Transmission for and according to Dogen by Jean Zanetsu Zuber

Transmission for and according  to Dogen by Jean Zanetsu Zuber

Transmission for and according to Dogen.

By Jean Zanetsu Zuber

At the end of this July camp there will be ordinations of nuns and bodhisattvas. During this ceremony, the teacher transmits the teaching of the Buddha, and he gives several things that symbolize and materialize this transmission: the precepts, a new name, the ketsumyaku, an act that certifies their blood line in the Dharma with the Buddha, through the master who ordains them, and a rakusu. Monks and nuns also receive a bowl and a kesa.

I would like to dwell on the transmission, such as Dôgen presents it in the Shôbôgenzô, in the Menjû chapter.

Transmission, the heart of our practice.

The event, both in time and beyond time, which is the foundation and the heart of our practice, it is the Buddha’s Awakening and the transmission of this Awakening in order to save sentient beings, to «bring the multitude of beings to the ‘other shore’. The Buddha transmits the Dharma, the Law, which is in fact the natural functioning of the Universe: an interdependent Universe, impermanent, and therefore not-self, emptiness.

This transmission can only be from one Awakened being to another Awakened being, and it is manifested in the story with the famous episode of the flower that the Buddha turns between his fingers and opens “Menju”. This chapter is a meditation on the transmission that is given and received (jü) through the face (men), in other words face to face transmission. Sitting in the midst of a million followers, the enlightened Shâkyamuni twirled a flower (…) and blinked his eye. At that moment, Mahakasyapa smiled at him (…). The awakened Shâkyamuni then said:  “I have in me the True Law, the treasure of the eye, the sublime heart of Nirvana, which I transmit to Kasyapa”.

For Dogen, this even is  “the principle of the Way according to which the true Law, Treasure of the Eye was transmitted face to face from one who is awake to one who is awake, from a patriarch to a patriarch, from generation to generation”. The Eye of the Awakened One is the true vision of things, beyond our illusions and our dualistic vision. It is the vision of the enlightened, which is beyond our human eye.

Dogen notes that this transmission has been without interruption since the seven awakened ones of the past (Shâkyamuni and the six Buddhas who precede him) to his master Tendô Nyojo, and that this transmission is none other than the “realization as the presence of the gateway of the Law, transmitted face to face from an awakened person, from a patriarch to a patriarch”.

Dôgen and Nyojo

The transmission received from Master Nyojo was for Dôgen an essential event:» First, I offered incense and I prostrated myself ceremoniously before my late master, the old Buddha Tendô [ie Nyojo] in his private apartment …). He too saw me for the first time. Then he gave me the Dharma face to face, our fingers touching each other, and said to me : « The door of the Dharma of the face to face transmission, from Buddha to Buddha, from Patriarch to Patriarch, is instantly realized. « in his eyes, this transmission is the equivalent of the flower transmitted to Kasyapa, the transmission of Bodhidharma to Eka, the 2nd Chinese patriarch, and the transmission of the fifth Chinese patriarch to Eno.

The chapter ends with the same episode, which further underlines the importance of the event. Dôgen says: ” I was able to accomplish the transmission face to face, abandoning the body and mind, and this transmission I have established in Japan”.

What Nyojo transmits to his disciple and what Dôgen will bring back to his country, is shinjin datsuraku, giving up the body and mind, and thus returning to our original Face. To live this experience means to personally experience what the Buddha knew under the Bodhi tree, during his Awakening.To realize this, the only practice is that transmitted by the Buddha: shikantaza, to sit (za) without (shikan) doing (ta) anything, without trying to reach anything (especially not enlightenment), without turning a problem around in one’s head (for example the kôan of the Rinzai School). This zen that Nyojo received and transmitted face-to-face to Dôgen, is the silent awakening of Buddha Shâkyamuni, the essential experience that is the foundation of Buddhism. This experience is that of the unity of body and mind which are no longer two-matter and spirit – but unity realized in samadhi, in concentration. Then, our true nature appears, what is called our Original Face or Buddha Nature.

At the same time, this zazen can not be an individual zazen, centered on the attachment to our Awakening. Nyojo emphasizes that if this were the case, we would miss the great compassion of the Buddhas and the Patriarchs who practice zazen only to save sentient beings. And he adds, “When Buddhas and Patriarchs sit in zazen, they form from the first day the vow to unify the entire universe. No sentient being can thus be forgotten or abandoned. Their spirit of compassion extends to the insects and the merits of their zazen are offered spontaneously and unconsciously for their salvation”.

Dogen thus starts from this essential element: « (…) with each generation, the authentic Patriarchs continued the transmission face to face, the disciple looking the master in the eyes and the teacher looking the disciple in the eyes. A Patriarch, a teacher or a disciple can not become a Buddha or a Patriarch if they have not received this transmission face to face ».

Transmission is thus giving AND receiving through the face and the eyes, an idea that is included in the word jû de jûmen. Ju, it is both giving and receiving, and in this case it is done through the face (men) and eyes, because in the transmission from master to disciple, «each one of them offers the face to the other, only face to face, and each receives the face of the other. « This explains the importance that the masters give to the exchange of glances during the ceremony of transmission or in greeting in gassho. This is the silent transmission, that of Buddha turning the flower, transmission from heart to heart (i shin den shin), beyond the Scriptures, and without intermediary, transmission which is still materialized through the “ pai” between the master and the disciple during the ordination

But this transmission remains fundamentally one: ” [This transmission] is like pouring water into the ocean and increasing its extent endlessly. It’s like transmitting the lantern and allowing it to shine forever. In the thousands of millions of transmissions, the trunk and the branches are one “.

And Dogen concludes, “From now on, the great path of the Buddhas and Patriarchs consists only in giving and receiving face to face, receiving and giving face to face; there is nothing that is too much and nothing is missing. You must understand it faithfully and joyfully, when your own face meets someone who has received the transmission face to face.”

“And this transmission continues until today” The smile that illuminates the face of Mahâkâsyapa does not stop.