Sitting In the World of Dharma

“…the present is the “form as it is” of the state of experience, and even “alarm, doubt, and fear” are nothing other than reality as it is. With the Buddha’s wisdom, this [fear] is only the difference between looking at our life and sitting in our life. When we are seated in the world of Dharma it is not wide, and when we are sitting in our life, it is not confining; therefore, without maintaining and relying upon [reality as it is], we cannot sit, but when we are maintaining and relying upon [reality as it is], there is no alarm or doubt about width or confinement.”

Zen Master Dogen’s True Dharma Eye, “Dharma Blossoms Turn Dharma Blossoms” (Shobogenzo Hokke Ten Hokke)

Shinshu’s Commentary:

Allow me to quickly paraphrase this paragraph. Your life, right now, is your experience, right now. When we feel alarm, doubt, and fear, it is also our present experience. If we apply the Buddha’s teaching we see that delusion is the difference between being an observer of life or experiencing our life. Immersing ourselves in the teachings, we return to the totality of right now. When we settle into each moment our life is not confined rather it is illuminated and freed.

It’s probably human nature to want to push away unpleasant experiences. I have back pain and I certainly know that I’d like to push it away. But, I also know that pushing it away, will not make it go away. This is my experience, my life, as it is, right now. The second sentence offers us a Dharma gate for exploring our problems. We should not push them away. We have to include alarm, doubt and fear (and pain) in this life….if that is what is happening. We also include laughter, joy, gratitude and all the good things too.

Just this teaching alone is a plate full of wisdom. Can we be patience and be present for our life? Stay! Stay!
The second sentence of the quotation discusses an aspect of delusion. It is about looking at our life as opposed to being present for our life. I don’t think he means looking in the sense of paying attention to our practice. I think he is referring to the times we sit outside our life, effectively pushing our life away. Sitting in the middle of our life, is experiencing it in such a way that we are awakened, challenged, softened, more gracious, empathic and wise than before. Sitting in our life is to experience this life of a human being and to find a deeper connection with all of life. Again this willingness to be present, fully immersed to our best ability takes courage – it is the Lion’s Roar of a Buddha.

While the Dharma is vast, because the world is vast, it is still just a puddle reflecting the moon. This moment, this person is the drop of water, the particular manifestation of the glorious radiance of a buddha (the moon). As Dogen reminds us in Uji (Being/Time) we can be both a buddha and a demon in the glorious radiance of our 24 hours. This glorious radiance is going beyond one or the other and just responding to what is. When this is achieved, it is not vast and overwhelming, rather, it is do-able, workable: it is a tear, a laugh, a sigh. Nothing special, yet glorious.

Finally Dogen reminds us that we can only experience the fullness of our life in this particular moment. The moments of doubt, fear, alarm and pain do not narrow our life, if we can include the totality of our life. For example, when my back hurts, does that mean there is no joy, no laughter or gratitude? Can I remember the glorious radiance of my 24 hours or the 24 hours of this world being the world. Is the world of green plants swayed by the breeze and the sun shining outside the window gone? Do the crows stop affirming this life with a “caw, caw, caw”? Or the seagulls cry?

This insight is achieved by stopping and listening to ourselves, to others and to the life around us. We must create space for wisdom to enter. Running away takes us away and we cannot settle into our life as it is and see its glorious radiance. If we rely upon our life’s emergence, it will ground us in patience and grow our wisdom. I do not promise that you will not suffer, but you will hold it differently. This very moment is the vast sky of the Dharma. Leaving no trace, yet clearly marking the Way.

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