The Will to the Truth

This Sunday, Payton led the Sangha’s discussion by exploring a Zen concept that Dogen called “Dōshin” (perhaps Bodhicitta) or, as translated by Gudo Nishijima, “the will to the truth”.

Payton read quotes from Brad Warner’s book “Sit Down and Shut Up”, which itself is an exploration of Zen Master Dogen’s work, Kana Shōbōgenzō. Below are some of these quotes.

In a nutshell Dogen establishes four basic principles for Buddhist study. The first principle is what he calls “establishing will to the truth.” In Sanskrit this is called Bodhicitta… Anyhow, Bodhicitta means you have to regard the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as your ultimate criterion or goal. You have to be willing to accept what is true, whether or not you like it. – p.13

The second principle is what he calls “deep belief in the rule of cause and effect.” Most of us don’t really believe in cause and effect in a very deep way. Oh, we believe in it. But we always imagine there might be some exceptions. We tend to believe we can get something for nothing, – p.14

Dogen’s third principle is that our life is just action at the present moment. The past is nothing more than memory, and the future is nothing but dreams. At best, past and future are no more than reference material for the eternal now. – p.14

The final principle is the practice of zazen itself. Buddhism is not a philosophy you just read about. It is a philosophy you do. So the principles of Buddhism include actual action, which cannot be put into words. – p.14

As for the supposed permanence of this nonexistent essence, Dogen gives us a metaphor. He says, “Firewood becomes ash; it can never go back to being firewood. Nevertheless, we should not take the view that ash is its future and firewood is its past.” Firewood is firewood; ash is ash. It makes no sense to speak of some kind of essence that changes from firewood into ash. -p.24

So if it’s a mistake to view our past or our future as something that happens to our “self,” how can we view either? Dogen says, “Remember, firewood abides in the place of firewood in the Dharma. It has a past and it has a future. Although it has a past and a future, the past and the future are cut off. Ash exists in the place of ash in the Dharma. It has a past and it has a future. The firewood, after becoming ash, does not again become firewood.” Our past and our future are cut off from the here and now. We can’t revisit the past, and we can’t fast-forward to the future. The only real time is now. The only real place is here. And just to make sure we don’t miss the full implications of the metaphor, he adds, “Similarly, human beings, after death, do not live again.”
So if even life and death can’t be thought of as things that happen to our “self,” what the heck are they? “Life is an instantaneous situation, and death is also an instantaneous situation. It is the same, for example, with winter and spring. We do not think that winter becomes spring, and we do not say that spring becomes summer.” – p.25

Dogen ends the chapter with a short story that sums things up. It’s one of those hot, sticky, humid days at the end of a long Japanese summer, and a Zen master is sitting in his room fanning himself with a paper fan. A monk comes by and asks, “The nature of air is to be ever-present, and there is no place that air cannot reach. So why are you using a fan?”
The master says, “You have only understood that the nature of air is to be ever-present, but you do not yet know the truth that there is no place air cannot reach.”
The monk says, “What is the truth of there being no place air cannot reach?”
At this, the master just sat there fanning himself.
The mere fact that we are living in the enlightened state all the time does not absolve us from needing to have what Guido Nishijima likes to call the will to the truth, just as the fact that there is air everywhere doesn’t mean that there’s no sense in fanning yourself when you’re hot. The poor student is probably drenched with sweat… Yet instead of solving his real problem by doing something real, like fanning himself, he’s asking about some idiotic theory of air being everywhere. – p.29

Effort is far more important than so-called success because effort is a real thing. What we call “success” is just the manifestation of our mind’s ability to categorize things. This is “success.” That is “failure.” Who says? You says. That’s all. Reality is what it is, beyond all concepts of success and failure. – p.44

…when you get right down to it, even our biggest, deepest, most astoundingly brilliant thoughts are nothing more than thoughts. And thoughts are nothing more than electrical activity, changes in the organic chemistry of the brain. … Yet we constantly take the colors of the mind to be much more than they are. Thank about how it is when you got to see a Bruce Willis movie, not Breakfast of Champions or The Story of Us but one of the good ones where he plays a guy who saves the world from international terrorism in his bare feet. By the end of the movie your heart is pounding, you’re all sweaty, and you’ve spilled your popcorn all over the person in front of you. Your body reacts precisely the same way to manipulated images of Bruce Willis in simulated danger as it does to real danger — even though you are clearly aware the whole time that not only that you are in absolutely no peril but that even Bruce was never in the least bit of danger… But our brains and nervous systems accept such manipulated images exactly the same way that they accept real situations.
Yet you react to all this mental stuff — stuff that might happen someday, stuff that happened but you wish it hadn’t, stuff that hasn’t happened yet but you hope will happen one of these days, stuff you dread because you know if it did happen you’d just die. You react to it all the same way a cassowary reacts when it’s being chased by a wombat. Nature equipped you with buttons intended for emergency use only, which were supposed to be pressed maybe ten or fifteen times throughout your life, yet some of us are mashing down on those buttons every single day. Why? Because it’s exciting!…
Instead of just living moment by moment, we’re stuck in all these twisting, swirling loops of thought — the colors of mind, as Dogen calls ’em — that have our bodies reacting in all kinds of ways they don’t need to in response to situations that not only do not exist but never could exist. – pp.68,69

See, I always used to believe that anger was somehow something apart from myself, that “I” experienced “my” anger. But as my practice deepened, it began to dawn on me that this was not the case at all. It wasn’t that I could eradicate those things about myself I’d labeled as negative qualities while leaving the good stuff intact, like cutting off the rotten parts of a carrot left in the fridge too long and cooking the rest. The source of anger, hate, fear, and all the rest of it was the same as the source of that collection of ideas and habits I had mistakenly called “me” for most of my life. To end anger once and for all, I had to die completely. Not commit suicide but something much, much more difficult.
If you’re serious about transcending anger, you have to be prepared to give up everything. I’m afraid most people, including those who say they’re Buddhists, are not at all serious about doing this. We’ve invented a million clever methods of building up our egos while pretending to tear them down. – p.76

When you get angry, you need to ask yourself where anger comes from. Not just your anger right now, about whatever it is that might be pissing you off, but anger itself. What is it? Can you really say it’s caused by whatever it was that set you off?… What is the need we so often feel to prove to everyone around us that we are right and they are wrong? Why is it important to us that others agree with what we believe? Where does that desire come from? Why do we do that? – p.76

Watch how your anger begins, and see how it grows. When I did this myself, I discovered that anger always starts out very, very small. It’s always based on the difference between how I think things should be and how they actually are. Within this gap the fiction known as “me” appears and reacts. To protect this fiction, I begin to justify my anger, to build a convincing case to prove to myself that I have every right to be angry. – p.77

One Zen master walks up to another and asks, “What does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion do by using his limitlessly abundant hands and eyes?”… the other Zen master says, “He is like a person in the night reaching back with a hand to grope for a pillow.” …
When you reach back for a pillow in the night, the action is totally unconscious. Someone is suffering from a stiff neck, and someone does something spontaneously to relieve that suffering. Forget about the way we usually conceive of both of these “someones” as being the same person. Just look at the action itself. It’s totally spontaneous. There is no thinking involved. Something needs doing, and it gets done. When it’s finished, no one even remembers it. There are no medals given out, no pats on the back from the master, no ticker-tape parades. In fact, there’s no evidence it ever happened. All truly compassionate action works exactly like this. – pp.97,98