Peacemakers Tenets and Eihei Dogen
three Core Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers,
1. Not-knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and
2. Bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world; and
3. Loving Actions
are based on three concepts to which Dogen Zenji gave expression
more than 750 years ago. Those are hi shiryo (Non-thinking,) shikantaza
(Just Sitting), and Butsudo (Way of Awakening.)
Let me explain what I mean through the use of a koan. The Koan is
a simple one , the fourth case of the Gateless Gate by Mumonkan.
The main case is one question: Why does the Western Barbarian have
The Western Barbarian refers to Bodhidharma, who came from the west
(from India to China.) “Why did Bodhidharma come to the East?”
is a metaphor for the question, “What is Zen?” We say
that Zen is life. So what is this Zen? What is this life we are
talking about? If Zen is life itself, then what’s the point
of talking about bringing it from one country to another? What is
being transmitted? These are the questions in that Koan. Of course,
Bodhidharma is not some figure that lived many, many years ago.
Bodhidharma is us, all of us. It’s our teachers that come
carrying the torch. It’s all of us coming from wherever we
came from, to the places we are. Why are we here? What are we carrying?
What are our teachers carrying? What is it that we want to receive?
And what is it that we don’t want to receive?
There are a number of ways of looking at koans. For example, we
use them to illustrate points. We write about them. So I’m
writing about this koan in order to illustrate something. Another
is to become the koan. This is actual koan practice. In this case,
become the Western barbarian! Become the beard! Become Bodhidharma!
To pass the koan is to experience the state that’s being presented,
This first condition of being brings us to Non-thinking. In Fukanzazengi,
Dogen Zenji says: “How do you think of non-thinking? He answers,
“Non-thinking.” This is in itself the essence of zazen.”
Non-thinking is the state the koan wants us to experience. It is
nothing other than the state of not-knowing, the state of at-one-ment,
of being one, of being Buddha, of being the Three Treasures (Buddha,
Dharma, Sangha), of Be-ing, of returning to the One. That’s
a very difficult place to experience. This is the place where we
don’t know what’s right, what’s wrong. This is
the place of just being, of life itself. How many of us can say
that we are open to all the ways of all lives, of all beings and
non-beings and sprits? How many of us can say that we don’t
have the answer, the right way? Or, how many us can say that every
way that’s being presented is the right way?
Working on the koan also pushes us into the state of non-separation.
The sixth ancestor in China, Hui-neng, defines Zazen as the state
of mind in which there is no separation between subject and object,
no space between I and Thou, you and me, up and down, right or wrong.
This is Shikantaza. Six years ago I began to translate Shikantaza
into Bearing Witness. For me, Shikantaza becomes a form of bearing
witness to the wholeness of life, to ending our denial of the oneness
of our life. As human beings each one of us is denying something.
Each one of us is aware of certain aspects of life which we do not
want to deal with. Usually, this is because we are afraid of them.
Sometimes it’s society that is in denial about certain aspects
and we go along with it. Shikantaza allows us to bear witness to
all of life.
A symptom of separation, a symptom of duality, is found in the word
why. Many koans start with that word. “Why has Bodhidharma,
the Western Barbarian, no beard?” Why! That’s the symptom
of duality. Why do we wake up at the sound of the alarm clock? Why
do we do this, do that? Why do we need rules and regulation? Why
do we need forms? Why this form? Why is grass green? Eliminate the
word why and again we come back to bearing witness. Think of Shakyamuni’s
life and of his father trying to isolate him from suffering, from
old age and death, from renunciates. That is a metaphor for the
denial of, or separation from, those aspects of ourselves or of
society that we are afraid of or not ready to deal with.
For me the importance of bearing witness to what is denied grew
out of doing Shikantaza, out of bearing witness to life as a whole.
When I bear witness, I learn, I open to what is. There’s a
healing process in that. This is the second Tenet of the Zen Peacemakers,
Bearing Witness. Bearing witness to things that I am denying or
that society is denying. Bearing witness to the things I don’t
want to deal with.
So if we work on the Koan, being Bodhidharma, just feeling the beard,
being the beard, we see all the problems; the food that gets stuck
in the beard, the molds that grow. We learn how to clean it, how
to comb it, how to become one with it, how to be Bodhidharma. Taking
care. The beard teaches us. And the things that we are in denial
about teach us. We don’t go to them to teach them. They teach
us. And they teach when we can listen, when we can bear witness.
And bearing witness is for me Shikantaza.
For me the flowering of Shikantaza, the flowering of bearing witness,
is Butsudo, the way of awakening. In his chapter entitled Butsudo
in Shobogenzo, Dogen Zenji writes that the Way is not to create
new sects and labels, creating new separations: “Thus we should
vow to find him (the World-Honored One) and to serve him in many
lives. Thus we should desire to meet Buddha and to hear the Dharma
in many lives.” The path is not one of this or that, of this
practice or that practice, of this sect or that sect. The path is
one of awakening to the oneness of life, and functioning out of
Many years ago in L.A. I had an experience in which I felt, I saw,
the suffering of the hungry spirits. I was surrounded by all kinds
of suffering beings. Almost immediately I made a vow to serve them,
to feed them. How do we feed them? By raising the Bodhi Mind. That’s
the food for the hungry spirits. Raising the Bodhi mind the supreme
meal is offered. What good is it if we just make ourselves more
holy? What’s the point? The point is to serve, to offer, to
be the offering. Of itself the fruit is born.
So out of our Shikantaza, out of our bearing witness, the right
action arises. We don’t have to worry about what we to do.
If we become the state of not-knowing, if we truly do Shikantaza,
the offering will arise. Fruit will be born, which is nothing other
than the bone and marrow of the Tathagatha.