In the Soto school we also appreciate gradual practice and sudden realization. But Soto Zen emphasizes that, because this life is all together one thing, is the Buddha Way itself, you should not expect kensho. As soon as you chase after something, right there you create separation, so how can you have realization? Many people misunderstand, saying that the Soto school is not concerned with the enlightenment experience — that’s nonsense. Awakening is the very core of the Buddha’s teaching, but if we are thinking about awakening we are separating ourselves from it.
So how do we practise without being dualistic? That’s what Dogen Zenji talks about in that famous passage from the Genjokoan:
To study Buddhism is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas.
When you really become one with yourself, you forget the self. And when the self is forgotten, the Buddha Dharma, in an instant, reveals itself as the whole of life — the life of each of us. So in studying the self, in practising zazen, put yourself completely into it and be zazen itself. In following the breath, just be the breath; in working on a koan, be the koan; if you do shikantaza, completely be shikantaza. Practising in this way, the subject-object dichotomy will fall away and you will have a glimpse of your true nature. But this is not all. Dogen Zenji goes on to say:
To be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas
Is to free one’s body and mind and those of others.
No trace of enlightenment remains,
And this traceless enlightenment is continued forever.
Having seen your own true nature, that awareness then expands to include everything, and the Buddha Dharma functions without hindrance as oneself and others. Going still further, beyond any trace of enlightenment and nonenlightenment, being completely ordinary, traceless enlightenment continues accomplishing itself endlessly.
From an article first produced in The Ten Directions, in October 1981 and reproduced by the kind permission of The Zen Center, Los Angeles.
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Published in the December 1989 Buddhist Now.