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Barbara O'Brien

Master Dogen's Vow

By September 12, 2013

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My Zen center has begun ango, an intensive training period loosely based on Vassa, the rains retreat. Since we're mostly a lay sangha we don't spend ango inside a monastery. Instead we are challenged to take our home practice up a notch.

We are also working with a text, which is Master Dogen's Vow. Dogen is the 13th century master who brought Soto Zen to Japan. Since we're a Soto Zen sangha, Dogen study is a big agenda item. But you might enjoy the vow also. This is just the first verse:

From this life throughout countless lives,
we vow with all beings to hear the true Dharma.
Hearing it, no doubt arises, nor is faith lacking.
Meeting and maintaining it, we renounce worldly affairs,
and together with all beings and the great earth
realize the Buddha Way.

I'd like to unpack this just a little --

Reading this, you might think this vow is way beyond where your practice is right now. Maybe you have lots of doubts. Maybe you're nowhere close to renouncing worldly affairs. But here is another way to look at it.

As a young monk Dogen was driven by a particular question. His teachers told him that all beings possess Buddha Nature. If so, he wondered, why is it necessary to practice? His resolution to this question is central to his teachings.

We usually think of practice and enlightenment as a  linear process -- we practice for awhile, and then maybe we "get enlightened." However, Kazuaki Tanahashi writes that Dogen also saw this process as circular --

For him, each moment of practice encompasses enlightenment, and each moment of enlightenment encompasses practice. In other words, practice and enlightenment--process and goal-are inseparable. The circle of practice is complete even at the beginning. This circle of practice-enlightenment is renewed moment after moment. . . . In this view you don't journey toward enlightenment, but you let enlightenment unfold.

So faith -- in the sense of trust or confidence -- is already present. Enlightenment is already present. You don't have to "get" it;  just let it unfold. The vow is an expression of what already is, even if we aren't aware of it.

September 12, 2013 at 6:12 pm
(1) Robert Hess says:

Thank you Barbara.

September 12, 2013 at 7:41 pm
(2) Martin says:

This is no more evident than the beginning of practice. To start is enlightenment in itself. Simply put understanding in and of itself is enlightenment. Therefore, as we continue on our path of understanding we are constantly (we hope) enlightened. Yes, they intertwine for enlightenment begs more understanding. If we stop at some point we then risk becoming stale (which has happened to me). To understand requires learning. I feel I have said enough already, lest i be accused of being circular.

September 12, 2013 at 11:40 pm
(3) yolanda says:

A Lotus to all ~@-}}}}}}—————–
Thank you Barbara for sharing this Dharma. Peace to all.Indeed we all have Buddha Nature. I just like to say that this web site is a pond where to sit by and just be. Tolerance are within your words and the way you give credit to the Masters.
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

September 14, 2013 at 3:05 am
(4) Hein says:

“what already is” is like America before it was “discovered” by Columbus…enlightenment is already there…one just need to go to it with practice…that is; if you dare… :)

September 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm
(5) loosegrip says:

ah, that’s awesome. I get brief moments of clarity in my practice and have often wondered if these are little bits of enlightenment. thanks.

September 15, 2013 at 11:14 am
(6) Roger says:

Thank you very much Barbara! As a novice in Buddhist practice, I find your postings on this site very valuable! The information you share is helping me and I do appreciate your guidance. Wishing you wonderful moments!

September 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm
(7) Alka Kumar says:

Thank You Barbara for sharing this valuable information . This newsletter
is helping me to practice Buddha way in more better way.
I am studying how different religious philosophies has influenced Women’s health and empowerment

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