traceless awakening

 

To know the way of the Buddha is to know about self.
To know about self is to let go of self.
To let go of self is to be awakened by myriad things of the universe.
To be awakened by myriad things is to cast off the body and mind of the self and others.
Even the traces of awakening are wiped out,
and the traceless awakening goes on forever and ever.

 

 

Zen Quote - Dogen

These are famous lines of Dogen Zenji (the 13th Century AD), the founder of Soto school of Zen Buddhism in Japan. This is from his short text titled, Genjōkōan – roughly translated as ‘Realizing the Crucial Point’. Genjōkōan deals with setting the view for meditation. The primary practice of Soto Zen is Shikantaza, meaning ‘Just Sitting’. When one develops the view – that is, knowing how to be relaxed and be with the natural and naked awareness in an uncontrived way, the ‘just sitting’ becomes the true ‘just sitting’. A disciple perfects just sitting by receiving the experiential meaning of the view from an adept master.

 

The quoted are the profound lines of Dogen indicating how you see the Buddha by seeing your own true nature.

 

* * *

To know the way of the Buddha is to know about self.

To know about self is to let go of self.

The Buddha is not a person or an image to be sought outside. To know the Buddha means to know oneself. Instead of seeking and sorting things of the world with respect to oneself, one needs to turn attention slightly inwards to know the very person who is seeking.

 

As Dogen says in another verse, when we travel in a boat, it looks like the shore is moving. Only when we bring the attention closer to the boat and observe the movement underneath between boat and water, do we realize that the boat is moving. Likewise, we hold an image of a Self that is unmoving and solid because we always look out to the world from the perspective of that Self. Turn slightly inward, and watch what happens. Then, we can see how the body and mind are all in movement and constantly changing. Knowing this, one let go of the Self.

 

To let go of self is to be awakened by myriad things of the universe.

And, what happens when you let go of that idea of Self? The idea of Self – a mere conceptual image – was obscuring real seeing. You had been going out to the world holding that image, looking through it, and experiencing myriad things from that perspective. You have been dividing the world based on me, mine and others’. As you let go of that Self, myriad things of the universe directly awaken you, as you. You begin to experience phenomenal appearances in their own place. There is no more a need to look out for them through an image of Self. As Dogen illustrates, the reflection of the moon in the lake does not divide the lake. Likewise, these myriad things do not divide you or the world.

 

When we dream, there are so many appearances. Yet, we hold on to a central character as ‘Me’. Then, the dream is divided into me, others and the world. Looking at the dreamworld through the perspective of the character ‘Me’, we get worked up even in the dream. Isn’t the whole dream merely a play of one’s own awareness? We don’t realize that. Then, the dream is experienced through ‘Me’, just a character in the dream.

 

Let go of the grasping at that ‘Me’. Then, you begin to experience the dream as one continuum. You experience every character of the dream as they arise in your awareness. You are no more looking out in despair and anxiety to various characters of the dream. The very rising and falling of the myriad appearances come directly as your experiences. You are that, and there is no other you. This is the meaning of being awakened by myriad things of the universe.

 

This is also called ‘Silent Illumination’ because you don’t willfully illuminate selectively. Instead, everything in the field of experience illuminates itself silently and arises in one continuum.

 

To be awakened by myriad things is to cast off the body and mind of the self and others.

What happens when you are awakened by myriad things of the universe? You begin to see that the myriad things that arise as you and others and as the world, lack solidity. Here, we are not trying to abstract new concepts about what we see. We are just shedding abstraction and seeing the concrete reality as it is. Yet, that concrete reality is the lack of solidity – the emptiness of all appearances. We begin to appreciate the myriad ways in which they can appear. Thus the grasping on to phenomenal appearances (dharmas) as my body and mind and other’s body and mind is cast off.

 

As Dogen points out beautifully with another example in the same text, when you sail out in a boat and reach the middle of ocean, you see the ocean as circular. There is no land to be seen anywhere. It is not that the ocean is circular, but that is all you are able to see. It could have been a square, or irregular or anything else. It depends upon how you perceive in four directions. Circular, square, etc. are the abstractions about the ocean in your mind. When you shed them, you see the concrete reality of ocean that cannot be described fully in these terms.

 

Even the traces of awakening are wiped out,

and the traceless awakening goes on forever and ever.

This limitation of ours that makes us see reality in partial ways (such as a circular or square ocean) are here termed traces, These are traces of our habituation, that of taking limited perspectives. Through clinging to such perspectives we reinforce these traces. However, as the clinging to various abstractions of my body and mind and other’s body and mind withers away, the traces are no more reinforced. Then, gradually, the remaining traces are wiped out. Then, there is traceless awakening – the true awakening beyond bias and concepts – into the naked and traceless nature of one’s awareness that sees reality as it is. There one finds Buddhahood, going beyond to timeless perfection, to ultimate freedom in openness.

Yogi Prabodha Jnana
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Yogi Prabodha Jnana
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