are themselves primordially pure.

2. Kaiin Zammai (Ocean-reflection Samadhi) 海印三昧

The Libya war, Japan earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear crisis have caused much turbulence to the world and its economy. The past few weeks have been a difficult period to cope (in business). It is a very tough period for those businessmen having businesses that are closely linked to Libya and Japan and I can understand the fear, anger and frustrations in them. I have friends that are badly affected but amid this difficult time, let us also not forget that thousands of lives have been lost and tens of thousands more are still suffering now…

I sincerely hope that all beings in this crisis be free from danger, mental and physical suffering .....

The term ‘Ocean-Seal Samadhi (海印三昧)’ seems to originate from Flower Adornment Sutra. I am not familiar with flower Adornment Sutra and therefore know very little about 海印三昧. When Amitayus48 first posted an article about 海印三昧 by 宣化老和尚 in your forum, I did an internet search on 海印三昧 (in Chinese characters) and what I gathered were the explanations (in Chinese) by many masters from non-dual substantialists perspective. It was quite a disappointment.

That which rekindled my interest in Ocean-Seal Samadhi is the following description:
The Buddha said, "It is just the dharmas that combine to form this body. When it arises, it is simply the dharmas arising; when it ceases, it is simply the dharmas ceasing. When these dharmas arise, [the bodhisattva] does not state, 'I arise'; when these dharmas cease, he does not state, 'I cease'." "In prior thought moments and subsequent thought moments, the moments do not relate to each other; in prior dharmas and subsequent dharmas, the dharmas do not oppose each other. This is called the the ocean seal Samadhi.

I wonder where Dogen got this wonderfully expressed quote but I am unable to locate it in Flower Adornment Sutra (Update by Soh: The entire passage here is from the Recorded Sayings of Mazu. The first quotation represents Mazu’s (slightly abbreviated) quote of the Vimalakirti Sutra, in which Vimalakirti is instructing Mañjusri on how a sick bodhisattva should regard his body. The second quotation is Mazu’s comment, in which he goes on to say that the samadhi collects all the dharmas as the ocean collects the water of all the rivers.
The awkward translation “thought moment” tries to preserve something of the ambiguity of the term nen, used in reference both to moments of time and individual mental events. The term will reappear below in both senses. - https://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/pdf/dharma-eye/de14/de14_10.htm)
. The quote appears to be a piece-together from two different sutras -- Vimalakirti Sutra and (Zen Grand Master) Hui Neng Sutra. If that is the case, Ted is right in saying that Dogen has indeed creatively shed new light into the profound meaning of 海印三昧.

In my opinion the quote is not about an expression of a perfectly transparent and clear state of mind where object and subject collapsed into an undifferentiated oneness reflecting myraid forms. This would just simply be a non-dual state; rather it is a perfection in insight of seeing what that is truly happening in this instantaneous moment of suchness. The myriad forms are presenting themselves in plain simplicity and the myriad forms have always been what we called ‘mind’. The texture, the fabric, the shape, the vivid colors, the myriad appearances in primordial purity has always been 'mind' itself! Yet do not mistake that 'mind' is the one substance that made up the myriad forms for this is a distorted inherent view. It is simply a label denoting this instantaneous moment of vivid arising that entails the total exertion of the universe. This 'total exertion' is not by way of 'effort' and no amount of 'effort' will lead to 'total exertion'; this 'total exertion' is by way of realizing the 2 fold empty nature of whatever arises.

Therefore To study the mind is to study the myriad forms. To study the myriad forms is to study the dependently originated appearance at this instantaneous moment. To study this instantaneous moment is to understand the full exertion of the 'interconnected universe' and this full exertion is expressed without reservation as this vivid moment of arising sound...this breath...this passing thought...this obviously clear scenery...


Instantly Gone!

3. Do not anticipate, Do not oppose

The previous section is essentially realizing that the "Ocean" is something extra, in actuality it does not exist. However the arising insight of "no agent" does not naturally lead to the realization that:

“A preceding thought-moment and a succeeding thought-moment do not anticipate each other; a preceding dharma and a succeeding dharma do not oppose each other."

You have written a post relating to this matter where you spoke of the difference between the first and second stanza. I think it is more relevant than seeing it as the total exertion in an instantaneous moment as presented by Ted. This arising moment of myriad appearance is the full embodiment of past, present and future 'total exertion', hence "existence-time" is an invaluable insight but relates more to the experience of maha.

For the purpose of your practice, before going deeply into 'total exertion', it is advisable to first directly experience the 'releasing from the chain (of birth and death)' by realizing that thought moment "do not anticipate each other and dharma do not oppose each other". In my opinion, without this de-linking the chain of thought-moment and seeing that manifestation is continuously springing up non-dually, non-locally and unsupported, the 'Samadhi' of the Ocean-Seal will not be adequately understood.

Also in between ”seeing the Ocean as extra” to directly experiencing the “total exertion in the ceaselessness of this ongoing activity”, a process of maturing the insight of anatta is necessary. By maturing I am referring to the ending of any reification of mind-objects be it "Self/self", "here/now", "mind", "body", "weather"... -- there is no "Self/self", only changing aggregates; no "body", only changing sensations; no “here and now” besides changing phenomena; no "weather" besides changing clouds, rain and sun shines. If this insight can be thoroughly extended to whatever arises then the interconnectedness and total exertion of this moment will become clear and obvious. So much so that when eating an apple, the universe tastes it! -- the full exertion of the apple, the hand, the taste, the throat, the stomach, the everything of everything is completely transcended into this simple action of suchness where nothing is excluded. Here again, do take note that this "total exertion" is not the result of being fully concentrated; it is the natural outcome when practitioners have adequately embraced the 'view' of 2 fold emptiness.

In summary I think this is an excellent article written from deep experiential insight. However the article seems to emphasize more “A” than “not A”. Although there is the mentioning of the “casting off”, it is quickly overshadowed by the emphasis of “total exertion”, the grounding in the “here and now” and the affirming of the ‘Self’ in the arising and ceasing.

“Here” and “Now” are simply impressions formed by the senses. Fundamentally there is nothing truly ”here”, nothing truly “now” and nothing truly “self”. Though the universe (with all causes and conditions) is fully exerting to make this moment possible, it is nothing real. In my opinion the recent post written by Pegembara in your forum provides a good balance to Ted’s insight of “total exertion”.

Just my 2 cents. :)
My Taiwanese teacher's reply to my two Chinese articles which I wrote (the first article details the I AM realization, the second article details the initial insight into Anatta):



因为诸法寂灭,本来无我,即见无我,何来有法,既然无一法,何来可悟。所以悟无可悟,本来具足,这样才是真正的见真如。一切相,一切法皆是平等,平等。因为自性空性,要诸相归性, 懂得见一切法,见一切相,归于自己的自性,见无所见,诸法平等,诸相平等,行者无心,这样就成功了。


(Translation from Chinese)

Root faculty is not bad, but! All dharmas arise due to mind, if there is no mind, then how can there be a dharma to be realized, therefore realize there is nothing to be realized, this is then truly the original nature of true thusness.

If there are still dharmas to represent appearances, if there are still dharmas that can be attained, one will not be able to see the True Thusness.

Because all dharmas are quiescent cessation (Nirvana), always already without self, and since one realizes No-Self, how can there be dharmas, and since there are no dharmas whatsoever, how can there be realization, therefore realize that there is nothing that can be realized, originally it is complete. This, then, is truly seeing true thusness. All appearances, all dharmas are equal, equal. As self-nature is empty by nature, we must revert all appearances to nature, know how to see all dharmas, all appearances, as belonging to one's self-nature, see that there is nothing to see, all dharmas are equal, all appearances are equal, the practitioner has no mind. If one practices this way, one succeeds.

He (referring to me) is still searching for a higher state in dharmas, the true highest state is the equality of all appearances, the equality of all dharmas, therefore we must return appearance to nature, all dharmas are of quiescent cessation (Nirvana), therefore see that there is nothing seen, realize that there is nothing realized, only then one can enter into the phenomenon of the equality of all dharmas.
This is a good post on the insight of Anatta and Dependent Origination, and represents Dogen's thought well.

From: http://zenforuminternational.org//viewtopic.php?f=17&t=5490&p=73011#p73011

Also see Thusness's comments on this article: http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com/2011/03/realization-experience-and-right-view_13.html

by Ted Biringer on Thu Oct 14, 2010 8:03 am
"A" is "not-A", "not A" is "A"

In the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Buddha, speaking from within the enlightened state, elucidates the nature of reality in an elaborately metaphorical expression that envisions the totality of existence as an “ocean” in which all the myriad dharmas are viewed as “reflections.” In his, Kaiin Zammai (Ocean-reflection Samadhi), Dogen assimilates the traditional account and, drawing on some unsuspected implications of the doctrine, manages to push the whole vision to a new, more dynamic level.

In the sutra, the Buddha describes his “body” as consisting of the “arising” and “vanishing” of myriad dharmas. He also asserts that he does not “speak of this body,” which is the arising and vanishing of myriad dharmas, as “the arising and vanishing of an ‘I’.” Here, Dogen quotes the Buddha as going on to explain that:

“A preceding thought-moment and a succeeding thought-moment do not anticipate each other; a preceding dharma and a succeeding dharma do not oppose each other. This is known as the ocean-reflection samadhi”
Shobogenzo, Kaiin-zammai, Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.166

For one thing, Dogen’s viewpoint differs significantly from the standard Huayen model in his emphasis on the unity of existence and time (uji; existence-time). This is seen in the present case by Dogen’s attention to the fact that preceding and succeeding “moments,” and “dharmas,” do not anticipate each other – thus the nondual nature of moments (time) and dharmas (existent forms) are underscored.

Dogen explains that although Buddhas and ancestors actualize various kinds of enlightenment (e.g. original, acquired, initial, etc.), there is more to Buddhas and ancestors than that. The “body” that the Buddha spoke of as consisting of the “integrated form” of myriad dharmas should not be hastily regarded as a “single unified form” (of undifferentiated oneness). According to Dogen, this “oceanic-body” does not contain the myriad forms, nor is it made up of myriad forms – it is the myriad forms themselves. The same instruction is provided at the beginning of Shobogenzo, Gabyo (pictured rice-cakes) where, he asserts that, “as all Buddhas are enlightenment” (sho, or honsho), so too, “all dharmas are enlightenment” which he says does not mean they are simply “one” nature or mind. On that line from Gabyo, Hee-Jin Kim comments:

All Buddhas and all things cannot be reduced to a static entity or principle symbolized as one mind, one nature, or the like. This guards against views that devaluate the unique, irreplaceable individuality of a single dharma.
Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.257

In Kaiin Zammai, the “arising” of dharmas, says Dogen, is the actualization of a specific moment of time. “Existence,” being coessential and coextensive with “experience,” the “arising of dharmas” is synonymous with our experience here and now. The arising of myriad dharmas is itself authentic practice-enlightenment.For Dogen, “zazen” is the archetypal symbol of this “practice-enlightenment.”

Zazen is “mustering the whole body-mind (the whole of existence-time, inclusive of “A” and “not-A”) to look at forms and listen to sounds,” which is described by Dogen as “direct experience.” This “direct experience” is not only hearing, seeing, etc.; it is the arising of an ‘I’.” As in Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, “The myriad things advance and confirm the self.”

Thus, the “arising of dharmas” (the myriad particular things of experience) is itself “the one” totality of existence-time which is itself the whole, real, ever advancing body-mind of Buddha at each (and every) particular moment of existence-time. In other words, the totality of “myriad” dharmas right now are - as they are - the “one” body-mind of Buddha right now. This “body-mind” is immediately “cast off” and the new totality of myriad dharmas is fully exerted as the one body-mind of Buddha, which is immediately cast off as the “body-mind of Buddha” ceaselessly advances into novelty – This! Now this! Now this! Now this!

The “body-mind” of the Buddha (or Universe) that is manifested or actualized with each now total exertion “contains” or is “inclusive of” all previous total exertions (body-minds of Buddha) which, being “real dharmas” occupy dharma-positions (specific coordinates of space-and-time; uji, existence time), and therefore are “one of the myriad dharmas” that constitute the body-mind of Buddha here and now (i.e. their particular instance of existence forms part of the “fabric” of this particular instance of existence). Also, the “body-mind” of the Buddha here and now “contains” or is “inclusive of” all future total exertions (body-minds of Buddha) which, being “real potentials” are, and must be “real dharmas,” hence, actually present here and now. Thus, Dogen’s teaching, “Nothing in the whole universe has ever been concealed.”

One thing this means is that the body-mind of Buddha is directly perceptible here and now. The Buddha (thus our “self”) is nothing more, or less, than each and every particular thing and event of our experience here and now. As the masters say, “Truly seeing a mote of dust is truly seeing the whole universe.” In Dogen’s terms, “When one side (a dust mote) is illumined, the other side (the totality of space and time) is dark” (“dark” as in “shadowed,” or “eclipsed” – thus “dark” denotes presence not absence).

This (and every) instant of existence-time (dharma-position) is the “self” or the “I” which can be, and is, confirmed in (and as) “zazen” (authentic practice-enlightenment). Thus Dogen says: [Note: Nearman translates “dharmas” as “elements”]

‘Arising’ invariably refers to the arrival of a specific moment, for time is what arises. Just what is this ‘arising’? It must surely be arising in and of itself. This arising is already a moment in time. Never did He say that it fails to expose what Skin and Flesh, Bones and Marrow really are. Because this is the arising of ‘being composed of ’, it is this body of His that arises, it is an ‘I’ that arises, and it is ‘merely being various elements’ that arises. It is not only hearing sounds and seeing forms and colors; it is also the arising of an ‘I’. It is this arising of an ‘I’ that one does not speak about. ‘Not speaking about something’ does not mean ‘not expressing something’, for being able to express something is not the same as being able to put it in words. The time of arising is synonymous with the appearance of ‘these elements’; it does not refer to the twenty-four hours of a day. These elements are what the time of arising is, and they do not compete with each other within the three worlds of desire, form, and beyond form. As an Old Buddha once put it, “Suddenly, fire arises.” Through this expression, He was saying that there is no waiting about for this arising.
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

After commenting on this, Dogen cites a Zen koan and asserts that “we need to discern the real meaning” of the “ceaselessness of this process,” underscoring that “the myriad dharmas” is “the one” body-mind (Buddha, true self) – as it is - and “the one” body mind is “the myriad dharmas.” Then he reminds us that nonduality indicates “unity” not “identification” by describing this (inclusiveness of “A” and “not-A”) as the “lifeblood” of Buddhas and ancestors, pointing out that, “the ‘you’ is the who that arises and vanishes.”

Another Old Buddha once said, “What is this ceaseless time of arising and vanishing?” Thus, in that this arising and vanishing is our experience of the arising of an ‘I’ and our experience of the vanishing of an ‘I’, the process is unceasing. In entrusting the Matter to Him, we need to discern the real meaning of His stating the ceaselessness of this process. We continually chop up this unceasing time of arising and vanishing, which is the very lifeblood of an Ancestor of the Buddha. In the unceasing time of arising and vanishing, who is it that arises and vanishes? As to the ‘who’ that arises and vanishes, it is the ‘who’ that is on the verge of being able to realize enlightenment within this body. That is, it is the ‘who’ that manifests this body, the ‘who’ for whom the Dharma is expressed, the very ‘who’ in the past who was unable to grasp what Mind is. It is “You have gotten what my Marrow is,” and it is “You have gotten what my Bones are,” because the ‘you’ is the who that arises and vanishes.
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

After exploring and illuminating the significance of the implications of this, Dogen concludes Kaiin Zammai, by citing and commenting on a Zen koan that directly relates to our discussion on the unity of “A” and “not-A” in the infinite and eternal nature of “existence-time.” Here is the koan as translated by Hubert Nearman:

Sozan Honjaku was once asked by a monk, “I have heard that it says in the Scriptures that the great ocean does not give lodging to corpses. Just what kind of an ocean is this?”

The Master responded, “One that contains all that exists.”

The monk then asked, “Then why doesn’t it give lodging to corpses?”

The Master replied, “What has ceased to breathe is not connected with It.”

The monk asked, “Given that it contains all that exists, why is something that has ceased to breathe not connected with it?”

The Master said, “The functioning of all that exists is something other than ceasing to breathe.”
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

After pointing out that the “great ocean” in the koan is the same as in the Avatamsaka Sutra, Dogen defines “a corpse” as “dead ashes” and describes this as a being (dharma) whose “mind does not change no matter how many times it encounters springtime.” This is a remarkably creative expression; Dogen depicts “a corpse” as a dharma (thing, being, etc.) that seems to defy his own teachings on what “dharmas” are. First, according to Dogen, all dharmas arise and perish ceaselessly. Second, all authentic dharmas are said to be real insofar as they are experienced by sentient beings, and thus undergo ceaseless change. But here Dogen defines “a corpse” as a dharma that remains unchanged (no matter how many times it encounters springtime). Saying “a corpse” is unchanging, Dogen seems to contradict himself. However, this is actually a beautiful example of Dogen’s unconventional use of convention – out pops the rabbit:

What he called ‘a corpse’ is something that no one has ever experienced, and that is why they do not comprehend what it is.
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

We know that for Dogen, existence is experience and experience is existence (i.e. to exist is to be experienced, to be experienced is to exist). Thus, all real (existent) dharmas are “experienced dharmas.” Thus, saying “a corpse” is something that “no one has ever experienced,” in light of this teaching is the same as saying that “a corpse” is something (a dharma) that “has never existed.” With this in mind, the rest of Kaiin Zammai is fairly straightforward.

The Master’s saying, “One that contains all that exists,” expresses what the Ocean is. The point he is making is not that there is some single thing that contains all that exists, but rather that It is all contained things. And he is not saying that the Great Ocean is what contains all existing things, but rather that what is expressing ‘all contained things’ is simply the Great Ocean. Though we do not know what It is, It is everything that exists for the moment. Even coming face-to-face with a Buddha or an Ancestor is a mistaken perception of ‘everything that exists for the moment’. At the moment of ‘being contained’, although it may involve a mountain, it is not just our ‘standing atop a soaring mountain peak’, and although it may involve water, it is not just our ‘plunging down to the floor of the Ocean’s abyss’. Our acts of acceptance will be like this, as will our acts of letting go. What we call the Ocean of our Buddha Nature and what we call the Ocean of Vairochana are simply synonymous with ‘all that exists’.

Even though the surface of the Ocean may not be visible to us, we never doubt its existence in our daily conduct of ‘swimming about’. For example, the monk Tafuku—one of Joshu’s Dharma heirs—once described a grove of bamboo as, “One or two canes are crooked, and three or four canes are aslant.” Although his daily monastic conduct led him to see all that exists as a bunch of errors, why did he not say, “A thousand crooked canes! Nay, ten thousand crooked canes!” Why did he not say, “A thousand groves! Nay, ten thousand groves!” Do not lose sight of the underlying principle that is present like this in a grove of bamboo. Sozan’s expression, “One that contains all that exists,” is synonymous with ‘all that exists’.

Although the monk’s question, “Why is something that has ceased to breathe not connected with it?” might be viewed, albeit mistakenly, as arising from doubt, it could have been just what his mind was concerned with. When Master Rinzai said about Fuke, his elder brother in the Sangha, “I have long had my doubts about that fellow,” he was simply recognizing who ‘the person’ was about whom he had long held doubts. In what exists, why is something that has ceased to breathe not connected with It and how can It not give lodging to corpses? Herein, why something that has ceased to breathe is not connected with It is that It already contains all that exists. Keep in mind that ‘containing’ does not mean ‘keeping’ and that ‘containing’ is synonymous with ‘not giving lodging to’. Even if all that exists were a corpse, it might well be that not giving lodging to it would forthwith span ten thousand years, and it might well be that ‘not belonging to It’ is this old monk Dogen playing one stone in a game of Go.

What Sozan said is, “The functioning of all that exists is something other than ceasing to breathe.” In other words, whether all that exists ceases to breathe or does not stop breathing, a corpse would still be unconnected with It. Even though a corpse is a corpse, if it had behavior that was in harmony with all that exists, it would contain all—it would be containment. The journey before us and the journey behind us, which is part and parcel of all that exists, each have their own functions, and ceasing to breathe is not one of them. In other words, it is like the blind leading the blind. The fundamental principle of the blind leading the blind includes ‘one blind person leading one blind person’ and ‘a mass of blind people leading a mass of blind people’. When a mass of blind people are leading a mass of blind people, all contained things contain all contained things. Further, no matter how many Great Ways there are, They are beyond ‘all that exists’, for we have still not fully manifested our meditative practice, which is the meditative state that bears the seal of the Ocean.
Shobogenzo, Kaiin Zammai, Hubert Nearman

While Dogen’s most articulate critiques are those refutations of the non-Buddhist Indian teaching of Senika, his disparagement of all dualism permeate his works. All so-called antitheses only become “antitheses” when we fail to abide by the Buddhist principles of nonduality which asserts that mind and matter, Buddhas and ordinary beings, delusion and enlightenment, practice and realization, self and other, etc. are united, not identical, they are not two, not one.

When we conceptually posit a gap between existence and experience, we divide existence from time. Authentic Zen practice requires us to perceive existence (sees what we are seeing), thus to perceive existence-time. Dogen frequently reminds us that we only experience (perceive) real dharmas and at specific places (of existence) and definite moments (of time). As “time” is inherent to all experiences, “place” (or space) is inherent to all existences. This principle corresponds to Dogen’s refrain about the unity of true form and true nature, activity and expression, appearance and essence, emptiness and form. For Dogen, every particular expression of Buddha nature is a manifestation of existence-and-experience, thus of existence-and-time. More specifically every dharma (thing, being, instance, etc.) is a particular manifestation of the whole of existence-time (uji), not existence “plus” time, but a singular unit of existence-time.

Dogen, like all Mahayanists, firmly denied the existence of an eternal, unchanging self. But Dogen also pointed out that the matter did not end there:

What is constantly saintly is impermanent and what is constantly ordinary is impermanent. The view that those who are just ordinary people and not saintly ones, and thus must lack Buddha Nature, is a foolish opinion held by some folks who are small-minded; such a view constitutes a narrow perspective which their intellect has conjectured. For the small-minded, ‘Buddha’ is a body and ‘Nature’ is its functioning, which is the very reason why the Sixth Ancestor said, “What is impermanent is, of course, Buddha Nature.”

What seems constant has simply not yet undergone change. ‘Not yet undergone change’ means that, even though we may shift our perspective to our subjective self or shift it to the objective, outer world, in both cases there are no signs of change to be found. In that sense, it is constant. As a consequence, grasses and trees, as well as thickets and forests, are impermanent and, accordingly, they are Buddha Nature. It is the same with the human body and mind, both of which are impermanent and, accordingly, they are Buddha Nature. The mountains and rivers in the various lands are impermanent, so, accordingly, they are Buddha Nature. Supreme, fully perfected enlightenment is Buddha Nature, and hence it is impermanent. The Buddha’s great entry into nirvana was impermanent, and hence it is Buddha Nature.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Hubert Nearman

Hee-Jin Kim in his Flowers of Emptiness, elucidates this line thus:

That is, permanence means the steadfast quality of the Buddha-nature which exerts itself totally and drops itself off completely in each and every situation. In this respect, the impermanent is permanent, the permanent is impermanent.
Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.91

“A” and “not-A” are the nondual actualization that is the (one) universe ceaselessly exerting its totality (as the myriad dharmas), casting it off, exerting, casting off, in and as each and every particular thing time and event in and as the totality of existence-time. “A” is “not-A”, “not-A” is “A.”

Ted Biringer - Zen student and practitioner
Author of The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing