Zen Practice, Paradox, Part 1

“I just can’t see for looking.” Nat King Cole

That is matcha on the front of this post.

This post is the first of two about zen practice and studying the self. I start basic here and end up in the next post with a comment about racial subjects.

Dogen, famously in the Genjo Koan, writes, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is be actualized by myriad things.” The paradox then is studying the self to forget the self, or to study the self which is a non-fixed or always changing self.

man with a big pencil. .JPG

*One very common formulation of non-self, might be to say, the self is a construction (kind of like a fabrication), and therefore, it does not exist, Ergo, I am hoping for no-self, an idealized object/subject. Words are tricky here, but, I believe this oft-taken meaning of no-self (or self does not exist) is a misunderstanding. Too much to say about this here, but for now, I’ll just note that focusing attention to “drop the self” to achieve “no self” misses.

engawa july 26.jpg

Try to read and work with Dogen beyond literal and figurative. Dogen’s words, steeped in the context of 13th century Japan can (but prob should not) be lifted and overlaid on 21st century Western Society. Doing so enacts the very dualism he rails against, and is at odds with the meaning of Dogen’s teachings.

This is difficult to put in to words. Like the little man with the bowler hat scribbling with an oversized pencil. If I write “Dogen is asking for a sea- change in our thinking/acting conditioning in Western liberal thought, for example, our tendency toward individualism and ontological certainty,” does that help? Traps and snares.

There are some things, like the Higgs-Boson (also known as the “God particle”) that we cannot see. But physicists know it exists by its traces.

The Genjo Koan paradox works like this too. The net effect of “studying the self to forget the self” shows up in presence (how we listen, how we talk, and how we live). And now, it is time for tea.

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