Dogen- "Kindly Advice for Doing Seated Meditation"

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My Friendly Advice for Seated Meditation
Compiled by Meditation Master Wanshi Shōgaku

The important function for Buddha after Buddha
And the pivotal moment for Ancestor after Ancestor
Is to know It without ‘stirring anything up’
And to be illuminated without setting up an opposite.

When one knows It without stirring anything up,
Such knowing is naturally humble:
When one is illumined without setting up an opposite,
Such illumination is naturally subtle.

Since that knowing is naturally humble,
There is never a discriminating thought:
Since that illumination is naturally subtle
There is never the least outward sign of It.

Since there is never a discriminating thought,
That knowing is wondrous, with nothing left to be dealt with:
Since there is never the least outward sign of It,
That illumination is complete, with nothing left unrealized.

The water is now so clear you can see to its depths,
As fish swim by at their leisure:
The sky is now so clear it is boundless,
As birds fly off, leaving no trace.
The point of this needle of seated meditation

(from Shobogenzo)





Study Yourself

’What you will discover as you continue to study the dharma to practice meditation is that nothing you have ever heard is separate from your life. Dharma is the study of what is, and the only way you can find out what is true is through studying yourself. The Zen master Dogen said, “To know yourself or study yourself is to forget yourself, and then you become enlightened by all things.”

- Pema Chodron, The Wisdom of No Escape.

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.
—  Zen Master Dogen
The Nembutsu doesn’t do ANYTHING?

Reciting the Nembutsu, Namu-Amida-Butsu, is not a “good deed” on our part by which we “earn” our future Buddhahood. It is instead an expression of gratitude to Amida Buddha, the boundless wisdom and compassion otherwise known as Dharmakaya or Dharma-body.

The Nembutsu is also an expression of non-duality between Amida and ourselves, of Amida’s voice calling to us through the saying of his name. These things regarding the Nembutsu were taught by Shinran Shonin, who founded the Jodo Shinshu sect of Pure Land Buddhism.

This is similar to the teaching of Zen master Dogen, who taught that Zen meditation is an expression of the innate enlightenment with which we were born, rather than a “work” toward attaining it. Both Dogen and Shinran described their respective practice as effortless.


Cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest.
—  Zen Master Dogen
Moon in a Dewdrop

‘Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grasses, or even in one drop of water.

Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky.

The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long or short its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.’

- Zen Master Dogen, Moon in a Dewdrop, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi.

There is a simple way to become a buddha: When you refrain from unwholesome action, are not attached to birth and death, and are compassionate toward all sentient beings, respectful to seniors and kind to juniors, not excluding or desiring anything, with no designing thoughts or worries, you will be called a buddha. Do not seek anything else.
—  Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253), Moon in a dewdrop

The Far Side of the Moon.

In Genjokoan, Zen Master Dogen wrote:

“Conveying oneself toward all things to carry out practice-enlightenment is delusion. All things coming and carrying out practice-enlightenment through the self is realization.”

Although these words may sound daunting, Dogen is really just giving us some practical advice on meditation or practice-enlightenment.

When we first take up meditation we find that our attention easily wanders after thoughts and sensation. As we progress, we find ourselves looking for some experience called enlightenment. Later, we see that every meditation is accompanied by a thought that we call myself or “I”. All of these are part of what Dogen calls “conveying oneself toward all things” because in each we are moving outwardly to seek the self in thought and experience.

When we finally realize that the subject of practice is not found in things we begin to abandon the outward search. We do not follow our thoughts so much when they beckon. We do not heed our cognizing mind when it tells us the solution lays this way or that. Thought and experience do not end but instead of running after them we begin to just watch as they arise and fall. To paraphrase Dogen, all things come through the self yet no thing is mistaken for that Self which just watches.

In a recent post I likened this realization to sitting in a field looking up at a full moon knowing that, although you can’t see it, its far side is always there. Likewise, the Self is here, right now. It’s you! Yet in your very search for it you move away from it.

It may seem paradoxical but the value of practice lies in its ability to lead you to a place where you give up your search for enlightenment or Buddhahood. You just sit, expecting nothing, looking for nothing, not seeing self as anything. It is then that enlightenment unfolds of it’s own accord and the meaning is made clear of, “All things coming and carrying out practice-enlightenment through the self is realization.”