Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dogen: Let me make a stab at an example of what I am learning.

Several people have asked me to provide an example of what I have learned at this retreat. OK, you asked for it. :-)

This chapter of the "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye" is called, by this teacher, "One Bright Jewel." Most teachers call it "One Bright Pearl," including my own teacher. If you search Google, for example, for "one+bright+jewel" you find references to a line from the chapter circulated as a relatively famous zen saying, mostly.

If you search for "one+bright+pearl" you find a multitude of references to the chapter we are studying, including books and translations of it.

One Bright Pearl is wrong. Fundamentally wrong. This is not a minor distinction.

The word in Japanese, ju, is semantically ambiguous, it can be pearl or jewel, sort of like "stone" can mean a rock in the driveway or a $4M diamond.

There is a metaphor in zen and buddhist literature called the mani jewel. Here's a typical reference to it. In some stories it is figuratively described as a jewel one could place in muddy water and the water would instantly clear and be safe to drink.

The difference between a pearl and a clear colorless jewel, as the mani jewel is figuratively known, is that the jewel will take on the color of whatever you place it on. If you put it on a red cloth, it will be red, on a blue cloth it will be blue, etc. A pearl is going to be it's own color no matter what background upon which it is placed.

In this chapter, Dogen is discussing the fundamental nature of reality. One of the most fundamental characteristics of reality is it's seamless integration with the environment. More than that, it IS the environment. Enlightenment occupies the very same space that you occupy. There is no form to it. It cannot be defined, it is analogous to some Christian metaphysical notions of the Holy Spirit. There is no "it" to point to. Searching for it is like a fish swimming around looking for water.

So, the fundamental line in this chapter is "The entire 10-direction world is one bright jewel." The 10 direction world just refers to the four directions: east, west, north, south, plus up and down, plus the four directions bisecting those six, sort of southeast up-ish, northwest down-ish, and so on. It is just a way to say in every direction.

So, the one bright jewel is "without form and it comprises everything in all directions" is one way of trying to talk about it.

Other renderings of the text, and you can use the google searches above to verify this, point to the notion that the one bright pearl is one's own buddha-nature, or soul, that is walking around experiencing all this, or in another way, we are all instances of the universe experiencing itself.

Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya...

That's not what Dogen is teaching here, in fact, he is teaching that this view, that there is a separately-existing individually-identifiable self experiencing all this wondrous stuff, including other separately-existing individually-identifiable selves, is precisely what keeps us from seeing the true nature of the world around us.

So, not a little ironically, this is like telling someone "if you want to remove the blindfold from your eyes, put this blindfold on."

Whew, I have a long way to go before I can really teach this stuff.

So, the jewel vs. pearl decision is extremely fundamental. It is in fact the difference between understanding what Dogen is pointing at and *completely* missing the point.

Or as Shohaku Okumura, the teacher, would say, with a wry smile "If you understood this, I'm sorry, that means you completely missed it."