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Genjōkōan, from the Shōbōgenzō, by Dōgen

Translated by Charles Muller

November 8, 2004

When all dharmas are the Buddha-dharma, there is delusion and enlightenment, there is practice, there is life and death, there are Buddhas and sentient beings. When all dharmas are not present in the self, there is neither delusion nor enlightenment, neither Buddhas nor sentient beings, neither life nor death. Since the Buddha path originally transcends abundance and lack, there is life and death, there is delusion and enlightenment, there are sentient beings and Buddhas. Yet even though you can say it is like this, flowers only fall in our love for them and weeds only grow to our dislike for them. Using the self to correct and ascertain all dharmas is delusion. To correct and ascertain oneself in the progress of all things is enlightenment. Those who greatly enlighten illusion are Buddhas; those who have great illusion in enlightenment are sentient beings. There are those who further attain enlightenment in enlightenment, and there are those who have further delusion within delusion. When all buddhas truly realize their buddhahood, they do not utilize the awareness that the self is Buddha; nonetheless they become actualized buddhas and as buddhas go on actualizing. We see forms with our whole body/mind and hear sounds with our whole body/mind. But even though we perceive these things exactly, it is not like light reflecting in a mirror, and it is not like the moon and water — when one side is witnessed the other side is obscured. To study the Buddha-way is to study oneself. To study oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to be witnessed by all dharmas. To be actualized by all dharmas is drop off one's own body and mind as well as the body and mind of others. There is the erasure of the marks of enlightenment, and the erased traces of enlightenment are permanently transcended.

When one first seeks the dharma, he becomes distantly separated from its confines. When one receives the correct transmission of dharma already within oneself, he directly becomes the "man of the original share."

When you are riding in a boat and you look directly at the shore, you mistakenly perceive the shore to be moving, but when you look more closely at the boat, you will perceive that it is actually the boat which is moving. Similarly, if you try to understand all existences while your body and mind are confused, you will mistakenly perceive the self-nature of your body and mind to be eternal. If you practice impeccably and return to "just this" the reality that all things have no self will become clear.

Once wood turns into ash, it cannot again become wood. Nonetheless, you should not think that "wood is prior and ash is after." You should know that firewood, abiding in the dharma-state of firewood has before and after. But even though it has before and after, before and after are distinct from each other. Ash has its dharma-status as ash and has before and after. In the same way that wood, after becoming ash cannot again become wood, people, after dying, cannot again come to life. Despite this, not being able to say that life doesn't turn into death is a fact explicated in the Buddha-dharma. Therefore we say "unborn." Death's not turning into life is also affirmed as a Buddhist teaching, and therefore the term "indestructible." Life is momentary and so is death. This is similar to the case of winter and spring.

The human being's reception of enlightenment is like the moon's reflecting in water—the moon does not get wet, and the water is undisturbed. Even such a huge vast light can be contained in a small amount of water; the whole moon and the vast heavens can be contained in the dew on the grass, or in a single drop of water. Enlightenment's not disrupting the person is just like the moon's not upsetting the water. People's not being a hindrance to enlightenment is just like the dewdrop's not being a hindrance to the stars and moon. Length and brevity of time fully penetrates vast and small waters and applies itself to the breadth and narrowness of the stars and moon.

When one has not fully realized the dharma in his entire body and mind, he thinks he has already mastered the dharma. When one fully actualizes the dharma, he is aware of his lack in a certain aspect. For example, when one is in a boat far out in the sea where no mountains are visible and he looks in around him, all he sees is a big circle, and does not see any sort of distinct characteristics. Yet even though this great sea is actually not round and not square, he never plumbs the depths of the qualities that make up the ocean, such as palaces and jewels. As far as our eyes can see, there is merely a fleeting view of roundness. In the same way [in reality] myriads of dharmas remain unapprehended. Even though the multifarious ways of being, mundane and transmundane, are already present, one is only able to see and perceive according to the level of his insight based on meditation. You should know that if we investigate the different ways of being of the myriad dharmas, beyond seeing round and square, the amount of remaining "sea qualities and mountain qualities" is limitless, and that there are worlds in the four directions. It is not just the external world that is like this; you should know that it is also so within yourself and within even a single drop of water.

When a fish swims through the water, no matter how far it swims, the water is limitless, and when a bird flies through the air, no matter how far it flies, the sky is limitless. Still, the fishes and birds have never been separated from the water or the sky. Whenever the need is great the use is great; whenever the need is small the usage is small. In this way, even though there is nothing in which they have not exhausted the limits, and there is not a place to which they have not gone, if a bird was to be separated from the sky it would quickly die, and if a fish was to be separated from the sky, it would quickly die. Please understand "taking water as life" and "taking air as life." There is also "taking the bird as life," as well as "taking the fish as life." There should also be "taking life as bird," and "taking life as fish." We could, of course, continue in this way. The existence of "practice and realization" and the existence of "longevity and life" are the same as this.

Nonetheless, if, after the water and air have been completely explored, there was a fish or a bird that tried to follow through the air or water, they would be neither able to pick up on any certain path, nor any certain location. Attaining this path and actualizing this practice is doing the present realization of the indecidable. Attaining this path and actualizing this practice is the present actualization of the indecidable. Since in this path and in this locus, there is neither great nor small, neither self nor other, neither before nor after, nor present appearance, it is just like this.

However, in just this way, when a person practices and realizes the Buddha Path, attaining one dharma is to fully penetrate one dharma, and encountering one practice is to develop one practice. Here there is a place, and depending upon the penetration of the Path the unknowability of the limitations of knowing, well, this knowledge comes only with the full mastery of the Buddha-dharma, and because of the study of it together with others. Since whatever is attained always becomes one's own view, there is no learning of the fact that it cannot be known by discrimination. Even if you thoroughly realize it and practice it, marvelous existence is not necessarily manifest, and what is it anyhow, that is visibly manifest?

The Chan master Baoche of Mayu, when cooling himself with his fan, was approached by a monk who asked: "The nature of the wind is eternal and there is no place where it does not reach; why then reverend, are you cooling yourself with the fan?"

The master said: "You still only know that the nature of the wind is eternal. You have still not know the reality of the wind's not having any place where it does not reach."

The monk said: "What is the fundamental reality of 'no place where it does not reach?' "

The master just fanned himself.

The monk bowed deeply.

The completely experienced Buddha dharma and the correctly transmitted living path are just like this. To say that you shouldn't use the fan because the nature of wind is eternal, or to say that the wind will have no effect without the use of the fan, is to not understand "eternally abiding" or "the nature of the wind." Because the nature of the wind is eternally abiding, it is the style of the Buddha's house to presently manifest the Yellow gold of the Great Earth, and to turn great rivers into sweet milk.