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Kaz Tanahashi writes: “He [Dogen] repeatedly emphasizes the interpenetration of practice and enlightenment. “Practice” here means ongoing daily activity centered in zazen. “Enlightenment” is actualization of Buddha nature through practice (page 19).”[1]

Thus Dogen img_9740believed there could be no separation between practice and enlightenment.  Enlightenment is practice and practice is enlightenment.  So if you are thinking that enlightenment is when you’re meditating, and you get the great AH HA or a bolt of lightening flashes through your brain, or you can walk on water or elevate yourself while sitting on the cushion yes it is and no it isn’t. Thus he called this “practice-enlightenment.”  And yet he kept on sitting and meditating and cooking rice while at the same time experiencing enlightenment.

He remained “non-attached” to the outcome, he held on to no particular aim he just went about doing what came before him.  Washing dishes, cooking, sitting, writing poetry, and making his bed. With each motion and action and thought he was there fully aware that this was his practice-enlightenment.  Still he stayed non-attached to whatever it was he was doing.  If the rice got burned or the flower died he did not ruminate over it, he simply let it go and started a new pot of rice and planted a new flower.

When was the last time you were able to do that?  Kaz writes, “Once a person is entirely free from attachment he experiences all things without any preconceptions. This experience is itself realization (page 19).”  This experience is not easy, but it is powerful! Once I am free of my attachments and my preconceptions I am in the field of practice-enlightenment where peace lives and grows.

Dogen wrote this beautiful poem which for me is all about practice-enlightenment:

Unusual Expression

Flowers in spring
Cuckoos in summer
Moon in autumn
Snow in winter
Serene and cool

What a beautiful picture of practice-enlightenment yet so powerfully simple. It reminds me of the famous Zen Proverb: “Before enlightenment chop wood-carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.”

 

[1] Tanahashi, K. (1985) Moon in a Dewdrop Writings of Zen Master Dogen North Point Press: New York

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