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Practice Enlightenment: Right Speech, Writing, and Reddit.

"To practice the Way singleheartedly is, in itself, enlightenment. 
There is no gap between practice and enlightenment or zazen and daily life." -Dogen Zenji

 I was called into practice discussion with the Tanto, our temple's head of practice. I made a passing comment that we were all Buddhas through Dogen's practice enlightenment and a discussion pursued. The short of it was that it may be dangerous to think of one's self as a Buddha, but helpful to think of others as Buddha. An idea arose that maybe there is an element of actualization that comes with the term Buddha, and that a Buddha is a Buddha when the activity of practice enlightenment is pursued with unparalleled effort, when there is no other option to practice enlightenment.

Practice enlightenment is Dogen's jam. It's the underlying philosophy of liturgical reenactment. Remember being Catholic and the wine turned into blood? Well, this is a human sitting Zazen turning into Buddha. So what about after Zazen? Dogen covers that in his treaty that there is no separation between stillness and activity. However, Dogen says it well here:

"Thinking that practice and enlightenment are not one is no more than a view that is outside the Way. In buddha-dharma, practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginner's wholehearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment. For this reason, in conveying the essential attitude for practice, it is taught not to wait for enlightenment outside practice."

Taigen Dan Leighton writes extensively about this practice enlightenment. I think he has whole books on it, though I can't find them right now. But he said this at Green Gulch, back 2003:

"In this sense of our expression as the expression of our practice realization, it is always going on, but that does not mean just passive acceptance of whatever is happening. We actually do have to express it to express it. This is the practice realization, and the Buddha, that you are expressing right now. How you are listening, how your back is; your posture as you sit there; your eyes closed or open–that is your expression right now. And actually it is up to us to express it. There is a responsibility to express our practice and our awakening and realization right now."

I still disagree with the Tanto. I think we are Buddhas, in delusion throughout delusion, not knowing if we are really Buddhas. Maybe it could be dangerous, but it also inspires responsibility and care. Saying we are Buddha isn't something I say after my head gets cut off and milk squirts to the sky or after I pick up an elephant and throw it at my deranged cousin; it something that comes up as I trudge through samsara and juggle samskaras (this is my new favorite word! It means impressions embedded in our consciousness!). It's definitely annoying to talk with enlightened beings if the premise is they've got something you don't. But what if we're all enlightened? And if not us, who? If not now, when? I think we may have unrealistic ideas of what enlightenment really is. And we may not want to extend it to all beings, like our Catholic family. But what if we did?

In the 2nd case of The Blue Cliff Record it says something like just to say the word Buddha is to drag it though the mud soaking wet. And when I think of Dogen Zenji and his daunting effort to assert this, and that, neither this nor that I'm inspired to write and speak more carefully and in terms of my experience.

This is not new; I'm hesitant to publish anything, and feel the sting of not quite so after each blog post or comment. I'm also mystified by reader reactions. On my last blog post I received contrasting feedback: One person accused me of taking the teacher's seat and writing glibly with Buddhist jargon; another said I needed to send my work into to Tricycle. I've received praise for posts I wrote in haste before work and snark for posts I worked on for weeks. Who knows? I'm feeling the winds of praise and blame. I'm thinking if you feel one the other is just coming over the mountain. Just sit still.

So I checked in with Thich Nhat Hanh's view on right speech. I didn't like what he had to say so I can't remember what he said. But I felt like if I took his approach I'd be playing The Perfect Soul in a sticky sweet born again kind of way. And I remembered what Kosho echoed to me: is it beneficial, is it timely, is it true, is it about anyone who is not in the room, and does it improve this silence?

I'd add: Does it improve this space, this conversation? What is my intention? Is there subtle violence in my words? Am I derailing a conversation? Am I over sharing? Ejun Roshi wants to know, am I praising self at the expense of others?

And then I feel quiet.

But conversation arises!

I'd like re-post two of my comments in the last week alone that I think are questionable examples of speech. I'm afraid they'll be out of context, but I'm positive they stand on their own poison of greed, hate, or delusion. I'm avowing these by putting them out there. I don't like them, feel a sting by them, but I don't want them just lurking out there while I write "nice" things on this blog. So.

I said to one fellow redditor:

"Well, then I really don't want to delve into your misunderstandings. If everything smells like shit, you can wash your face."

I said that?!?! One million bows. Thirty blows.

"Just shut up already."

Patience would be a nice practice here.  

Are these words of a Bodhisattva? I'm not sure. Now I remember Thich Nhat Hanh saying something about inspiring love and compassion with speech. This hardly occurred to me; I was thinking more like hitting them with a stick. 

Is getting hit with a verbal stick compassion? My favorite definition of compassion is letting people be free from what you think they are. Can I speak from there? 

I really do enjoy blogging and commenting and redditing with my internet Zen sangha. I often feel like this is a dream realm of sorts where our Sambogaykaya prana energy bodies named "ewk" or "Dalai Grandma" or "Nathan" or "Gocloudrunwater" are bouncing around, interacting, talking, even drinking tea together. I do it with a heart of exploration, that through writing I discover things, I approach my inmost request. If I ever seem to be taking the teacher's seat, please call me out. Taigen Dan Leighton also said on that day at Green Gulch, "This is not just passive expression. We do not just automatically have this practice-realization-expression. We have a responsibility." 


  1. Please forgive me for not reading the whole of your post with the consideration it probably deserves. The fault is entirely mine... but I was brought up short by the notion that Buddha was a concept.

    "Buddha" means awake. It does not mean something else. Anything else it might mean is icing on an already-iced cake ... scrumptious, perhaps, but full of endangering sugars.

    Seeing someone else as Buddha is every bit as dangerous as seeing yourself as Buddha. Either way, scrumptious as it may be, it's icing on an already-iced cake.

    Duality is a fairy tale in precisely the same way that monism is a fairy tale: Nobody can live a happy life relying on fairy tales. Don't do that.

    Awake is awake. So ... enjoy!

  2. Dear Genkaku.

    All we have is the fairy tale. That's where these words exist. Without them, you abide in clarity. What do you appreciate?

    Deep bow,

  3. "All we have is the fairy tale"?
    Yuck. Well, that makes sense if you view zazen as "liturgical reenactment". If it's all a make-believe game, why not? Why not turn wine into blood while you're at it?

    The Vehicle is meant to be left behind; you're stuck doing donuts in the parking lot.

    As for discussions on reddit, rather than hitting yourself for speaking out of anger, why not go into what motivated you to do it in the first place? I've seen those conversations, and they're a mess. It hardly seems like a useful forum for discussion. So, why do it?

  4. Yuck is right! Yuck can be the taste. You could say fairy tale, but Dogen said Painted Tea Cake:

    Vasubandhu said it was the 1st nature, or first mode, or the imaginary, the imputed, the illusion.

    And that it's not separate from reality or the consummate or the perfect nature of all things.

    Why go? When the wind blows, I turn my face to it. When there's a book on the table, I read a page or two.

    Palms together,

    1. And on another note, Dave, do you know how fun donuts in the parking lot is? I'll never forget them with my step father in snowy Pennsylvania in his red Pontiac Firebird! Thank you for that memory.

    2. gotta love Dogen, that king of tautologies who lulls me to sleep. Is it a coincidence that your name is a typo'd version of his?

      Dogen, Loori, and you seem to be offering a lot of hot air that amounts to saying, "well, I like my robes, and my Buddha statues, and converting wine into blood, and doing donuts in the parking lot." Cover it over with philosophical language if you want, but at root it's just "I do arbitrary things that feel meaningful to me." OK, but that doesn't say much. Why not sacrifice goats? Why not dress up as a pirate? You find meaning in the zen robes, but not in peg legs?

      You say "when the wind blows, I turn my face to it." I don't buy it (and I doubt you do, either). You're saying there's really no purpose. Are you like the character from Camus' "The Stranger", who shoots a man because the sunlight gets into his eyes?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. "I do arbitrary things that feel meaningful to me." - This sounds about right!

      I do like peg legs! Did you know I played Dungeons and Dragons for 15 years? It's about the only thing I'm 100% qualified to teach.

      And I agree, there's no purpose- but there's also no one to shoot. There's just Uchiyama's 1st point of practice:

      1. Study and practice the Buddha-dharma only for the sake of the Buddha-dharma, not for the sake of human emotions and worldly ideas.

  6. your last post was much better because it was your experience and imaginative ! if you look over the web there's everyman and his dog and particularly the dog :o) mouthing off buddhist clichés and endless quotes of dogen translations that they blithely ignore is a translation and distorted !

    as a writer you will appreciate that translations can be very far from what was originally written !

    anyway I find your writing much fresher and more appealing when you write from your own experience and the less overt Buddhist stuff included the better it reads :o)

  7. I'm not sure if "impressions embedded in our consciousness" is a good way of defining the Sanskrit term saṃskāra (Pāli equivalent saṇkhāra). It is a term with deep meanings and a very important one in the Buddha's discourses. To put it roughly, it can be understood as anything that is 'put together' through intention - i.e. an artificially assembled 'thing'. See here:

  8. Dear Anon,

    I agree that "put together' through intention-i.e an artificially assembled 'thing" is right on. My question is where does intention come from and is it inside or outside of consciousness?

    Deep bow,

  9. This is really very impressive writing and you have touched the veins of topic. this is really impressive writing.

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