The Practice of Genjokoan

Taigen Leighton
Clouds in Water Zen Center - January 8, 2006

I want to talk this morning about a few passages from perhaps the most fundamental writing of Eihei Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen in Japan, called Genjokoan. This was an essay written by Dogen to a lay practitioner, so it is particularly relevant to our practice in the West, practicing in the world. The name of this essay, and of this practice, Genjokoan, comes from a phrase that was used in China to indicate resolving or in some sense solving a koan, which is traditionally a teaching story from the encounters between teachers and students in China. However, this is not how Dogen is using this word, and this is not the meaning of this term in our practice. The word genjo means to fully or completely manifest, or to express or share. And in this context koan does not refer to these teaching stories, but to the heart of the matter. So our practice in our sitting or when we get up from our formal sitting is to fully manifest, express, or share what is essential in the situation in front of us, and to do this within ourselves, together in sangha, and for our world as a whole. This teaching of expressing what is most essential is very rich.

In a passage from early in the essay, Dogen says,

To carry your self forward and illuminate the myriad things, the myriad dharmas, is delusion. That the myriad things come forth and illuminate themselves is awakening or enlightenment.

Then he says,

Those who are greatly enlightened about delusion are Buddhas. Those who have great delusions about enlightenment are sentient beings or deluded beings. Moreover there are those who continue awakening beyond awakening, and those who are in delusion throughout delusion.

I want to talk about this passage and what it means in terms of our practice. Dogen is defining things for us very clearly in some ways. First, to carry your self forward and illuminate the myriad things, that is what is called delusion, and this is our normal human life. This is what we do in our world. We bring our selves forward. We experience the things of our life. We experience the teachings too from the context of projecting our self forward onto them. We see ourselves as a subject, observing, manipulating, working with things of the world. We imagine that the world is outside us. We imagine this separation between ourselves and the world. We all have some story or idea about this self that we carry forward to illuminate the myriad things. All of you could probably tell me your address and social security number and many other things about this self that you are carrying forward. This is our ordinary human world of delusion.

On the other hand, Dogen says enlightenment is that the myriad things come forth and illuminate themselves. As we do this practice of sitting and being present and being aware of this process, we start to see how the world is arising with each inhale and exhale. The world is experiencing itself. This is not the subject-object world. It is not that the objects are coming forth and experiencing me; it is not that all of you are creating this dharma talk. Actually we are all doing it together. All the myriad things and all the myriad teachings come forth and illuminate themselves. This is enlightenment in Buddhism. The world is not some object that we can control. The world does not belong to people; we belong to the world, and we are part of the world, one of the myriad things. This description of enlightenment is not a description of passivity. It is not that everything comes forth and experiences itself and that this happens out there on some external TV screen. We are integral pieces of that all-togetherness. Everything arises right now. This is the site of enlightenment.

However the most important point is not to think that you have to get rid of one and find the other. So Dogen says those who are greatly enlightened about delusion are Buddhas, and those who have grand delusions about enlightenment are deluded beings. It is not that we should have some preference. These are both aspects of our life. We carry ourselves forward and we illuminate the myriad things based on this self that we have constructed. This is our world of delusion. Myriad things come forth and experience themselves, experience all things, experience our togetherness. This is awakening. Both sides are Genjokoan.

We need to "Genjokoan" both delusion and enlightenment. To Genjokoan, to fully express our hearts, is to be present in all aspects of our life, to bring our life to life, to allow ourselves to express the world, to allow the world to express ourselves.

Each of us individually and all of us together as beings in this room, beings seen and unseen, beings human and otherwise, we are all completely a subset of the myriad things, of reality arising right now. So our practice is actually to wake up to our delusions. We sit upright and present, settling down into our inner dignity, and when we do that we see delusions everywhere. We see our habits of attachment and of grasping. We see our conditioned patterns of reaction. We see our fears and sadness and all of the aspects of our life in which we feel damaged or hurt. We see our own patterns of creating more difficulty for ourselves and for others. This all takes awhile. To see delusion and enlightenment, that is easy. That can happen any time. But then to actually bring this fully into our life is the endless practice of just studying ourselves, just being there as ourselves. So Buddhas are greatly enlightened and wake up to their delusions. This is our practice.

I remember receiving my first zazen instruction, and I felt like I had come home. The first time I sat it was wonderful, and I knew it. And I have been sitting everyday since. Yet when we start getting into our practice of sitting upright and observing how we carry ourselves forward and impose and project ourselves on to things, and also as we start to see that things are arising together, we feel this tension and we feel our habits. So you might feel happy when you start sitting and you might also feel terrible as you were not aware that your mind was chattering like this. You may have the idea that you are what you think, and that you can control your thoughts. But when you actually sit down and just breathe and are upright, the tapes can start rolling around. Our practice is just to hang out with that. It is not that you are supposed to fix that, not that you are supposed to get rid of delusion. Instead illuminate delusion; study it. Become familiar and intimate with yourself. See what it is really like to be in this body and mind - today - with each inhale and exhale. On the other hand, if you have a lot of delusions about enlightenment, that is what Dogen calls delusion. Nevertheless these two sides are present, and Dogen says there are those who continue awakening beyond awakening. In fact. that is what Buddha always is. Buddha is always ongoingly awakening. You may have some glimpse of enlightenment, or you may have some deep, dramatic, flashy experience of awakening. But that is just the beginning, because we can continue awakening beyond awakening and we can be in delusion throughout delusion.

So when you are deluded, be deluded. See delusion. Delusion is the Genjokoan of delusion. Genjokoan your delusions. See how you are confused. See how you are caught up in grasping and attachment. See how you are caught up in aversion and trying to get rid of things. From the point of view of awakening there is no difference at all between awakening and delusion. From the point of view of enlightenment, here we all are on the path together, on a warm January morning in Minnesota. How strange; how wonderful. Of course from the point of view of delusion, there is a huge difference. In delusion we actually do cause difficulty; we actually see ourselves separate from others. We think we can manipulate the world to get what we want. We think it is okay to invade other countries to take back our oil from under their soil. We actually believe that we can manipulate the world to get what we want. This is delusion. Awakening is just sharing this realization of togetherness, this love, this possibility of being together. But from the point of view of delusion, there is a huge difference.

Our practice is not to get rid of one and grab hold of the other. Trying to grab hold of enlightenment and get rid of delusion is more delusion, a big delusion. We have to Genjokoan delusion and Genjokoan awakening. Our practice, this practice that Dogen is recommending, is about how we live in the world, how we bring our life into the world, and how we share what's important in our life.

It is important to see both sides as Genjokoan. Even after much experience of ongoing awakening, delusion can arise. We imagine there is something over there to grab that we want. We can imagine there is somebody over here we want to push aside. Or we can do that within ourselves in our own hearts, with our own body and mind. We can think that this part of me is wonderful, but that this part of me is yucky and thus try to get rid of it. But that kind of thinking is just delusion, yet that is how we think. This is a practice not for some fancy ideal Buddha image on an altar. This is a practice for human beings. We are deluded, deeply deluded. We are living in difficult times in a troubled world, and we are all confused and all greedy, and we are all picking and choosing. This is the world of delusion that we live in. And yet, when all of the delusions arise and experience themselves, here we are, awake.

This practice of Genjokoan is about actually fully engaging both sides, to see how we do have this deeply ingrained pattern of seeing ourselves as separate from the world. Our language, our way of thinking is determined by syntax of subject and object. So we think that we are subjects "verbing" objects to get what we want or get rid of what we do not want. Or we might feel that we are objects trying not to be "verbed" by subjects out there. Either way, this is our world of delusion; this is how we think.

And yet, also, this other side starts to arise in us. As we are willing to just settle down and be present and be upright, we can see that here we are today all breathing together. The myriad things arise. This is our world too. Do not try and get rid of one and grab a hold of the other. Just to dance in this dynamic tension of delusion and awakening, this is our life; this is how we express ourselves. This is how we can share our deepest clarity with the world, not turning away from either side. Of course it is important to see the difference, to become intimate with this whole process and try not to cause harm, not to make problems for one's self or for others.

There are a couple of other passages that I want to talk about, and I confess my delusion is that I always have more I want to try and say than there is time available. I want to talk a little about the part of Genjokoan where Dogen talks about studying the Buddha way and studying the self. He says,

To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, body and mind as well as the body and mind of others drop away.

Usually Zen students, when they hear, "To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self", they think that they are supposed to forget the self. But actually our practice is just to study the self. Studying the self is exactly forgetting the self. This is our practice-just to be the person on your cushion right now in this body and mind. We really, fully just Genjkoan this person here. Really look at the delusion and the awakening happening on your cushion or chair right now. That is forgetting the self.

There is a story about a very powerful sesshin or meditation retreat in which there were both Americans and also some Asian people present. I forget who the teacher was, but at the end he asked, "Well, how was the sesshin?" And everybody said, "Oh, it was wonderful, this was a wonderful retreat." And all the Westerners were saying, "I really feel fulfilled. I really feel like I have realized myself. I feel so much better about myself." And then the Asians said, "Oh we had a wonderful sesshin, but I felt how much I appreciated everybody else. I felt my gratitude. I felt how selfish I have been and how much I want to change myself." These are two different ways of looking at the self. Both are part of studying the self.

This study of the self is not about psychologically analyzing our self. That might be part of it, and psychology and psychotherapy can be complimentary and helpful to Zen students, but the practice that we do, sitting upright, observing this body and mind from within our body and mind, not from some idea of it, goes much deeper than just our psychological analyses. It may include those, but it is about how it is to actually be present in this body and mind, to really feel that. This is our work. This is the ongoing awakening beyond awakening.

I want to mention another couple sentences later on in this Genjokoan text about fully expressing what is most important. These two sentences have always seemed strange and somewhat paradoxical to me. This is something I have been chewing on for thirty years, and worthy of remembering, considering, and sitting with. Dogen says,

When Dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it is already sufficient. When Dharma fills your whole body and mind, you understand that something is missing.

This line, "When Dharma fills your whole body and mind, you realize that something is missing," is very deep. This goes to the first Noble Truth of suffering or unsatisfactoriness, that things are a little out of alignment, at least. But it is okay when you think that your practice is okay as it is. It means the Dharma is not yet filling your body and mind, but still, if that is what is happening, if you think it is fine as it is, okay. But please hear that Dogen says that when Dharma fills your whole body and mind, when the teaching and reality occupies you, expresses you, and arises in you completely, then you realize something is missing. The reality of our life and of the world is that there is this lack. You may feel it in yourself but actually it is not just you. You might feel that you are the only one who feels some lack, but actually this is our situation as human beings and as Buddhas. Something is missing.

The phenomenal world manifests in many particular ways. Each breath is unique. So you may all be very experienced in inhaling, and in exhaling, as we share this air together. And yet every single inhale and every single exhale is completely unique. Even while we have been sitting here creating this Dharma talk together in each moment, the situation is changing. Every thing is flowing. Who you are is shifting even though you might still remember your social security number. Reality is alive, dynamic and flowing in all directions. When we really settle into being willing to be this person, we can realize that many things are possible and also that there are many limitations. We should not get rid of our limitations, but right in our limitations, right in this particular situation of the body and mind sitting on your cushion or chair right now, many things are possible. Many things also may not be possible, but something is missing and actually this morning I can say it is very fortunate that something is missing. If you actually were complete right now, there would be nothing else to do. You would not have to take another breath. But actually the reality is that each breath you take, whether you are aware and enjoying your inhales and exhales or not, is completely necessary. If you do not take another inhale you never will take other inhales in the future. And every inhale you ever took in the past is absolutely necessary to this next one. This is how our ongoing awakening is. In each situation we still again, afresh, must Genjokoan, must find our way of expressing and sharing what is important to us. There is an old saying that Shakyamuni Buddha only got fifty percent. Something is missing.

Another way to see this is in terms of the precepts. Because something is missing, because we are actually alive, we need the guidance of how to take care of our lives together, how to be kind to each other, how to see our limitations, and how to realize our mistakes and maybe hopefully not make the same mistake too many times. We can see that there is something missing. Something more can be here on this cushion or chair. There is a limitation, but also other possibilities of sharing and expressing our love in the world. Our practice of Genjokoan is just to find how to more and more fully express and share our caring and our love in the world. In the middle of delusion and in the middle of enlightenment, we more fully express, share, and manifest our Genjokoaning, our caring, our expression of loving and receiving love in this troubled world, in the troubled world of our own hearts that are still grasping in delusion. We also manifest our Genjokoan in the troubled world of whatever sangha we are in, with the inevitable limitations that happen when particular examples of delusion and awakening rub up against each other. In our world at large, how do we share our caring with the world?