Study the Self! By Maezumi Roshi

Sekizanzen-in's (赤山禅院) Juroku-rakan (十六羅漢 the '16 Arhats')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.

Click here to read more from Taizan Maezumi Roshi .

Published in the December 1989 Buddhist Now.

Read some more Zen teachings from Dogen.

Read more teachings from Taizan Maezumi Roshi.

Categories: Buddhism, Buddhist meditation, Chan / Seon / Zen, Taizan Maezumi Roshi

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8 replies

  1. Beautiful! I’ve wanted to post on this particular Dogen zenji quote. At some point, I will, but for the meantime, I will share this beautiful and succinct piece.

  2. “To study Buddhism is to study the self.
    To study the self is to forget the self.”

    …Then to study Buddhism is to forget Buddhism?????

    “As soon as you chase after something, right there you cre­ate separation.”

    …Soooooo, then we shouldn’t be in pursuit of anything?????

    I’m not understanding the logic used in this article. It seems to contradict itself. In today’s Western culture (I live in California) they have mastered studying self. And it has been shown to definitely NOT lead to forgetting self. It has shown to lead to narcissism.

  3. Is it possible to share these articles on Facebook?

  4. ‘To study Buddhism is to study self.’ I appreciate that explanation.


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