The Actualization of Enlightenment
by Eihei Dogen
Translated by Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens, 1975
all things are the Buddha-dharma, there is enlightenment, illusion, practice,
life, death, Buddhas, and sentient beings. When all things are seen not to have
any substance, there is no illusion or enlightenment, no Buddhas or sentient beings,
no birth, or destruction. Originally the Buddhist Way transcends itself and any
idea of abundance or lack--still there is birth and destruction, illusion and
enlightenment, sentient beings and Buddhas. Yet people hate to see flowers fall
and do not like weeds to grow.
It is an illusion to try to carry out our practice
and enlightenment through ourselves, but to have practice and enlightenment through
phenomena, that is enlightenment. To have great enlightenment about illusion is
to be a Buddha. To have great illusion about enlightenment is to be a sentient
being. Further, some are continually enlightened beyond enlightenment but some
add more and more illusion.
When Buddhas become Buddhas, it is not necessary
for them to be aware they are Buddhas. However, they are still enlightened Buddhas
and continually realize Buddha. Through body and mind we can comprehend the form
and sound of things. They work together as one. However, if it not like the reflection
of shadow in a mirror, or the moon reflected in the water. If you look at only
one side, the other is dark.
To learn the Buddhist way is to learn about oneself.
To learn about oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to perceive
oneself as all things. To realize this is to cast off the body and mind of self
and others. When you have reached this stage you will be detached even from enlightenment
but will practice it continually without thinking about it.
When people seek
the Dharma [outside themselves] they are immediately far removed from its true
location. When the Dharma has been received through the right transmission, one's
real self immediately appears.
If you are in a boat, and you only look at
the riverbank, you will think that the riverbank is moving; but if you look at
the boat, you will discover that the boat itself is actually moving. Similarly,
if you try to understand the nature of phenomena only through your own confused
perception you will mistakenly think that your nature is eternal. Furthermore,
if you have the right practice and return to your origin then you will see that
all things have no permanent self.
Once firewood is reduced to ashes, it cannot
return to firewood; but we should not think of ashes as the potential stare of
firewood or vice-versa. Ash is completely ash and firewood is firewood. They have
their own past, future, and independent existence.
Similarly, when human beings
die, they cannot return to life; but in Buddhist teaching we never say that life
changes into death. This is an established teaching of the Buddhist Dharma. We
call it "non-becoming." Likewise, death cannot change into life. This
is another principle of Buddha's Law. This is called "non-destruction".
Life and death have absolute existence, like the relationship of winter and spring.
But do not think of winter changing into spring or spring to summer.
human beings attain enlightenment, it is like the moon reflected in the water.
The moon appears in the water but does not get wet nor is the water disturbed
by the moon. Furthermore the light of the moon covers the earth and yet it can
be contained in small pool of water, a tiny dewdrop, or even one minuscule drop
Just as the moon does not trouble the water in any way, do not think
enlightenment causes people difficulty. Do not consider enlightenment an obstacle
in your life. The depths of the dewdrop cannot contain the heights of the moon
and the sky.
When the True Law is not totally attained, both physically and
mentally, there is a tendency to think that we posses the complete Law and our
work is finished. If the Dharma is completely present, there is a realization
of ones insufficiencies.
For example, if you take a boat to the middle of
the ocean, beyond the sight of any mountains, and look in all four directions,
the ocean appear round. However, the ocean is not round, and its virtue is limitless.
It is like a palace and an adornment of precious jewels. But to us, the ocean
seems to be one large circle of water.
So we see this can be said of all things.
Depending on the viewpoint we see things in different ways. Correct perception
depends upon the amount of ones study and practice. In order to understand various
types of viewpoints we must study the numerous aspects and virtues of mountains
and oceans, rather than just circles. We should know that it is not only so all
around us but also within us--even in a single drop of water.
Fish in the
ocean find the water endless and birds think the sky is without limits. However,
neither fish nor birds have been separated from their element. When their need
is great, their utilization is great, when their need is small, the utilization
is small. They fully utilize every aspect to its utmost--freely, limitlessly.
However, we should know that if birds are separated from their own element they
will die. We should know hat water is life for fish and the sky is life for birds.
In the sky, birds are life; and in the water, fish are life. Many more conclusions
can be drawn like this. There is practice and enlightenment [like the above relationships
of sky and birds, fish and water]. However, after the clarification of water and
sky, we can see that if there are birds or fish, that try to enter the sky or
water, they cannot find either a way or a place. If we understand this point,
there is actualization of enlightenment in our daily life. If we attain this Way,
all our actions are the actualization of enlightenment. This Way, this place,
is not great or small, self or others, neither past or present--it exists just
as it is.
Like this, if we practice and realize the Buddhist way we can master
and penetrate each dharma; and we can confront and master any one practice. There
is a place where we can penetrate the Way and find the extent of knowable perceptions.
This happens because our knowledge co-exists simultaneously with the ultimate
fulfillment of the Buddhist Dharma.
After this fulfillment becomes the basis
of our perception, do not think that our perception is necessarily understood
by the intellect. Although enlightenment is actualized quickly, it is not always
totally manifested [it is too profound an inexhaustible for our limited intellect].
One day, when Zen Master Hotestsu of Mt. Mayoku was fanning himself, a monk
approached and asked, "The nature of wind never changes and blows everywhere
so why are you using a fan."
The master replied, "Although you know
the nature of wind never changes you do not know the meaning of blowing everywhere".
The monk then said, "Well, what does it mean?" Hotetsu did not speak
but only continue to fan himself. Finally the monk understood and bowed deeply
The experience, the realization, and the living, right transmission
of the Buddhist Dharma is like this. To say it is not necessary to use a fan because
the nature of the wind never changes and there will be wind even without one means
that he does not know the real meaning of "never changes" or the wind's
nature. Just as the wind's nature never changes, the wind of Buddhism makes the
earth golden and cause the rivers to flow with sweet, fermented milk.
was written in mid-autumn, 1233, and given to the lay disciple Yo-ko-shu of Kyushu.