Treeleaf Zen


In today’s section of Bendowa, Master Dogen presents a rather philosophical argument (reprinted in full below) upholding the Buddha’s rejection of the idea of a separate “soul” or “mind essence’ which continues on, and is later reborn, after the body dies. He considers that a too simple, one-sided way to view things. It separates life into pieces.

His point is that body and mind are never separate … and so we cannot say that one ends while the other does not. There is not a time, Master Dogen states, “

when body and mind are one reality, and anothertime when they are not one reality.”

However, that does not mean, according to Dogen, that “it’s over when it’s over“. Not in the least! If you think “it’s over when it’s over” … then get over “you” now!

I believe that what Master Dogen is describing may best be tasted by imagining all of reality as a Great Dance that has been ongoing with no seeming beginning, no visible end. All of us … each being, the mountains, stars, wind and rain, all things and all events … are part of this dance. We are all dancing together.

If we fail to see the “big picture”, we see our own life as just a single dancer who steps on stage for a few years, moving here and there (sometimes tripping on our own feet, sometimes bumping into other dancers), all to disappear from the stage when we die.

Our main concern then (a view that fails to see the Big Picture, the WHOLE GRAND BALLET) may be to hope that, at best, we might get the chance merely to come back as another little clumsy dancer for a few more years.

But, says Dogen, that is because we cannot see that we are not just little dancers …


… dancing, unbroken, through all time
. Wholly twirling and intertwined. The dance defined, created and made real, fully exerted, in each step by step we each and all make in this moment.

Then, it is not a question of our worrying about whether our small, clumsy dancer ‘self’ will be reborn in the future as another small, clumsy dancer ‘self’ (that may or may not be so). It is just the dancing dancing ongoing dancinglife-and-death just the great whirling, dancers entering and exiting …

all this one Great Dance.

Thus, says Master Dogen in this section …

… [We] should realize that living-and-dying is just nirvana;[Buddhists] have never discussed nirvana outside of living-and-dying.

Further, if we think that life and death aresomething to get rid of [or be free of], we will [be guilty of hating] the Buddha-Dharma.How could we not guard against this? Remember, the lineage of the Dharma which[asserts that] “in the Buddha-Dharma the essential state of mind [Uchiyama:the vast total aspect of mind essence] universally includes all forms,”describes the whole great world of Dharma inclusively, without dividing essenceand form, and without discussing appearance and disappearance. There is no[state] – not even [life and death and] bodhi or nirvana- that is differentfrom the essential state of mind. All dharmas, myriad phenomena and accumulatedthings [all the myriad phenomena in the who universe], are totally just the onemind, without exclusion or disunion [everything included and interconnected]. [The myriad things and phenomena]are the even and balanced undivided mind, other than which there is nothing;and this is just how Buddhists have understood the essence of mind. That beingso, how could we divide this one reality into body and mind, or intolife-and-death and nirvana? We are already the Buddha’s disciples.

(remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells;
a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended)

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Here is the full text …

Questions Ten …


 “It hasbeen said that we should not regret our life and death,” for there is avery quick way to get free of life and death. That is, to know the truth thatthe mental essence is eternal. In other words, this physical body, having beenborn, necessarily moves toward death; but this mental essence never dies atall.

Once wehave been able to recognize that the mental essence which [is not subject to]birth and death exists in our own body, we see this as the original essence. Thereforethe body is just a temporary form; [haphazardly born here and dying], neverremaining constant. [But] the mind is eternal; it is unchangeable in the past,future, or present. To know this is called ‘to have become free of life anddeath.’ Those who know this principle stop the past [cycle of] life and deathforever and, when this body passes, they enter [into the ocean of originalnature]. When they stream into this ocean, they gain wondrous virtues likethose of the buddha-tathagatas. Even if we know [this principle] now, [ourbody] is still the body that has been been shaped by deluded [karma] in pastages, and so we are not the same as the saints. Those who do not know this principlewill forever turn in the cycle of life and death. Therefore we should justhasten to understand the principle that the mental essence is eternal. Even ifwe passed our whole life in idle sitting, what could we expect to gain? Thedoctrine I have expressed like this is truly in accord with the truth of the buddhasand the patriarchs, is it not?”

I [Dogen] say: Theview expressed now is absolutely not the Buddha’s Dharma; it is the view of the non-Buddhist [philosopher] Senika.According to that non-Buddhist view, there is one spiritual intelligenceexisting within our body. When this intelligence [encounters phenomena], it candiscriminate between pleasant and unpleasant and discriminate between right andwrong, and it can know pain and irritation and know suffering and pleasure–all[these] are abilities of the spiritual intelligence. When this body dies,however, the spirit casts off the skin and is reborn on the other side; so eventhough it seems to die here it lives on there. Therefore we call it immortaland eternal. The view of that non-Buddhist is like this. But if we learn thisview as the Buddha’s Dharma, we are even more foolish than the person whograsps a tile or a pebble thinking it to be a golden treasure; the delusionwould be too shameful for comparison. National Master Echu [Nanyuan Huizhong] ofgreat Tang Chinastrongly cautioned against [such thinking]. If we equate the present wrong viewthat “mind is eternal but [material] forms perish” with the splendidDharma of the buddhas, thinking that we have escaped life and death when we are[arousing] the original cause of life and death, are we not being stupid? Thatwould be most pitiful. Knowing that this [wrong view] is just the wrong view ofnon-Buddhists, we should not touch it with our ears.

Nevertheless, I cannot helpwanting to save you from this wrong view and it is only compassionate [for me]now [to try]. So remember, in the Buddha-Dharma, because the body and mind areoriginally one reality, the saying that essence and form are not two has beenunderstood equally in the [India]and [China],and we should never dare to go against it. Further, in the lineages thatdiscuss eternal existence, the myriad dharmas are all eternal existence: bodyand mind are not divided. And in the lineages that discuss extinction[impermance], all dharmas are extinction impermanent]: essence and form are notdivided. How could we say, on the contrary, that the body is mortal but themind is eternal? Does that not violate right reason? Furthermore, we shouldrealize that living-and-dying is just nirvana; [Buddhists] have never discussednirvana outside of living-and-dying. Moreover, even if we wrongly imagine theunderstanding that “mind becomes eternal by getting free of the body”to be the same as the buddha-wisdom that is free of life and death, [yet] themind that is conscious of this understanding still appears and disappearsmomentarily, and so it is not eternal at all. Then isn’t [this understanding]unreliable? We should [savor] and reflect [that t]he principle that body and mindare one reality is being constantly spoken by the Buddha-Dharma. So how couldit be, on the contrary, that while this body appears and disappears, the mindindependently leaves the body and does not appear or disappear? If there is atime when [body and mind] are one reality, and another time when they are notone reality, then it might naturally follow that the Buddha’s preaching hasbeen false. Further, if we think that life and death are something to get ridof, we will [be guily of despising] the Buddha-Dharma. How could we not guardagainst this? Remember, the lineage of the Dharma which [asserts that] “inthe Buddha-Dharma the essential state of mind [Uchiyama: the vast total aspectof mind essence] universally includes all forms,” describes the wholegreat world of Dharma inclusively, without dividing essence and form, andwithout discussing appearance and disappearance. There is no [state] – not even[life and death and] bodhi or nirvana- that is different from the essentialstate of mind. All dharmas, myriad phenomena and accumulated things [all themyriad phenomena in the who universe], are totally just the one mind, withoutexclusion or disunion [everything included and interconnected]. All thesevarious lineages of the Dharma assert that [myriad things and phenomena] arethe even and balanced undivided mind, other than which there is nothing; andthis is just how Buddhists have understood the essence of mind. That being so,how could we divide this one reality into body and mind, or into life-and-deathand nirvana? We are already the Buddha’s disciples. Let us not touch with ourears those noises from the tongues of madmen who speak non-Buddhist views.


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