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Dogen’s commentary on a koan about insentient beings went like this:

Only the insentient know the dharma they speak of,

Just as walls, grass, and trees know spring,

Ordinary and sacred are not hemmed in by boundaries,

Nor are mountains and rivers; sun, moon, or stars (page 171).[1]

It is time we stop trying to categorize things and surround them with boundaries.  It is time we stop naming some things sacred, blessed, beautiful, and bountiful and the like and other things, non-sacred, limited, dead, or preceded by these types of adjectives.  Doing this allows us to pollute the world we live in and make it okay to destroy forests, and lakes, and rivers, because they are so called “insentient” things. They can’t think, they don’t have emotions, and can’t feel pain.

But Dogen saw the life and dharma in all things and gave us the wisdom in his teachings to find our inner compassion and beauty and direct it with our eyes and ears to all things on this earth.

Imagine what this world would be like if we took this viewpoint.  Every time we walked down the street and saw a stone shimmer, or a flower blow with the breeze, or admired the sounds of the birds, and we viewed this as seeing and hearing the dharma, the world would be a better place in which to live.  There would be less opportunity for anger, violence, wars, pollution, deforestation, and hatred to manifest through humankind.  We would begin to understand that “the ordinary and sacred” have no boundaries. He responded as well with this poem:

How splendid! How wondrous!

Inconceivable! Insentient beings speak dharma.

The ears never hear it—

Only the eyes (page170).[2]

So what is the dharma anyway? Buddhism recognizes these “laws” or universal truths such as the 10 Paramitas and the 16 Buddhist Precepts.  Dogen was addressing this teaching for us trying to guide us into a place where we, like Shakyamuni Buddha, could experience them.  They are not something that can be transmitted by words or actions, but must be experientially manifested while sitting and while living life with a wonderment and respect for all things sentient and insentient.

You may not hear the sound of the stone, or the sound of the orchid growing in the pot, but the eyes can see their beauty and it can permeate your consciousness and lead you to a place of serenity, compassion, and love for all—sentient and insentient.  That is the goal of Buddhism and the dharma.

How splendid!  How wondrous!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day looking for those “insentient beings speaking the dharma.”

2.  I will remind myself to be compassionate to them.

3.  I will remember that the ordinary and the sacred are not hemmed in by boundaries.

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] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

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