One day Lin-chi gave this sermon: "There is the true person of no rank in the mass of naked flesh, who goes in and out from your facial gates. Those who have not yet testified to this fact, look! Look!"
A monk came forward and asked, " Who is this true person of no rank?"
Lin-chi came down from his chair and, taking hold of the monk by the throat, said "Speak! Speak!"
The monk hesitated.
Lin-chi let go his hold and said, "What a worthless shit-stick this is!"
The first time I heard this, I was terrified. The Tanto was screaming at the Shuso, and a lot of the elders of our community were laughing. But I had no idea what they were talking about. And I still don't.
What can be derrived from this exchange is that we don't know who the true person of no rank is, but it's coming through this body's eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. My question started in our Genjo Koan class when we were asked by that same Tanto who screamed at that Shuso, what does studying the self mean? Which led to what does Dogen mean when he writes study the self?
There seemed to be a split; some senior students, priests of many years, really felt that Dogen was not talking about this human self in Genjo Koan when he said:
"To study the Buddha way is to study the self" Kaz Tanahashi * & Okamura *
"To learn the Buddha's truth is to learn ourselves" Nishijima*
"Studying the Buddha way is studying oneself." Cleary*
"To learn the Buddha Way is to learn one's own self." Abe*
* Translater credits
One senior monk said Nishiari Bokusan Roshi said verbatim that Dogen was not talking about the human self, while the Tanto said Okamura Roshi's translation for Dogen's Kanji for self was very unique and unusual; he said it was part person, and part wings, and could be interpreted as "your own self learning to fly."
I fell strongly into the camp of including this human body in the study of self, along with the apparent self of all other beings, and the selfhood, or separateness of all other objects, landscapes, and anything I could possibly bring into a subject+object duality. There was this assertation that all I really could be is skandhas or alaya vijnana.
Call it a hand, or call it a collection of five fingers, comes to mind from Okamura. I don't remember the last time my alaya vijnana stubbed its toe. My skandha's don't need to be shaved.
The Buddha himself never answered this question. When asked if there was a self, he answered with silence. When asked if there was no-self, more silence. This is a finger pointing at eternal assertion and nihilistic denial, and acknowledgement of the nothingness of emptiness and the somethingness of enlightenment.
There is an ultimate reality in being human and I think it occurs between our thoughts; what are we between our thoughts? This is what I'm looking at when I follow Dogen's instruction. Could I do this without this human body, without breath, without a brain to have a delusional thought, without out a mouth to utter a defiled word, and isn't there something radiant throughout delusion and defilement?
The next day, Meiya-sensei called me in for practice discussion. I sat before her dark brown Okesa in the candle lit room and said I'm trying to learn from you, but I don't think we have anything to talk about. Just like baby owls fall from trees and walk on two legs with wings outstretched learn from elder owls who fly above, I think this is the best thing we can do. You can't tell me anything, and yet, I'm here to learn, and I'm sure about that, though I'm not sure I'm learning anything.