Zen in daily life

Zen teacher Dogen and the Soto approach to Zen

Zenki - Philosophy of Full Function

Written by zen master Dogen Zenji translated by Prof. Masunaga Reiho

Translated in Zen Beyond Zen, Chapter 7, Page 33, 1960.

Introduction by Prof. Masunaga Reiho

This present moment is the point where we must commit our entire body and mind. At this point there is no complete freedom of choice: it has the essential character of offering one choice out of two. It comes but once - never repeating itself.

It seeks an answer to life and death. It dwells not in a dualistic outside world but in an absolute world of innerness. This subjective actuality cannot be a thing; while remaining within it enfolds the outside.

It is not an abstract generalization but a concrete world of time cut off as now and place as here. It is a part of the whole and carries the whole as an individual unit, It is not a monad. The individual unit lives in the part concretely and links up with others in space. Though links with a higher world, it eludes out reach through mere ideation. A turning back of the self is imperative. What is needed is a renewal of life. Through this profound experience transcending individuality, man unifies himself with the life of the cosmos.

So far as it is the source on which our experience is based, it is of a higher dimension then the base. At the same time it joins us at a lower dimension. There we see both the transcendence and immanence of basic life, its continuity and non-continuity. A man who sloughs of his selfish desires and does what he has to do meshes vertically with life as whole and horizontally with each individual. This very moment, therefore, not only individual but transcend time categories and becomes the eternal present. The present is truly the daughter of the past and mother of the future. Similarly this place called here continues endlessly. In the higher dimension it jibes with the universal world. In this way the here and now become the focal point of the world and the universe. The moment and this place arc the center of the mandala (circle), One moment is 10,000 years; the 10 directions are before our eyes. The individual aspect is enfolded in the unitive aspect, and while preserving the self; we embrace others. Chatic unity divides and develops vigorously in history. But this division is embraced again in the integral unity of a higher dimension. Our world and life go constantly from division to oneness. When we touch the depth of the self and become the thing itself we directly apprehend that heaven and earth are of the same root and that all things are one. It is a world where mutually conflicting entities come together by self-identity. Self-identity does not mean a unity of two or more things of different dimension in a parallel line. It is instead a solidly intertwined relation.

But this still remains in the world of principle and actuality unified. We must consider that this world “now” and “here”, limited by time and space, in itself a world unlimited in space and eternal in time. This is absolute actuality — the world unlimited in space and eternal in time. This is absolute actuality – the world of all things unimpeded. In this world each differentiating this is mutually identified and interpenetrated, and each thing is absolute, the one and many are self-identical. The realm where the one and the many are self-identical falls within time and also within the eternal now transcending time. It falls within space but also within the unlimited world transcending space. But an individual, while living as an individuality, is not limited by this.

The heavy burdens of the relative world do not press him down. He can instead absolutize everything. When we penetrate into each absolute actuality by various practices, the state that we realize here is itself the natural world. Specifically, it is a world of many places; it penetrates our individuality and becomes at the same time an absolute world of full living. The objective actuality that presses on life and death eliminates the self, and in accordance with the truth, enables us for the first time to turn necessity into possibility and change passive into active. This point is also stressed in the philosophic discipline that tries to establish a basis for vital practice. It also resides in the idea of the self-identity of absolute contradictions. The self, while constantly developed from the world, also produces itself as a subjective existence. We cannot control historical actuality resulting from past necessity. But it can become the means for the self's making possible future decisions. While enduring the heavy pressure of actuality and find the place where we can maintain control.

Religion values the basic unity of human life. It develops according to man's physical and psychological experience of life. Religious practice tries to return to original wholeness things that have been divided into subject and object. Religious rebirth is a turning of life, realized throug nothingness. It is a moving experience growing out of commitment. It is the spark of life arising from contact of mind and mind. True experience smolders for the first time in contact with basic life. While we wonder in the delusive world, this experience lacks fullness. And mere objective knowledge does not bring it close enough. This sublime experience grows out of the unifying activity of reason, feeling, and will. It raises intensity of awareness to a peak. Through this experience, subject and object fuse. There is self-identity and interpenetration. We thus plumb the truth of life. This experience, meshed with basic life, has unlimited power; It expresses itself as practic of life. This is called the expression of full function. It means expressing our whole self. From here springs all actions in life and universe. Yuan-wu K'o-ch'in (1063-1135) said Life expresses full function; death expresses full function. He made it clear that Buddha-nature expresses itself fully both in life and in death. True life moves on, never stopping for a moment, whether rising or decaying. It is man's original face. We live moment by moment, and we die moment by moment. Life and death are momentarily life and momentarily death. There is death in life, and life in death. But the idea of the self-identity of life and death still does not penetrate to basic life. When we face life and death we must experience it clearly and plumb it thoroughly. We can thus free ourselves from life and death. We live completely in the present, where the remote past and the distant future are linked. Here thrives the philosophy and religion of full function. In the Bhaddekaratta sutra of Majjhimanikaya, there is this passage: Do not pursue the past; do not seek the future. Do with all your best what you must do today. Who can know the death that may come tomorrow? While we live, we should work with all out effort. When we have to die, we should get it over with quickly. Here and now, we must be loyal to ourselves. As schiller says: Don't worry about the distant future. Grasp this moment. Then it is yours. To live fully in the real moment is to vitalize the past and fulfill the future.

Text-Zenki (Full Function)

Ultimately the Great Way of the Buddhas comes down to emancipation and expression in daily life. In this emancipation, life frees itself from life; Death free itself from death. So there is leaving life-death, and there is entering life-death. Together they form the final stage of the Great Way. Throwing away life-death and crossing life-death-together they form the final stage of the Great Way. Expressing it here - that is life; life - that means expressing it here. When expressed here, it is life fully expressed and death fully expressed. This function makes life well and makes death well. At the moment expressed, it is not necessarily large, not necessarily small. Neither is it always universal nor limited. It is not always long; it is not always short. This moment of life is in this function. This function is in this moment of life.

Life neither comes nor goes. It is not expressing; it is not becoming. But this life is the expression of full function. And death is the expression of full function. Understand that among the immeasurable things within the self, there is life and death. Quietly consider this. At this moment of life, can it be said that all things living concurrently accompany this life, or that they do not? Not a single moment or thing stands apart from life. Nor is there a single event or mind that does not accompany life. Life is like getting on a boat. On this boat, we ourselves use the sail and control the rudder. Although we push with the pole, it is the boat that carries us. Without the boat we are not. By getting on a boat we make it a boat. This is the moment that you must study and understand. At just this moment there is nothing but the world of the boat. Heaven, water, and shore – all these fuse into the instant of the boat. This differs from a boat less instant. And so we make this life arise, and it vitalizes our own life. In ridding the boat, body, mind, and world all become instruments of the boat. The entire earth and sky become instruments of the boat. We as life and life as us are like this. Zen master Yuan-wu Ko'-ch'in (l063-1135) said, When life comes, express it fully. When death comes, express it fully. Let's clarify this saying and study It. To study means this: The truth of “When life comes, express it fully” does not hinge on beginning or end, Even though it is the entire vastness of earth and sky, it does not hinder full expression of life, nor does it hinder full expression of death. The truth of “When death comes, express it fully” - though it is all of great earth and sky - does not hinder full expression of death, nor does it hinder full expression of life. Life, therefore, does not hinder death, and death does not hinder life. The vast earth and sky dwell both in life and death. But it is not just one aspect of the great earth or one aspect of the entire sky that is fully expressed in life and fully expressed in death. Although not one, it is not the many. So the full expression of all things is in life and also in death.

Even without life or death there is expression of full function. In expression of full function there is life and death. The full function of life-death, therefore, dwells in a wrestler bending and stretching his arms. It dwells in someone groping for his pillow in the night. In this is expressed the wondrous light. Some believe that just when it is expressed, because it is fully expressed - there is expression before expression. But before expression there is expression of full function. Even though there is expression of full function before, it doss not hinder the expression of full function now. And so from this standpoint, full function is vitally expressed.

Note on Zenki by Prof. Masunaga Reiho

Dogen wrote this essay on December 17.1242. Near Rokuharamitsu temple. He used it to teach the followers of Yoshishige Hatano. The essay is based on Yuan-wu K'o—chin's saying: When life comes, express it fully, When death comes express it fully, To this, Dogen added his own ideas. He emphasized the need for

  1. grasping life fully,
  2. manifesting it in experience,
  3. penetrating life and death as they arise,
  4. and expressing full function through the self-identity of life and death.

These ideas helped Dr. Kunihiko Hashida, the eminent biologist, found the secret of life after a long, hard search. Not only Dr. Hashida but many Zen masters have been able to deepen their understanding through this essay. An intensive study of this essay may bring out some parallels with the esthetic philosophy of American thinker John Dewey (Art as Experience). Drawing such parallels would help establish a firm and natural case for the development of Zen in the West.