June 17, 2009

Practice and Personal Certainty

It's Wednesday and there's a Dharma talk tonight. So, I'm going to speak about Dogen Zenji's teaching on "personal certainty." The section of SHOBOGENZO is the chapter from "Bendowa" and the translation is by Rev. Hubert Nearman of Shasta Abbey. This translation is clear and accessible. As I do read other translations, I return again and again to the Nearman work because it has a particular openness to it. It resonates with tremendous love. I don't know how else to say it. This translation is available to everyone by going to the Shasta Abbey website: www.shastaabbey.org. You may download the pdf file to your desktop and have it available for reading every day. The great part about the pdf file is that you can do a word search to easily find references throughout this monumental work.

So, in this brief Dharma talk I'm using this teaching from Dogen Zenji:
"In the realm where one's own awakening awakens others, from the very moment that you are provided with personal certainty, there's no hanging on to it, AND, once your personal certainty begins to function, you must see to it that it never ceases."

We've spoken in the past about confidence in practice, but what does Dogen Zenji mean by "personal certainty"? This is something different from confidence. Some important things to understand is what it is not. Dogen Zenji does not mean the kind of egoistic sureness that results when we think we know something and we want to show the whole world. Intellectualizing practice, the Dharma, only displays our ignorance. This is another form of egoism. Psychological conjecturing would miss the mark and would be so closely related to the intellectual as to be nearly the same. Certainty that comes from taking a stand on religious doctrine could blind us to our own delusion. When we are sure of something because it appears to be logical, well this too is not what Dogen Zenji is pointing toward.

This "once you are provided with personal certainty" and "there's no hanging on to it" are both important clues. "...once you are provided" means that we are given the means of awakening. We are blessed with a moment that allows us to realize our true nature. That moment is a pure gift, a provision of the Dharma, a fruit of practice. It is not something that we can manufacture by our intellectual thinking or by our logical patterns. It is rather a window into our true nature, Buddha Nature, that opens and we realize it is practice itself.

"...there's no hanging on to it" tells us that we cannot grasp and arrest awakening. It is outside of intellection, and because we cannot hang on to it, we know that personal certainty is the confirmation of Buddha Nature. It is the selfless direct experience which cannot be hung on to. Try to hang on to it and it's over, gone, out of reach. "No hanging on to it" tells us that we have to walk in personal certainty every moment if we are to live the vow we chant, "to make every effort to live in enlightenment." It means to walk without hanging on to anything.

"AND, once your personal certainty begins to function," means the true functioning of practice is awakened in us so that we go straight ahead with the understanding of the one practice-awakening which is the same for all. We realize there is no difference between the one and the all. There is simply practice. The true functioning of practice is to recognize the no ownership of practice. Just, one practice, the same for all. "Begins to function" is the opening of the seed of Dharma. We recognize what is inherent, like the nature of our heartbeat. It functions totally and we haven't to force it to work (when the body is well). Perhaps to point to the sun and moon, we see that they simply perform their function. Buddha Nature functioning in us is like that. We realize it is there because it always was there.

Then, "you must see to it that it never ceases." This means that once we recognize the nature of practice-awakening, once we know the selfless direct experience, we become personal certainty itself, never stopping the heart of practice. This experience of Buddha Nature cannot be denied, wouldn't want to be denied. Then we make "every effort to live in enlightenment." The road ahead is open and clear. What else is there?

One very important point comes up from the very first clause of Dogen's writing: "In the realm where one's own awakening awakens others," means that we completely recognize our own reflection and we recognize the true morality of relationship in how we live. What we do must be a reflection of Buddha Nature. When we see the Buddha in another, we are astounded by that light. That other person sees a reflection of our seeing that light. When our own awakening gives light to another, we "must see to it that it never ceases."

So, every day, we simply do the best we can.