~ Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi ~
Not distinguishing east from west, nor north from south, day after day, morning to evening, evening to morning, so it remains. Is this being fast asleep? At times, the eyes are like comets, the mind is like lightning. Can it be said that this is wide awake? At times facing south and calling it north, is this mindful or mindless? Is this a person of the Way or a person of delusion? All traces of enlightenment having fallen away, one puts on clothing and takes a meal. Where spiritual powers wander at play among the ten thousand things, there is no way to frame it or to name it. Is this a sage or an ordinary being?
The Main Case
Master Dogen taught, “As for mountains, there are mountains hidden in treasures; there are mountains hidden in marshes, mountains hidden in the sky; there are mountains hidden in mountains. There is a study of mountains hidden in hiddenness. An old master said, ‘Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.’ The meaning of these words is not that mountains are mountains, but that mountains are mountains. Therefore we should thoroughly study these mountains. When we thoroughly study the mountains, this is the mountain training. Such mountains and rivers themselves spontaneously become wise ones and sages.”
The Capping Verse
When an ordinary person realizes it,
she is a sage.
When a sage realizes it,
he is an ordinary person.
This is the last of five talks on the teachings of mountains and rivers. In these passages from the “Mountains and Rivers Sutra,” Dogen spoke of various characteristics of the mountains. He talked about being in the mountains as a flower opening in the world, of blue mountains walking, of mountains flowing. He spoke of rivers rising up to the heavens and descending into crevices. He referred to a mountain giving birth to a mountain child. He described various possible attributes of mountains and rivers—indeed, the attributes of all sentient beings—in terms of the Five Ranks of Master Dongshan. Finally we arrive at the concluding paragraph of this incredible sutra, quoted above, where Dogen brings it home to the fifth rank. But keep in mind that each rank contains all of the other ranks. Each of the eight gates of training of the Mountains and Rivers Order contains all of the other gates. Each of the ten stages of practice contains all ten stages. Each of the paramitas, or perfections, contains every other one. These are not separate and distinct entities. We need to speak of them in terms of separate entities in order to study them and make them intelligible, but the truth is that everything that Dogen is talking about in this sutra is not only the total interpenetration of those five ranks—of absolute and relative—but is also the body and mind of each one of us. This very body and mind are these mountains and rivers. All of these virtues and characteristics of the mountains and rivers are the virtues and characteristics of all buddhas, all sentient beings.
In the prologue we have a description of a person who has integrated all of the five ranks in his or her own existence:
All traces of enlightenment having fallen away, one puts on clothing and takes a meal. Where spiritual powers wander at play among the ten thousand things, there is no way to frame it or to name it. Is this a sage or an ordinary being?
Photo by Brian Lary
These ranks cannot be understood hierarchically. They are simply ways of looking at the relationship between absolute and relative, and between all dualities. Among them are enlightenment and delusion. On one side is enlightenment, on the other side is delusion. One side is heaven, the other side is hell. One side is male, the other side is female. One side is monastic practice, the other side is lay practice. One side is good, the other side is evil. However you create dualities, those dualities and the dynamics of their interactions can be understood through these Five Ranks. Then, as you proceed through these ranks, you reach the point of perfect integration, mutual accomplishment, absolute and relative totally integrated, totally unified. Neither absolute nor relative, neither male nor female, neither good nor bad.
The first of those ranks is the absolute basis of reality. The second rank is the emergence out of the realization of the absolute. The third rank is the manifestation of that realization in the world of the ten thousand things. It’s a synthesis of form and emptiness. It’s here that compassion begins to manifest effortlessly, with no sense of doing. The fourth rank is mutual integration. This is the characteristic of the bodhisattva in the world, acting according to conditions, according to karma, according to vow.
Then, finally, we reach the fifth rank, where no trace of enlightenment or non-enlightenment remains. Dongshan’s verse on that fifth rank says:
Who can be tuned to that beyond what is and what is not?
Though everyone wants to leave the ever-flowing stream,
each is still sitting in darkness black as charcoal.
Perfect integration falling into neither form nor emptiness,
who can join the master?
Who can be tuned in to reality beyond what is and what is not? Who can be in touch with that place that falls into neither the absolute nor relative. No one can tune into it—even a buddha or a sage cannot recognize it. Though everyone wants to leave the ever-flowing stream, each is still sitting in darkness black as charcoal. Though all of us want to leave the ceaseless turmoil of this world, there’s always a sense of needing to accomplish further, needing to be part of that continual stream of functioning. The third line is rendered in different ways. Each returns to sit among the coals is another translation. There’s nothing lacking, nothing extra. Everything is perfect and complete just the way it is.
The first two ranks show the two sides: absolute on one side, relative on the other side. The absolute is in relationship to the relative, the relative in relationship to the absolute, just the way we chant in the Heart Sutra: “Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form. Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form.” In the Identity of Relative and Absolute we chant “Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.” There is an interdependent relationship between the two. In the third and fourth ranks, they’re independent. Absolute is absolute, and relative is relative. A devil is a devil, a buddha is a buddha, white paper is white paper, elephants are elephants. In the fifth rank, unity is attained. Everything is seen together—the devil is white paper. Looking south, the North Star is seen.
Perfect integration falling into neither form nor emptiness. Who can join the master residing in this realm? All others strive to rise above the common level. This one unites everything. In his “Genjokoan,” Dogen says, “No trace of enlightenment remains and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly.” We call this endless activity “filling a well with snow,” the seemingly inane occupation of the ancient sages. No one can tell whether they’re sages or whether they’re crazy, whether they’re ordinary or holy. One of them hires a few others and they all climb the mountain to get to the snow-capped peaks. They fill their buckets with snow and they carry them down and throw the snow into the well, trying to fill it. Of course, filling the well with snow is impossible. Yet they do it, trip after trip, day after day. Saving all sentient beings is impossible, yet we practice it day after day. Putting an end to desires is impossible—desires are inexhaustible—yet I vow to put an end to them. The dharmas are boundless, yet I vow to master them. I vow to try to put a frame around them, though it can’t be done. The Buddha Way is unattainable, yet I vow to attain it. It’s an impossible task, an impossible dream, yet we practice it day after day.
In the fifth rank, all our sense of reaching a goal, of accomplishment, has completely disappeared. All that remains is putting one step in front of the other. All traces of enlightenment having fallen away, one puts on clothes and takes a meal. Just simple everyday activities. But everybody does this—what makes it so special? Misunderstanding this extraordinary ordinariness is the cause of the widespread self-styled Zen epidemic that we experience in this country. “Where spiritual powers wander at play among the ten thousand things, there is no way to frame it or to name it.” Because there’s no way to frame it or to name it, anybody with a loud voice and a little bit of charisma can deceive people. It’s hard to know if this is a sage or an ordinary being, but there’s a big difference. They may appear the same on the surface. Dogen says about the mountains: “An old master said, ‘Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.’ The meaning of these words is not that mountains are mountains, but that mountains are mountains.” Is he just repeating himself? Clearly he’s trying to say something. It’s not that mountains are mountains, but that mountains are mountains.
The zazen of a beginner, with its beginner’s mind, is innocent. It’s free, open and receptive. After a while, as practice continues, people get very sophisticated with their Zen. They know the jargon and how to do the Zen schtick. It’s one thing to look like a Zen practitioner, to sit in the posture of a buddha and look like a buddha, and quite another to really practice this incredible Way with the whole body and mind. In the final stage of training, that same innocence of the beginner comes back. In a sense, the zazen of someone in the final stages of training is exactly like the zazen of someone in the first stage of training—very innocent, very open. But the zazen of someone in the first stage of training is not the zazen of someone in the final stages of training.
Photo by Dave Sackville
An ancient master said, “Monks, do not have deluded notions. Heaven is heaven, earth is earth. Mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. Monks are monks and lay practitioners are lay practitioners.” And yet another master said, “Thirty years ago, before I had studied Zen, I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. And then later, when I had more intimate knowledge, I came to see mountains not as mountains and rivers not as rivers. But now that I have attained the substance, I again see mountains just as mountains, and rivers just as rivers.”
Dogen says, “The meaning of these words is not that mountains are mountains, but that mountains are mountains.” This “mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers” doesn’t mean what ordinary people think it means. This is the mountain of the nature of all dharmas, the river of all dharmas, the ten thousand things, the whole phenomenal universe. It doesn’t belong to either yin or yang. It pervades all time and space, from the beginningless beginning, before the kalpa of emptiness, to the endless end. In other words, it’s the body and mind of the ten thousand things—and it’s just a mountain. Therefore we should thoroughly study these mountains. “When we thoroughly study the mountains, this is the mountain training.” When Dogen says “thoroughly study the mountains,” he means to take these mountains and rivers as a koan of our lives. He uses the word “study” in a sense of complete devotion to and practice of the dharma. It can be understood as training in the mountains or as training of the mountains. On this mountain, it’s the training of the mountains and rivers.
The mountains and rivers are a sutra, a teaching, a proclamation of the true dharma. Whether we look at these mountains and rivers with the eyes of a biologist, a geologist, a hydrologist, a sage, a deer, as the mountain itself, as the river itself, they constantly proclaim the dharma. The river sings the eighty-four thousand verses. The mountain reveals the form of the true dharma, the virtue of harmony. Dogen says, “Just by thoroughly studying these mountains, this is the mountain training. These mountains and rivers themselves spontaneously become wise ones and sages.” To realize the mountain is to be the mountain. That’s the mountain as a wise one and a sage. To study the mountains is to study the wise ones and sages. To study the mountain, to realize the mountain, to enter the mountain—these are not three separate activities. They are one reality.
The states of consciousness that are revealed in “Mountains are mountains” and in “The meaning of these words is not that mountains are mountains, but that mountains are mountains” can be traced through the life of the great Master Deshan as it is described among the koans that appear in the traditional koan collections.
Photo by Jon Wisbey
Deshan was a great scholar of the Diamond Sutra who lived in northern China. He was an expert lecturer held in very high esteem, even though he was a very young man. One day he heard about the special transmission outside the scriptures that was going on in the south of China, and he said, “These people are heretics. I’ll go south and disprove all of them.” He packed the copy of his Diamond Sutra and his lecture notes and started the journey south. As he was traveling, he encountered on the road an old woman who was selling rice cakes. He asked for a cup of tea and some rice cakes and she said, “First tell me what you’re carrying in that big pack of yours.” That big pack is symbolic of all the stuff we carry with us—our credentials, our identity, the way we understand ourselves, our accolades, our importance, our separateness. All that is stuffed in a big pack of our ego as we trudge through life. Instead of making it lighter as we go along, we keep stuffing things into it. And when people come into Zen training, they immediately start looking for more stuff to put into the pack. They create a compartment which they label “Zen.” The pack now fills with books, sayings, special experiences of insight, profound exchanges with teachers. All of this is more and more stuff for the pack, when the whole point of practice is to not only empty the content of the pack, but to let the pack itself go. That’s a hard thing to do when you’ve spent a lifetime filling it.
Deshan’s pack was filled with his Diamond Sutra notes, with his identity as a scholar. “What have you got in that pack?” asked the old woman. “Oh, those are my notes on the Diamond Sutra,” he replied smugly. “Do you know a lot about the Diamond Sutra?” “Yes, I’m an expert in it.” The old woman said, “I’ll tell you what. Let me ask you a question about the Diamond Sutra. If you can answer it, I’ll give you a cup of tea. If you can’t answer it, I won’t even serve you.” Deshan said, “Go ahead, ask.” The old woman said, “In that sutra it says, ‘Past mind cannot be grasped, present mind cannot be grasped, future mind cannot be grasped.’ Is that true?” “Oh, yes, it’s true.” The old woman continued, “If that’s true, with which mind will you accept this tea?” Deshan couldn’t believe this question. He just stared at her dumbfounded. He had no answer.
Photo by Brian Lary
Seeing Deshan’s potential, the old woman sent him to study with Master Longtan. When Deshan arrived he discussed the Diamond Sutra all night long with the master. They talked about the nature of mind, of impermanence, of being and non-being. And just as Deshan was getting ready to leave, he stepped outside and found it was dark. He went back in and said, “It’s dark outside.” Longtan lit a candle for him and said, “Here, take this.” Deshan took the candle and as he stepped out into the darkness, the master blew it out. At that moment, Deshan became enlightened. He prostrated himself before Longtan, thanking him profusely. The next day he burned all his notes and said he would never rely on words and ideas again. He then began a pilgrimage to various monasteries. He went across China from east to west, from north to south, saying nothing to no one. Much later, clarifying his understanding further, Deshan became a great teacher, and one of the characteristics of his teaching came to be known as “thirty blows of the stick.” No matter how a monastic responded to his question, Deshan would hit him with thirty blows. There was no way to avoid it. He was a terror.
But in his eighties, the waning years of his life, Deshan underwent another transformation, best illustrated by his encounter with Xuefeng, who later became his successor. One evening Deshan went down to the dining hall from his quarters carrying his bowls. Xuefeng, who was the cook, said, “Where are you going, master? The bell hasn’t rung. It’s not time for the meal yet.” Deshan looked at him, turned around, and meekly walked back to his room. Xuefeng thought that he had defeated his teacher in this dharma encounter and started bragging to everybody about it. “Did you see what I did with the old man? I sent him back to his room.” Yantou, who was the head monk, heard about this and said to Xuefeng, “Great man that he is, Deshan hasn’t realized the last word of Zen yet.” Suddenly the whole monastery started buzzing about this—Deshan was an eighty-year-old master of great fame and yet his head monastic was saying he hadn’t heard the last word of Zen. Deshan, hearing about this, sent for Yantou and asked him, “Don’t you approve of me?” Yantou leaned over and whispered something in Deshan’s ear. The next day Deshan mounted the rostrum and gave a talk like nobody had ever heard before. It was fresh, and completely unlike anything he had done in his forty years of teaching. Everybody was astounded. When the talk was over, Yantou jumped up, clapped his hands and said, “Wonderful! Marvelous! At last the old man has realized the last word of Zen. No one can ever make light of him again.”
These incidents in Deshan’s life show his development as a practitioner and a teacher. And they illustrate a progression within the Five Ranks. The first—Deshan traveling south as the expert on the Diamond Sutra—is not even on the chart of the five ranks. It is minus-one level. He hadn’t even raised the bodhi mind yet. His mind was filled with expertise and fixed knowledge. There was no aspiration for enlightenment; there was no search. To enter the Way is to begin with the search. It means to become a student. Deshan wasn’t a student. He thought that he was a teacher, a teacher with the mission to correct others’ understanding. That’s a closed mind; it’s not a beginner’s mind. It wasn’t until the old woman selling tea cracked that mind for him that he was ready to hear the teaching and to realize himself with the blowing out of the candle.
Deshan was puffed up with all of his knowledge of the Diamond Sutra. Then he was humbled by the woman selling tea. Next he went to see Longtan and became enlightened. With his gained insight, he puffed himself up again. He burned the Diamond Sutra. Next he took his sack and went to visit monasteries, saying nothing. In other words, he was showing off his understanding of emptiness. But he was deeply stuck in emptiness. Yet the process continued. Through his practice, training, and teachings—his spiritual maturation, this dragon-fanged teacher of thirty blows turned into a mellow old guy who went hobbling down the stairs carrying his bowls. When the cook said, “The bell didn’t ring. Go back to your room,” he just turned around like a leaf blown by the wind and returned to his room. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this traceless enlightenment continues endlessly. Neither being nor nonbeing, absolute freedom of action and inaction.
“‘Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.’ The meaning of these words is not that mountains are mountains, but that mountains are mountains. Therefore we should thoroughly study these mountains. When we thoroughly study the mountains, this is the mountain training. Such mountains and rivers themselves spontaneously become wise ones and sages.”
The capping verse:
When an ordinary person realizes it,
she is a sage.
When a sage realizes it,
he is an ordinary person.
When a sage realizes it, he becomes an ordinary person indistinguishable from the hundred million people that inhabit this great earth. And yet, “mountains are mountains” is not the same as the “mountains are mountains” that we began with. The zazen of the first stage practitioner is not the same as the zazen of the tenth stage practitioner, but the zazen of the tenth stage practitioner is identical to the zazen of the first stage practitioner.
When you really go deep into yourself, when you really engage zazen fully, that zazen becomes the zazen of all buddhas past, present, and future. It is the verification and actualization of the enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha and all of the subsequent buddhas that followed, as well as that of the buddhas that are to follow this time and place. It is also the practice and verification of these mountains and rivers themselves, and of your life and my life, the life of all beings.