In his essay, “Mountains and Rivers Sutra”, 13th century Zen master Eihei Dogen says, “ ‘In the mountains’ means the blossoming of the entire world.” This phrase, “the blossoming of the entire world,” comes from a poem that Prajnatara, a sixth century Indian monk, wrote for his student, Bodhidharma, who was the first Zen teacher in China. Pajnatara’s poem goes like this:
From the mind ground seeds sprout
Reality appears in all its forms
It grows until the fruit is full, and enlightenment is complete
The flower opens and the whole world arises.
This poem expresses a basic teaching from Buddhist mind-only philosophy, in which there is no fundamental difference between consciousness and matter. Matter is a form of consciousness. Consciousness produces matter. That’s why, by entering fully into our own human consciousness, we can embrace and understand all of space and time. Through Zen practice, we can rest deeply in consciousness and realize that each detail of our lives is a full expression of that greater consciousness. And this is true for all of creation; it is as true for a rock or a plant as it is for a human being. Everything is included in consciousness. That’s why Dogen says that a flower blossoms and the whole world opens up.
Anyone who has witnessed a human birth understands this. You could say, “Well, there’s too many people on the Earth, so what’s the big deal about another birth?” But that’s not what we feel. Instead we feel that the whole world is different now, this is a miracle. The feeling is unmistakable. We feel hope for the whole world at that moment of birth. That’s what Dogen means when he says, “ ‘In the mountains’ means the blossoming of the entire world.” Reality is reborn with every flower that blooms.
But in our ordinary daily lives, we somehow place ourselves outside of this reality and don’t really know or understand the mystery of our own existence. There are two kinds of not knowing. In one kind you are in the middle of your life, and you really appreciate your life with all its joys and sorrows. You live fully and know that you are connected to everyone and everything, even though you don’t really understand how and you know you never will understand. That’s one kind of not understanding.
The other kind of not understanding makes us grumpy and brings suffering. With this kind of not understanding we make everyone around us suffer as well, and we can’t accept not understanding. We think we should understand; we think that someone else does understand. So we make up stories that give us the illusion of understanding. Most world religions are based on these stories.
Suggested practice: Take some time to reflect on how much you don’t understand about the miracle of life. How much of what you think you understand is based on old stories that others have told you. In this way, fully enter the mystery of “not understanding.”
Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Sakura-ji, Creston’s zendo. This column is part of a long essay on an essay by 13th century Zen master Eihei Dogen and is inspired by the teaching of Norman Fishcher. For more information, Minogue can be reached at 250-428-6500, and previous columns are available at www.zenwords.net.