In last month’s Dharma Byte, “Turning Points in Living the Zen Life,” I touched on a few of the time-of-life changes that we all go through from time to time, and the effect they may have on our practice, and vice-versa. One section, however, referred to turning points in zazen itself and that is where I want to pick up the thread this time.
The Most Important Thing in Buddhism
At one point more than halfway through Master Dogen’s tract titled “Fukanzazengi,” which means something like “Universal Promotion of Zazen” or “Principles of Seated Meditation,” he writes “Now that you know the most important thing in Buddhism, how can you be satisfied with the transient world?” It is difficult to know exactly which point he is referring to in the preceding sections of the long teaching, as he touches on so many aspects of Zen, as he is wont to do.
In the “Genjokoan” extract from “Bendowa,” which latter means something like “A Talk About the Way,” he lays out analogy after analogy about The Great Matter, and how to practice, at one point actually stating, “It is possible to illustrate this with more analogies. Practice-enlightenment and people are like this.” But what the “this” or the “most important thing” is that he is talking about is difficult to pin down. As Matsuoka Roshi would say, “Zen is something round and rolling, slippery and slick.”
It is tempting to throw words at this something, such as “zazen,” “enlightenment,” “study the self,” “compassion,” et cetera. But we find that nothing sticks, precisely because it is slippery and slick, receding ever more out of our reach when we try to pin it down. Also because language is designed to be definitive and dispositive, giving us answers rather than raising more questions.