Fukanzazengi: A Universal Recommendation of Zazen

Note: At one point in the year 2015 someone drew my attention to a noisy website in which certain loud and colorful charlatans were claiming that Zen Master Dogen taught something other than classic Zen. These misguided idiots quoted the Fukanzazengi in support of their odd notions. 

Dogen's Fukanzazengi is the extraordinarily concise "how to" manual of Japanese Soto Zen practice. If anybody could show that its spirit or basic instructions differ radically in any way at all from old school Ch'an this would be a point of divisiveness in Zen.

To head off any such possibility, I posted the following annotated diatribe to show that the Zen of the Fukanzazengi does not differ from the Zen of Huang-Po, Hui-Neng, Yuanwu, et al. It is the same Zen. So we can shed the mind that makes differences out of everything and get right down to awakening. Right?

Here is a translation of Master Dogen Ehai's Fukanzazengi, a text written when he was 26 years old, after he had just returned from studying at Ch'an temples in China, and revised many years later. This text contains pointers for the practice of Zazen (the Japanese pronunciation of Zuochan) in the monastery Dogen established with Imperial support. But it also contains the essence of Dogen's theory of what "enlightenment" is and how it relates to everyday activity, such as taking up the sitting posture in the Dharma Hall. Is what Dogen says here any different from what the T'ang Dynasty Zen teachers said? Let's see.

The Way is originally perfect and all-pervading.

Bodhidharma says this, Hui-Neng says it, Huang-Po says it, etc. The Mahayana sutras also say it. Originally, there is nothing other than the spontaneous, open, already liberated activity of the Dharma Body. Anything "other" than this is false and illusory.

What need is there for practice and realization?

Huang-Po says this quite often. Lin-Chi also made a point of saying this. But don't take it the wrong way! There is still a need for practice and realization!

The Dharma vehicle is rolling freely. Why should we exhaust our effort?

Sengcan says this. Hui K'o says this. Why indeed?

There is no speck of dust in the whole universe. How could we ever try to brush it clean?

Almost a direct quote from Hui-Neng, when he was the rice-hulling boy.

Everything is manifest at this very place. Where are we supposed to direct the feet of our practice?

Note how Dogen builds suspense. Yet it is true that Buddhahood is already totally manifest right in your own surroundings and situation; it is that manifestation itself. Joshu says this, Lin Chi-says this. Do they not? What's the problem? The Flower Ornament Scripture insists on this point. It's practically a summation of Zen.

Now, if you make the slightest discrimination, you will create a gap like that between heaven and earth.

Yuanwu says this. Wansong says it, a hundred other Masters say it. Again, what's the problem?

If you follow one thing while you resist the other, your mind will be shattered and lost.

The only way to lose your Buddha-nature and fall into partial and fragmented states is by arrogantly abandoning the Way in order to try to force certain things to happen or not happen. Just stop willing and striving and welcome everything that arises, seeing it just as it is and not according to received ideas and opinions. This is Huang-Po's idea also, and Foyan's.

Suppose you are confident in your understanding and rich in enlightenment, gaining the wisdom that knows at a glance, attaining the way and clarifying the mind, arousing an aspiration to reach for the heavens. Now your head is stuck in the entranceway, while your body has no clue how to get out.

Religious ambition is the greatest danger in Zen practice. Mumon says this in his "Zen Caveats."

Although Shakyamuni was wise at birth, can’t you see the traces of his six years of upright sitting? Bodhidharma transmitted the mind-seal from India. Can’t you hear the echo of the nine years he sat facing a wall?

Ho! Now we are really in the thick of the bamboo forest, are we not?

Shakyamuni is said to have sat upright for six years before suddenly waking up. Bodhidharma is said to have woken up, but then spent 9 years in a cave facing a wall. Where is the similarity? What was the purpose?

Huang-Po says, "Thus Bodhidharma sat rapt before a wall and did not lead people into having opinions."

If even the ancient sages were like this, how can we today dispense with wholehearted practice?

Damn good question! Just as in Huang-Po, this sounds like a contradictory turn in the logic if you have not understood the premise. No specific practice is necessary, yet you should strive wholeheartedly to drop all thinking so that the Buddha-nature will manifest as it is. People spend much of their lives sitting. Why not use some of that sitting in a wholehearted way to manifest your original self, rather than dozing or letting the mind wander? Hmm!

Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward.

Here's the pure water in the husk of the coconut. As Foyan says, "Step back and turn your illuminating gaze inward." Yuanwu also says this. All the old Zen teachers say this. Zen is not just dead trance like sitting. It is a subtle way of actively arousing your mind to see and penetrate its own source.

Your body and mind will drop away of themselves, and your original face will manifest.

Sudden awakening is the fundamental way of Ch'an. Once your original face manifests, you understand everything without the dubious help of the intellect.

If you want to get into touch with things as they are, you – right here and now – have to start being yourself, as you are.

You must be not as you think yourself to be, but as you actually are. Don't put a mouth on top of your mouth, a head on top of your head. Once free of discriminating consciousness, your body-mind itself is the "mysterious observatory." (Huang-Po.) Look at that Starry Sky!

For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Don’t think about “good” or “bad”. Don’t judge true or false. Your mind, intellect, and consciousness are spinning around – let them have rest. Give up measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views.

Foyan says this too. Let your thinking subside. Give up all the mental activity that has caused you so much confusion. Yuanwu says this in The Blue Cliff Record. Abandon speaking and thinking, go to a quiet place and investigate yourself thoroughly. Rujing said this: "Zen study is shedding body and mind."

Have no designs on becoming a Buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down?

Ma-Tzu says this. Original enlightenment is realized in all postures, all situations. It is a trap to think that any practice can make you a Buddha. Instead, you should just respond naturally to conditions as they arise. Develop a mind that does not abide anywhere. Yuanwu: "Hearing sounds as though deaf, seeing sights as though blind." Huang-Po: "Walk without a thought of raising your feet, eat your rice without the idea of eating rice."

When you sit, spread a mat and put a cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, first place your right foot on your left thigh, then your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus position, simply place your left foot on your right thigh. Tie your robes loosely and arrange them neatly. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left hand on your right palm, thumb-tips lightly touching.

Detailed instructions for physical posture during Zhuochan/Zazen. Good advice for monks! But Huang-Po merely says, "Sit upright in a relaxed way and do not permit any movement of your mind to disturb you." Dogen Ehai's instructions, taking from an earlier Chinese meditation text, do not contradict this statement but only expand upon it. The physical details in Dogen's text are not original. They are derived from meditation manuals used in Ch'an monasteries in China.

Straighten your body and sit upright, leaning neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Rest the tip of your tongue against the front of the roof of your mouth, with teeth and lips together both shut. Always keep your eyes open, and breathe softly through your nose. Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting.

"Immovable sitting," like a mountain, is what Master Pai-Chang recommends also. Keeping the eyes open -- this was one way that Ch'an contemplation distinguished itself from Taoist practices.

Think of not thinking. Not thinking: What kind of thinking is that? Letting thoughts go (Nonthinking). This is the essential art of zazen.

Hui-Neng says this. Huang-Po says this.

Zazen is not a meditation technique. It is simply the Dharma gate of joyful ease, it is practicing the realization of the boundless Dharma way.

Do not practice in order to attain realization in the future, but instead practice the mysterious realization that is already here now, since this realization is your own wonderful essence of "joyful ease." Hui-Neng says that prajna is spontaneous and open, has no beginning or end. Huang-Po says that all you have to do is stop discriminating to reach the Dharma Gate of Stillness Beyond Activity, upon which the one undivided and radiant nature of everything will become obvious to you. Yuanwu says that enlightened adepts are those who have entered into the way of non-action.

Here, the open mystery manifests, and there are no more traps and snares for you to get caught in.

Once you can sit and simply be sitting, walk and simply be walking, without layering on thoughts and considerations, then you can't be trapped by words. There are no more conceptual "snares." You've seen through all partial ideas and no longer cling to yes or no, is or is not. Your activity is spontaneous. It's the original luminosity (energy) the Mind Ground.

If you grasp the point, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains.

Yuanwu: "You must become like a dragon entering the water, a tiger roaming its mountain."

For you must know that the true Dharma appears of itself, so that from the start dullness and distraction are struck aside. When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Don’t do it head over heels. Understand that those who transcended the mundane and sacred, and died while either sitting or standing, have all committed themselves entirely to this power.

There is nothing here that wasn't said before by the T'ang and Song Ch'an teachers. Yuanwu and Wansong especially.

In addition, turning the Dharma wheel with a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and realizing it with a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout – these cannot be understood by discriminative thinking. Much less can they be known through the practice of supernatural power. Your conduct must be beyond seeing forms and hearing sounds, it must be based on the order that is prior to knowledge and views. Don’t worry about if you are more intelligent than the others, or not. Make no distinction between the dull and the sharp-witted. If you concentrate your effort singlemindedly, that in itself is wholeheartedly engaging the way. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Practicing the way means to live the present day.

Foyan: "Buddhism saves energy. Just stop all mental grasping and be attuned 24 hours a day."

In our world and others, in both India and China, all equally hold the buddha-seal. The wind of truth is blowing unhindered, so just give yourself to the sitting, be totally blocked in resolute stability.

Huang-Po: "Sit upright and do not let any movement of mind disturb you. This alone is liberation."

Although they say that there are ten thousand distinctions and a thousand variations, just wholeheartedly engage the way in zazen. Why leave behind the seat in your own home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep you stumble past what is directly in front of you. You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not pass your days and nights in vain.

Yumen: "If you find an old monk who can give you an opening, hang up your straw hat and practice hard for 30 years. Do not waste this human form, because you do not know when you will get another one."

You met the Buddha way in this life – how could you waste your time delighting in sparks from a flint stone? Form and substance are like the dew on the grass, the fortunes of life like a dart of lightning – emptied in an instant, vanished in a flash. Please, honored followers of Zen, long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not doubt the true dragon. Devote your energies to the way that points directly to the real thing. Revere the one who has gone beyond learning and is free from effort.

Share the wisdom of Buddhas with Buddhas, transmit the samadhi of patriarchs to patriarchs. Continue to live in such a way, and you will be such a person. The treasure store will open of itself, it is up to you to use it freely.

All completely in keeping with the old Ch'an literature of China. There is nothing at all here that differs from the teachings of the Masters and Patriarchs. If there is, point it out!

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