219.

 

Ritual starts out as neither magical or symbolic, and neither does language. But both, in decay, reach these points, and then we're in a fix: the corpse can't see the living being.

At first, ritual is a complete effort in the present moment. It opens up our hearts like verandah doors opening up to sunlight. It's not for anything. Its dignity and beauty is entirely itself. Ourselves.

Then superstition arrives. We imagine that we can do something with it. Redeem a dead person. Banish ghosts. Rearrange.

And that degeneration provokes the subsequent, Protestant one. So then ritual, like its child, language, must be symbolic.

It's hard to grasp the measure of the loss


 

 
218.

 

In the Eihei Shingi, Dogen gives exhaustive descriptions of how monastic life should be regulated: how to sit, obviously, but also how to sleep, how to clean your teeth, how to use the toilet, how the teacher should enter the dojo and how he should walk around it: everything. Or almost everything. The glaring exception is that he doesn't say anything about the breath during zazen.

In fact, all he says about the breath, throughout his writings, is that we should take a deep outbreath when we start zazen, and that we should let a short breath be short and a long breath be long.

How should we understand this? Well, one way would be to acknowledge that an emphasis on the breath in modern practice derives from an unexamined assumption that zazen is an individual practice. If the primary thing is our own state from moment to moment, it is important how we regulate ourselves. And so teachers - including myself - give lots of descriptions about how breathing might be 'better'

But what if this is an assumption that Dogen didn't have? And what if we're wrong? Could we explain Dogen's apparent lack of interest in the breath as due to him having a different perspective, that zazen wasn't individual experience and effort, but collective ?

From the perspective of the individual practitioner, practicing within an individualistic assumption, there is a switching back and forth between the individual and the universal, the Dharmakaya, and also the risk of a surreptitious inflation of the Self to cosmic proportions. This happens because both 'self' and 'universe' are constructions, they don't arise within actual experience in the way we think they do.

But if the 'subject' of practice isn't the individual but the collective of practitioners and the space between them, isn't that a more fruitful way to experience the 'One Piece Zen' that Fujita talks about? And doesn't that better accord with our actual experience?

The space where we practice together, and everything within it - the Sangha Body, as it were - is both the reality and metaphor of interdependence. And because it has no boundaries, it seeps out everywhere, like slowly falling water.


 

 
217.

 

Master Dogen described zazen as walking at full speed over the heads of demons.

Note the imagery carefully. The demons don't belong to someone else; they belong to you: their heads live in your head, and you don't need to be rid of them to be free of them. Yet, they enable the Way to be walked.

Because they don't live in the vigorous body of practice. Beware the demon of acquisition. Beware the demon of wisdom.

It's an odd inversion: the body walking over the head. Your head, obviously, but not your body. Rather, the body of the whole universe, expressed through this body.

 

 

 

 

 
216.


My first teacher, Nancy Amphoux, asked her teacher - “How should I practice Zazen?”

Her teacher replied - “You should practice Zazen eternally.”

She said that she thought at first that what he meant was that she should practice Zazen for the rest of her life.

To practice eternally, it's as if we are the ground on which all beings and all moments walk

Or the space within which all beings and all moments live.




 

 
215.


Master Dogen asked "If the cart is stuck, do we beat the horse, or beat the cart?"

Almost all meditation teachers would say the horse, the mind. Surely that is the point of meditation? To empty and purify the mind.

But Dogen said that we should beat (give attention to) the cart, the body. How so?

Zazen is the way of liberation through the body. Not the body as thought. Not the body as object, but the body as it actually is. Because that body, completely alive, is already part of the body of the universe, completely alive.


 

 
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