Posts Tagged ‘How to Raise An Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo’

Along the riverbank under the trees,Oxherding_pictures,_No._2
I discover footprints.
Even under the fragrant grass,
I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces can no more be hidden
than one’s nose, looking heavenward.

Koller writes this about the second picture and the verse:

The second picture shows that the oxherd has now caught sight of the tracks of the ox, bringing hope that his ox is not lost forever. This could be interpreted to mean that he has recognized his distress and has begun to seek for a solution in the teachings of Buddhism or in other teachings. But he is still at the stage of thinking and talking about his problems and various possible solutions. He has not yet found a path to follow and has not yet started to practice.[1]

For each of us as we move through the days of our lives we find ourselves searching, thinking, dreaming, seeing, and planning for that perfect oneness and perfection or solution to life’s mysteries. I can reflect on my own “footprints” reliving the conversation or encounter with an old friend or family member.  Or remembering a verse I read or a course I studied at school or in the Zendo.  Or seeing the traces of my life and thoughts and actions.  I begin to search for the answer that I thought I had discovered in that study group or class or relationship.

As I begin to study the principles of Zen my “nose” begins “looking heavenward” as the poem says.  I begin to see footprints leading me toward something of which I do not know just yet.  At the same time Roshi Robert Kennedy invites me to “…let go of everything we thought we were certain of (page 20).”[2]

Let us not move toward a “fixed truth that might hinder us” but let us move each moment where the experience takes us allowing life to flow at its own pace, form, and destination.

The most exciting and important adventures in life were the ones that we least expected.  Open your mind to see what is here in the moment and remember that “truth” changes with time and experience, cling to nothing, enjoy everything—without attachment—and be ready for the next adventure in living!

In gassho, Shokai

[1] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

[2] Kennedy, R. (2004) Zen Gifts to Christians. NY: Continuum

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My dear teacher, Mitch Doshin Cantor, sent me another wonderful book about Dogen, How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo by Francis Dojun Cook.  In the introduction he writes, “To sit upright with straight back, with mind and body unified, empty and unattached to internal and external events—this is itself Buddha wisdom; this is Buddha mind. Dogen teaches that, rather than do zazen for some purpose, one sits quietly, without expectation, in jijuyu Samadhi, simply to enjoy one’s own inherent nature, without question of means and ends (page 5).’”[1]

What a relief to know that we can sit for no reason at all.  That our time spent in meditation need not be something which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It need not be to find enlightenment, peace, joy, or decreased blood pressure.  It can simply be “because.”  Just “this.” It can be done with no expectations or preconceived notions or rules of sitting or posture or pain or no pain.  Just sitting.

And if that day the “sitting” is difficult or easy–so what.  You can make it fun, simple, hard, or awkward—you can label it whatever you want or label it nothing at all.  Simply sit with no expectations, or criticisms, or worries, or judgments.  If we sit to replicate the outcome of enlightenment that Shakyamuni Buddha had we have not learned that we are already Buddhahood. This is what he discovered under the Bodhi tree. Dojun says in his book, “Then why did he [Shakyamuni Buddha] continue to sit in jijuyu samadhi? Because he was just manifesting and enjoying his Buddhahood (page 5).”[2]

So why sit?  He goes on to say, “Buddhism is an experiential religion in which this real-making process actualizes Buddha nature as a concrete, lived reality.  Therefore, because practice is absolutely necessary for making our inherent Buddha nature a lived reality, practice never ends (page 7).[3]

So whether you are sitting on the cushion, on the chair in the kitchen eating a meal, or on the couch, or at your desk take time to just “sit” as Shakyamuni Buddha did under the bodhi tree before and after his enlightenment experience.  Hold no expectations just bask in the moment of quiet, peace, and eternity that lives within you every moment of every day.  Be free.

Dojun goes on to write, “This practice is very simple, but also very difficult.  It is our human nature to pick and choose, to desire and loathe, to form myriad attitudes and judgments toward the events of our lives.  This practice is difficult because it demands of us that we simply cease that picking and choosing, desiring and loathing. A contemporary Zen master has said that ‘Zen is picking up your coat from the floor and hanging it up.” Nothing could be simpler (page 8).”[4]

Try it I think you’ll like it.


Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day simply sitting wherever I am without expectations.

2.  I will remind myself that even Shakyamuni Buddha continued to sit.

3.  I will remember that “nothing could be simpler.”

4.  Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.

[1] Cook, F.D., (2002) How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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