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Dharma Class with Myoki Raizelah Bayen : Discovering Your Genjo Koan Talk 7

  • Monday, March 11, 2024

Myoki Raizelah offers a reflection on Eihei Dogen's Genjo Koan during the final session of her shuso's class, Discovering Your Genjo Koan.  This class was offered in support of the community's Winter Practice Period.

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Myoki Raizelah's talk notes:

Zen master Baoche of Mt. Mayu was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, "Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not reach. When, then, do you fan yourself?"

"Although you understand that the nature of the wind is permanent," Baoche replied, "you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere."

"What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?" asked the monk again. The master just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply.

The actualization of the buddha-dharma, the vital path of its correct transmission, is like this. If you say that you do not need to fan yourself because the nature of wind is permanent and you can have wind without fanning, you will understand neither permanence nor the nature of wind. The nature of wind is permanent; because of that, the wind of the buddha's house brings for the gold of the earth and makes fragrant the cream of the long river.

Just as the wind is ever-present, Buddha nature is ever-present - always has been and always will be. I believe this simple story is in response to the fundamental question that drove Dogen to cross the sea to China in search of an answer: If we are already fully enlightened, why must we practice? 

Dogen actually began monastic practice at age 12 (which is sort of unbelievable)! He became a monk, and devoted his life to practice. In his early 20s, he set sail to China - which was a big deal to cross the sea in the 13th century. There were no ocean liners or cruise ships. He had this burning question, to which he hadn’t yet found an answer during his earlier years as a monastic Japan. If we are already enlightened, why must we practice? He went to China in search of an answer.

This reminds me of something Suzuki Roshi used to say: “You are perfect just as you are. And you could use a little improvement.” The perfection I think Suzuki Roshi is speaking of is Buddha living Buddha’s Life. You are already Buddha living Buddha’s Life - fully enlightened. You are also a diluted, limited individual - here’s where you could use a little improvement. So you need to practice. 

Uchiyama says (p.201), “The important matter for us is how we wave the fan and actualize the wind of life, which is boundless and infinite. How can we actualize the universal life right here and right now?” 

Isn’t this the Genjo Koan? 

Uchiyama continues, “We fan this beginningless realization with endless practice. This is the wind of the Buddha’s family. And such wind enables us to realize the gold of the earth and to transform the water of the long river into cream.” 

I love that line. “The wind enables us to realize the gold of the earth and to transform the water of the long river into cream.” 

Nishiari explains it like this (p.90), “ Although the entire earth is the gold of the earth, it does not become gold unless you go through the process of making it gold. Although what flows through the river is pure milk, it does not yet have the taste of pure milk.  The radiance of our original nature manifests only when we practice and actualize buddha nature. We should not fall into the spontaneous view of enlightenment. This is the vital matter.”

We need to practice. Dogen bookends the Genjo Koan with this message. It’s found in the first line and here again at the end. 

In the first line he states that there is delusion and realization, practice, birth and death, buddhas and sentient beings. There is duality, so there is practice.

We need practice - not to get enlightenment. It’s not a thing you attain. It’s not a noun. We often use that word as a noun: enlightenment. Dogen uses this word as a verb. He emphasized “the process of actualization of enlightenment.” Okumura points to the Japanese word used by Dogen: “Shikaku” - translated as “initialized awakening” or “actualized awakening.” 

So, yes, we are already Buddha, and yes, we are perfect, but we need to practice in order to actualize it. We are both Buddha and we are deluded, so we must practice to rediscover, to uncover (so to speak) our Buddha nature

Remember, this is the meaning of Gen in Genjo Koan. Gen means to appear, something once hidden becoming visible (like the sun peaking out from behind a cloud). Practice realization makes what is hidden more visible or apparent to us. It’s already there (your Buddha nature). There’s nothing to attain. In our lineage, we don’t attain enlightenment. We uncover what is hidden. The jewel in the mud. 

Uchiyama says (p.190), “In sum…all living beings are enlightened Buddhas from the beginning, but in phenomenal reality, we are deluded beings and therefore we need to study and practice to restore our original enlightenment and become buddhas.”

What a precious journey we’ve shared through the Genjo Koan. So sweet to practice together.

As I reflect on the past 6 weeks together here, some verses from the Genjo Koan that pop-out for me:

To study the self is to forget the self. Forget my ideas of who I am or should be.

The Buddha Way is in essence leaping clear of the two and the one. Get out of the way, Raizelah

That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening. Receive what life offers.

When Buddhas are truly Buddhas, they do not necessarily notice they are Buddhas. Beyond humble.

The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in the dewdrops on the grass. You are the dewdrop - always remember.

Let body and mind drop away. Exhale. And let go completely. 

Know that air is life and water is life. We are the vast ocean and limitless sky.

When you find your place where you are, when you find your way at this moment practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. Don’t miss it - right now - this is another moment to wake-up in.

Right? It’s written on the Han:

Life and death are of great importance-

Impermanent and swift.

Wake-up all of you.

Do not waste your life. 

These are some of my lessons over these weeks, actually months, of exploring the Genjo Koan:

Discovering My Genjo Koan

Forget the self. Let go of self-clinging.

Leap clear. Right off the 100-foot pole.

Get out of the way.

Receive what life offers.

And be humble. 

Care for the dewdrop.

Wake in the mud. 

Show-up completely and be your authentic self.

And always return to not-knowing.

I could make post-it notes with these messages and post them around my house, because these are life lessons I will be practicing with for the rest of my life. The wisdom offered through the Genjo Koan is as high and wide as the Moon. The discovery of its meaning is endless. 

Andrea Thach, in her recent Dharma Talk at Zen Alive, said that in Rinzai Zen there are many koans, in Soto Zen (our lineage), there is one koan: the Genjo Koan. I know I will be practicing with it always. 

What are some lines that pop out to you? I’m referring to the lines that particularly speak to you. Or call your attention.

Please write down 4-8 lines that speak to you and leave a blank line in between each one.

(Wait a few minutes)

Now, without thinking too much about it, in the blank line under each Genjo Koan line, please write what the line is saying to you. What is it offering you? What does it give you to practice with? What is the lesson you learn from it? 

Another idea: maybe write a response to each of Dogen’s lines that you wrote down (so it’s like a conversation between you and Dogen)

You don’t need to answer all these questions, just the one that makes the most sense to you.

(Wait a few more minutes)

Now, please take the lines that you wrote in response to Dogen’s lines, and distill each line to a few poignant words (maybe they already are), and put those words together into a poem (I’ll call it) that might guide you in practice. 

This is YOUR Genjo Koan.

Please share in the chat box, and then read it to the group. Of course, you are welcome to pass.

I would like to share what you wrote in the chat box anonymously either in our newsletter or at the closing sesshin. If you don’t want me to share it, please don’t put it in the chat box. You are still welcome to read it to the group, without putting it in the chat box.

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