Dogen's Vow

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Good morning. Labor Day weekend. It's like a beautiful weekend. Seems like we should be all out sailing or something. Instead, some of us are spending our weekend here in the Zendo. We're having a very intimate in terms of numbers. Seshin, this weekend, study Seshin, and that'll run today until tomorrow afternoon, and we'll have a lot of Zazen, and then interspersed some periods of study. And what we're studying this weekend is, how can I say, We're looking at faith, repentance, and vow.


It seems like it's a good moment, Labor Day sort of marking the turn of the summer towards fall, it's a good moment to look at what we're doing and renew it as, at least for some people, this is the start of a new cycle, a kind of new year. And so what I'd like to do is, in a few minutes I'd like to, you all have a copy of this text, I'd like to read it together, but I want to give you a context briefly. This text is not in this book, but I strongly recommend this book. It's called Living by Vow by our friend and teacher Shouhaku Okamura Roshi.


It's a practical introduction to eight essential Zen chants and texts. Chants that we use here. And looking at that, looking at what happens, why we chant these, what happens when we chant these, and that to me is the larger context of this question of vow and faith and repentance. By way of introduction, I think this gets quite to the heart of it. Okumura Roshi quotes Kanagiri Roshi, who was one of the teachers in our lineage. Some of us had an opportunity to study with him. Kanagiri Roshi said, ìOrdinary people are those who live being pulled around


by their karma. Ordinary people are those who live being pulled around by their karma. Bodhisattvas are those who live led by their vows. Bodhisattvas are those who live led by their vows. So we have a choice in our life and in our practice and I think that the choice is what will we'll be looking at in the course of the rest of the weekend. I'm not sure, are the study sessions open? Yes. Oh. Yeah, I thought we should open them. So yeah, people are welcome to attend the study sessions, and when are they? So today, let's see, at 3.30 will be the second teaching. And then as well, tomorrow, if you want to come, the morning time again will be 10, 10, 10.


It's a good time to arrive. And in the afternoon, we will be having another study period at 3 o'clock. You're free to come to all or any of them. And I think unless, you know, unless the the great hordes to send, we're going to do them in the community room, which will be, and have it a much more interactive kind of session. So, let's read the Ehe Kosu Hotsuganman together. Read it out loud, please. We vow with all beings from this life on, throughout countless lives, to hear this true Dharma, that upon hearing it, no doubt will arise in us, nor will we have any faith


that upon meeting it, we shall renounce worldly affairs and attain the Buddhadharma, and that in doing so, the great earth and all living beings together will attain the Buddha way. Although our past moral karma has greatly accumulated, indeed being the cause and condition of all souls in practicing the way, May the Buddhas and Ancestors who have attained the Buddha way be compassionate to us and free us from karmic effects, allowing us to practice the way without hindrance. May they share with us their compassion, which fills the boundless universe with the virtue of their enlightenment and teachings. Buddhas and Ancestors of all, We in the future shall be Buddhas and Ancestors. Through hearing Buddhas and Ancestors, we are one Buddha and one Ancestor.


Awakening Bodhi Mind, we are one Bodhi Mind. Because they extend their compassion to us freely and without limit, we are able to attain Buddhahood and let go of the attainment. Therefore, the Shambhala Master, Bhagavad-Gita 7, for those who in past lives were not enlightened, will now be enlightened. In this life, save the body, which is the fruit of many lives. Before Buddhas were enlightened, they were the same as we. Enlightened people of today are exactly as those of old. while I did explore the farthest reaches of these causes and conditions, and as this practice is the exact transmission of the verified Buddha. Confessing and repenting in this way, one never fails to receive profound help from all Buddhas and ancestors.


By revealing and disclosing our lack of faith and practices before the Buddha, We melt away the root of transgressions by the power of our confession and repentance. This is the pure and simple color of true practice, of the true mind of faith, of the true body of faith. Thank you. I really love this text. there's something about the quality of the language, it's very moving to me, and it also reminds me of things that I read in Suzuki Roshi's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, where the language itself has a kind of transparence and plainness, and then you think, what did he say? And it's really the same for this.


you know I found this great commentary by Sojan Roshi, I found it last week and I did download it and I spent an hour and a half looking for it yesterday online and I could not find it again, couldn't find, I mean I found my downloaded I found the talk, actually. The talk is on the San Francisco Zen Center list as an audio file, but I couldn't find the text. When I was reading through Sogen's commentary yesterday, which is like 11 pages long, he basically gets to the end of the first paragraph.


Read the first paragraph again a second, if all the questions, there's a whole lot of very large questions embedded in the first paragraph. Okay, we vow with all beings, how do you do that? from this life on through countless lives. Okay, what does that mean and do I believe in countless lives? To hear the true dharma. What is the true dharma? No doubt will arise in us nor will we lack in faith. Right. Do I lack in faith now? Or, really? Will I actually stop lacking in faith? We shall renounce worldly affairs. What does that mean for us?


Maintain the Buddha Dharma so that the great earth and all living beings together will attain the Buddha way. How do we do that? What would that look like? So there's just enormous questions in this first, you know, very inviting sounding paragraph. So, before we get into that, let me just give you a little background on the text. And, you know, as you can expect, This talk and discussion that we'll have this morning is just kind of opening this up. We're not going to arrive at conclusions. I'm sorry. So, the translation of Ehe Kosu Otugamon. Ehe was the name of our founder, Ehe Dogen, in this


Pichon, we talk about him all the time. Eihei means great peace. Koso is the name of, he's referred to as founder, founder of Soto Zen in Japan. There are two founders, one is Dogen, and one was his student, Keizan, who sort of institutionally established the Zen tradition that we've inherited. And he's referred to us as Hoso. There's a different term that's used for Keizan, I can't remember, but they essentially mean founder. So, Hotsuganmon. Mon is gate, like we study koans from the mu-mon koan, mu meaning no, mon, gate, so it's a gateless gate.


So mon means gate, and hotsu means universal, and gan is the word that is used for vow. So, you know, for some of us who have been in the San Francisco Zen Center tradition, do the four Bodhisattva vows. There's always, does anyone remember the first line, Laura? Say gone. Right, say gone, so I vow, so it's gone. So the translation is the founder of great peace's universal dharma, yes, universal dharma, universal dharma gate of vow. And again, agama is a personal vow that many teachers wrote for themselves.


There are many examples in in Zen literature, particularly going back to the Tang and some dynasty. And actually, if we had a lot of time, what would be fun to do would be for everybody to write your own danmon. That might be a fun thing to do during aspects of practice, actually. What's your personal vow? and to do that in your own language. And then to see, oh, can I live this? What do I need to do to live it? So this is historically Dogen's vow. It's his vow of practice, his vow of faith. Now, I have really tried to I've asked quite a number of scholars and friends about the provenance of this text, and nobody seems to know.


It was found in some papers, I believe at AHE, probably in the 16th or 17th century. Dogen lived in the 13th century. And it has phrases and sections of this language that are very familiarly Dogen's language, but the guests, and I talked to my friend Tygan Leighton, who some of you heard a few weeks ago, is that right? Who's a Dogen scholar, and I talked to a couple other Dogen scholars. sense is that this was actually assembled after the fact, edited together after his passing. But that's okay. It's still very moving.


We chanted it when I was at Tassajara. Laurie and I were at Tassajara last week. We chanted it there. I think they're using it during practice periods. and we use it during the Dharma transmission process. It's a real assertion of faith. So, that's some background. As it says, we vow with all beings from this life on throughout countless lives to hear the true Dharma. So, the overall force of this piece, to me, is about faith, and Sojin says, inspiration, which are very close.


you know, what was inspiring to Dogen? What was inspiring, what is, what inspiration do we all have when we come here? You know, it's a really beautiful day and here we are going into a crowded room to hear this strange sense of, there's something that inspires us, that is leading us into the territory of practice. There's something that is already in us, something enlightened and awakened that is leading us into this space, even though there might be more fun things to do today.


What is that inspiration? Is it our vow? Is it a vow? What I like about this, when I read it, it was very moving to me, it's as if Dogen had a broom that was sweeping away the dust and the dirt on top of my own vow. And to see, when you sweep that away, I can see the vow that I've made. I can see, oh, there's inspiration and there's faith. We'll get more to that. So, that's actually the beginning of practice, to feel that, is what has led us here in the first place, even though it's really mysterious how we got here.


It's really mysterious how I got here, and now I realize I've been here for 30 years and there's others of you that have been here, if I look around this room, that have been here that long or longer and how mysterious because none of us grew up in a Buddhist household, none of us grew up I mean, maybe some of you did grow up in a Buddhist household, but I sure didn't. I grew up in a secular Jewish household that believed in money and things, and that was fine, good people, but there was a naturally arising vow, inspiration, intention that I felt I had to clarify.


And actually for me it happened twice. It happened in the summer of 1968 when I was still in college and a bunch of us came out here and began to practice at the Berkley Zen Center and San Francisco Zen Center that summer. And then I was just really too young and couldn't do it. and then it happened again in the early 1980s when I felt like I kind of run out of script and I had to do something and I didn't know what it was and then that inspiration arose So, if I think about 1968, 1982, in a sense that's from one life to the next, that's moving on through countless lives that all of us have within even the span of this life, and it's a vow


to enter this place where we'll hear the Dharma. When you enter that place, you don't know yet, is this the true Dharma? I don't know. But I'll come and hang around it and see how it works for me. And actually, I still feel exactly the same way. I'm not sure about the true dharma because I'm not sure about, I don't come down on the side of some absolute truth, but so far, and you may have had this experience of working with this, It seems to work, not every moment, but it seems to work pretty good, so I'll keep following it.


And Sochin talks about this in this text of his. I'm going to sort of go back and forth because I like this a lot. We dip our toe into the Dharma and we see what happens. That's kind of what I'm talking about. We practice for a while. At some point, often we say, Why am I doing this? What's going on here? And we lose our inspiration. Inspiration has to be renewed all the time. Even though we don't have inspiration, if we know how to continue to practice in the dark, inspiration will appear again. So that's, to me, acknowledging that we will encounter doubt, we will lack in faith.


They wouldn't have mentioned that by mentioning that upon hearing it no doubt will arise in us nor will we lack in faith, it seems to me that he's He's reminding us that in our lives we will encounter those places. We will encounter darkness, we will encounter lack of faith. What will we rely on in those moments? And this is what Sojan is saying, even though we don't have inspiration in any given moment, even though our faith falters, if we know how to continue to practice in the dark, the inspiration will appear again.


So practicing, to continue to practice in the dark is For some reason right now what I'm thinking of is like when you get up at home in the middle of the night and it's dark in your bedroom and you have to make your way to the bathroom, you know the path to walk. You know how to get where you're going to go. It's maybe a somewhat I don't know, it may not be the most inspired example but still you know how to continue, you know how to walk in the dark because you've done it so many times and because you can really see the whole room and whole space that you're in and as we continue to practice


of ourselves that we are in. We know how we've walked. We know how to come into the zendo and sit down and settle ourself on ourself in zazen. So it's a knowledge and it's a kind of faith. face as an activity, face as a way of trusting that someone hasn't rearranged all the furniture in the room so you're going to fall on your ass when you walk across the room in the dark. There are many questions, I think I'll come back to these questions this afternoon, but morning I want to touch on just a few things.


So there's a question, it says that upon meeting the true Dharma we shall renounce worldly affairs and That's an interesting expression that may not mean the same thing for us that it meant for Dogen in the context, well we don't know the context if this was made up after the fact, but presumably this was a vow that was offered for monks or monks and nuns and in that place they were living in a monastic world and when you're living in a monastic world it's very strong you know


very strong principle of not being entangled in the world. Even though the world is right there, the same kinds of human interactions exist within the monastery as outside, but in other fascicles of Dogon, he says, don't be involved with lords and theoristocrats and so forth. It may be that, and this is a principle of renunciation, which we'll also talk about later, renouncing the world, but it's a very interesting open question that I hope we can talk about later today or tomorrow, what does renunciation mean for people like ourselves?


We are in the world. We're in the world and we actually have some say and some empowerment and some ability to change that world. How do we do that while keeping something of the spirit of renouncing worldly affairs? In a sense, how do we embrace worldly affairs and maintain the Buddhadharma without being ensnared by them? And all of us know this is very difficult, irrespective of what our political philosophy or our political practice may be.


We're caught, as soon as we turn on the radio or open the newspaper, we're liable to be caught again and again by what we see happening in the world and the tricky thing is that we are responsible for that world and yet we're invited not to be somehow ensnared by it and sometimes we may have some choice over that and sometimes not. So that's another thing we can come back to. I'm aware of the time, and I wanted to get to what I see as the two turning points of this piece, and invite you to look at that.


there's this very challenging line and sections towards, I don't know, about two-thirds of the way down or halfway down. Buddhas and ancestors of old were as we. We, in the future, shall be Buddhas and ancestors. So this is a critical proposition. uh is what we are doing here today this weekend does that have the gravitas of these you know these old monks and nuns you know in their robes of black or saffron or whatever you know and their day-by-day practice are we the same


as they are and in the future, much less the present, in the future are we going to be them? Can we imagine that? Can we handle that responsibility? Is that what we think we're doing? So this is a really open question. And then, you know, to kind of hammer it home, he, Dogen, in this he quotes Chan Master Lung-Ya. So Chan Master Lung-Ya was a 9th century Tang Dynasty Zen master, a prominent Zen master who was a successor of Zemester Tozan or Dungshan.


There's not a lot known about him, but these words certainly survive. So he comes at this from a slightly different angle, but much the same. He said, those who in past lives were not enlightened now will be enlightened. Okay, do I believe that? But then there's this, my favorite line in this whole piece, so those who in past lives were not enlightened will now be enlightened. In this life Save the body which is the fruit of many lives. In this life, save the body which is the fruit of many lives.


This is the tool we have to work with. This is the gift we've been given. It's the fruit that has grown on the tree of life. So thinking about the fruit on the tree of life, it contains wisdom and knowledge of good and bad. This is what we have to work with. And then he says, before Buddhas were enlightened, they were the same as we. Enlightened people of today are exactly as those of old. Now, I know that there's some people in this room who have had arguments about this over the years.


And one wonders, you know it and that wondering is also gets back to where he began with that wondering is maybe correct analysis it may be our doubt and our lack of faith you know i've been thinking a lot lately i've been thinking about the sangha and we have a very unusual set of circumstances here. Again if I look around this room I see I know most of you and there's some of us who have known each other for a very long time.


And in that very long time, we've all kept showing up here and practicing here. And there's something unique in that that I've been thinking about and wondering. Lori and I have been talking like, what do we do? people who've been practicing here for 15, 20, 30 or more years, showing up on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, some on a more sporadic basis, but you keep entering this, we keep entering together this realm of the true Dharma. And just to say, this is very unusual in the world. This doesn't happen in very many places, particularly with people who have jobs, who are getting older, who are not ... There's no monks in this room.


I'm not one. We have lives, as someone said once, we have lives and families and jobs and bad backs. And some of us also have various kinds of chronic conditions which I won't enumerate at this moment and we get more of them as each year goes by and yet there's something to return to that notion of faith and inspiration, there's something that inspires us, there's something that we feel and believe that brings us And sometimes we may have, as Søren referred to, there may be a dark territory that we're walking through. And we may be lost for a time.


And we've seen people like that as well. And often, they come back. And when they come back, fine, it's as if they've never been gone, they're just welcomed back and they know how to slip, just quickly slip into the water of practice, into that immersion. So this is just, I want to note this is a very manifestation of Buddhism that I don't see it existing anyplace else in the world. It's existing in places in America. And maybe that's a way of understanding that we in the future, that Buddhas and ancestors of old were as we.


Maybe this is, you know, it's not that our practices, if we think about time as completely fluid and malleable, well, you could think of monastic practice, the compression of that. But if you think of the extension and expansion of practice over 25 or 30 years, then you begin to see that the true dharma is manifesting. We come here, we sit down, face the wall, we settle into zazen, and that's a fundamental act in our life, even if we don't exactly know why we're doing it. I think that's where I'd like to stop for today but just to read that line again, in this life save the body which is the fruit of many lives.


So we have a little time for discussion and we'll have a lot more time for discussion this afternoon and subsequent sessions and we'll also bring in some material particularly on repentance from Okumura Roshi. So do you have any thoughts or questions? Yeah, Catherine. Thank you. And I'm here in this sort of marveling at what we do, a source of inspiration. And I also grow a little uncomfortable staying there, because it sort of seemingly outshows that I was doing this wonderful thing. I was a poet for many years, and I remember how Many Sunday mornings, people would stand up and talk about how special it was to be a Quaker and how amazing it is that we come and sit in silence and how we're different from. And in a way, I think I'm hearing, and you can straighten me out, that this is unique in Buddhism to have a lay community also.


Yes, that's what I'm saying. And so I think I would be more comfortable hearing it stated as, in Buddhism, this is unusual. But I think of every religious community in any settled community where lives of great devotion go on 50 years in the same place quite dedicatedly. Yeah. I was specifically talking about the manifestation of Buddhism. I watched my grandfather. who went to synagogue, I couldn't relate to it, but I related to the fact that this was the center of his life and he did it every day for 50 years. And that's not so unusual, but it is unusual in Buddhism. To combine the outside world with the practical world.


Right. For it to be fully accessible to people who are leading everyday lives. And particularly, I think what's unique is that we don't have a Buddhist culture. That if you look at places in the world that are fundamentally Buddhist cultures, then in a natural way, they're doing that. but we're doing something that's somewhat counter-cultural, if you will. Anyway, the comparison is not so important. I'm thinking about it because what I think, and Lori and I have been talking about, is that there's a strength


that comes with committing oneself to this kind of activity and which means that everybody is maturing and evolving together and thinking there's a lot of potential creativity and you know maybe there's something to do with it. I'm not sure. It's not just all about what we do in this room. So anyway. I'm thinking about the importance of expression in community, both to contain seriously harmful delusion manifesting in community, something about how does this relate to when that can be contained and when community shifts.


So here there's this core group of practitioners. I would hear in that that there's a means to really address seriously harmful delusion, as it's expressed, that can harm the community, that can harm self. I've also seen sanghas and communities generally split, a lot of conflicts. So I'm just wondering if you might speak to that in the context of this teaching. I'm not sure what you mean. You said something about creativity at the beginning. Oh, you did? Oh, I did. But how are you seeing that? Well, I'm thinking about showing up needs to also connect to speaking up. And sometimes there's speechless speech. Yeah. I've quoted this before.


There's something else I'd like to get to with Sojin's commentary, which is very beautiful, about stillness. about returning to stillness, returning to silence. So, Kengiri Roshi, who we talked about in the beginning, his first book was titled, Returning to Silence. And his second book was entitled, You Have to Say Something. To me, those are like the the two sides of the scale that have to balance, that there has to be, we have to have faith in, I would say more in stillness. Silence has this envelope of meaning that includes silencing and that's not what we're talking about, just stillness.


What Sojin talks about is like, which is quite beautiful and then I read it and then I experienced You know, you're sitting in the zendo at Tassajara in the evening and I got lost in the sounds of the crickets and the bugs, you know, it was just really loud and there was nothing else to hear, there was no generator, it was all just natural sounds and it's incredible, you feel the vibration of the universe in those voices. Then you go to bed and you wake up in the middle of the night, nothing. There is no sound. That's the stillness. It returns to that stillness. And then as you're sitting Zazen in the morning, you hear the first birds.


So we're always moving in and out of that stillness. And the bugs have to say something, the birds have to say something, and we have to say something. That's the nature of being alive. But we should be able, as well, to know our root in that stillness. Not to be caught there. Not to feel, that's the real truth. No, it's just one way of perceiving the depths of the universe, but we don't live there, we actually have to speak and we have to speak in community. Yes? Am I certain that we actually have to speak? Yes, I am certain. Are you not?


OK, say something. I don't see why. I mean, maybe it's convenient, and maybe it's sometimes nice to speak, but I don't see that it's actually necessary. If there's something harmful? I think I'm speaking about speaking in perhaps a very, in a large way in the sense that it may not be, your speech may not be words. Your speech may be action. of some kind, it could take any form.


Your speech could be an embrace, or it could be a setting of boundaries. I'm thinking about it as an expression of the body, of using it in in some way. So it's not necessarily... there are other modalities of communication, if you will. I don't know if that's helpful. And sometimes you don't do anything. Sometimes you don't move, you just sit there. And that is the right response. But that's also... the thing that we learn in coming here day by day is that this is a practice of the body. that we actually have to walk here, you know, walk in the gate, you have to come in and sit down, we cross our legs or however we sit, but it's only by doing it, it's only by using our body.


And so I'm thinking about speech in those terms, but I think that's a really good question to explore. One more, and then we need to end. I'm caught by this, save the body. I mean, that's an odd term, save the body. I don't know what the actual language in Japanese is. And it's an interesting line to me. That's from Lumya? Yes. Yes, it uses liberate the body. In this life, save the body which is the fruit of many lives. Yeah, I hear your question, I'm really dubious about liberate the body. I think that's... Take care of the body? Yeah, yeah, that's what I think.


take care of your body. This is a way to work. Yeah. Could it be a general and more encompassing idea, and not the literal body, but the essence of what we represent? A body of knowledge of being, a way of being. Maybe. I feel it's this, obviously this touched the nerve someplace. I actually, For me, I'm drawn to the fact that it's the body. It's the actual physical body as a manifestation of everything that is possible. So it includes that. It includes that larger sense that you're referencing. And it all, the only vehicle we have for manifesting is through the body that we have. But we can argue about that. All interesting ideas, what came up for me is that we express our practice, we create karma or we do not create karma through our body.


Yeah, yeah. And my wondering was that there's been such a long tradition of quite excessive asceticism that the middle way is part of it is not to go in too much extreme for that. Right. To save the body instead of, you know, harming it. Right, or even harming it, you know, sometimes even the middle way can be, you know, in certain terms you look at it and it seems pretty far over there towards the right hand. and there are Buddhist traditions of ignoring the body or thinking that the body is just a shell, it's just temporary, and this is a very different attitude towards it.


take care of it. I really feel like that's the attitude that we always hear and hear. I feel like that's the attitude that, not from this, but just from what we get from Suzuki Roshi and Sojin Roshi, and it's the feeling that we have. It's a challenging line. OK, last one, Bill. I was just going to say, if we look at the context, look at the paragraph in which it appears, it seems that one suggestion is we were sort of mystified before about what our possible relation to these ancestors and so on, who were so dramatically in our minds. But it's saying one connection between us and them is our bodies, which were passed down to us by them.


So treating our bodies well perhaps is one way of honoring our relationship to those ancestors. Let's leave it there. I hope that triggers other things, but we'll talk about them later.