Shohaku Okamura is a tall, strong looking man. He sits in the middle of the zendo, directly in line with our Shaykyamuni Buddha and Manjusri alter, a towering Jizo behind him. When it’s time for ceremony, he steps aside and our abbess procedes as the doshi, making offerings and bowing, while Okamura stands back. Is this because he is a guest teacher here or is he continuing his teacher’s, Uchiyama Kosho Roshi, practice of only chanting the four great vows while avoiding elaborate ceremony? Either way, it seems appropriate.
He fills a room with his smile, which wells up with surprisingly honest warning, like this:
“Suzuki Roshi lectured on Dogen for two or three years at the end of his life. Most of the students fell asleep at Tassajara. Maizumi Roshi said that when he talked about koans, his students were very awake, but when he talked about The Lotus Sutra, most of them fell asleep. Today, I’m going to talk about Dogen and The Lotus Sutra…this is not so good for staying awake, but I will try to make it more interesting.”
It took about two hours to unpack the first sentence of Dogen’s 38th fascicle, Only a Buddha Together with a Buddha. Traditionally, this is not such a well studied fascicle. It comes from a series of 28 fascicles that were hidden away because they were considered a little to controversial. This one is about Dharma transmission, although that’s not so clear, like it is in the other 8 fascicles on transmission. It also approaches the differences between a Bodhisatvva and a Buddha.
The fascicle starts, “Buddha dharma cannot be known by human beings.” This line refers to suchness, which are things as they are. We can’t see it because we are it.
That’s all I have and not for long. Reading Dogen feels like eating nutrient rich greens. The calories don’t stay with you, and they’re not supposed to. It’s not like eating a good bowl of potatoes, but instead like a whole acre of red chard. Maybe this is why Dogen encouraged his monks to use the bathroom with vitality.