Note: The Shushogi is a relatively modern distillation of the teachings of Zen Master Dogen taken from The Shobogenzo: The Eye and Treasury of the True Law. An epic!
In the Shushogi: What is Truly Meant by Training and Enlightenment, in the very first section titled Introduction: The Reason for Training is this:
The most important question for all Buddhists
Is how to understand birth and death completely
For then, should you be able to find the Buddha within birth and death,
They both vanish.
All you have to do is realise that birth and death, as such, should not be avoided
The Shushogi can be found it its entirety here on the Shasta Abbey website. I love it that what you find there is clearly a scan and I have a copy of the original beside me now.
Later on in this section of the Shushogi is this:
The understanding of the above (teaching) breaks
The chains that bind one to birth and death
Birth and death, the cyclic nature of existence is in Buddhist teaching synonymous with suffering, the first of the Four Noble Truths. Suffering exists. So here in the Shushogi is a teaching about suffering and how to bring that to an end. Don’t avoid it, look it straight in the eye. Further, and a few days ago there was a post titled Where is Home on the subject, there is the cause of suffering which has to be addressed. The Second Noble Truth, The cause of suffering is tanha (thirsting) or craving/desire.
It’s all very well to get ones head around the Buddhas teaching, to understand how it works and how it all fits together. There is for example a good article on Dependent Arising on Buddhanet which is worth reading. At the time of the Buddhas Enlightenment, which we are all celebrating at the moment December 8th being the traditional date for doing that, the Buddha taught both the Four Noble Truths and Dependent Arising. Two ways to point to the same thing, cause and effect. The law of cause and effect.
Yes, it is all very well to understand the Buddhas teaching yet something else again to put it into daily practice. I for one was utterly confused for years trying to get a grip on Buddhism. Buddhist doctrine was always there lurking in the background, in the foreground was…life and life had the loudest voice! And there was definitely no avoiding it! I sloshed between the opposites or extremes. Happy – miserable. You’re right – I’m wrong. I’m good – you BAD! I like – I don’t like. I want – I don’t want. This IS suffering.
So what breaks the chain mentioned in the above quote, or what snaps you out of the extremes? Or at least relieves the confusion. Many moments of insight come to mind. The one that comes rushing up the hill to find me is that basic from meditation instruction. Don’t hang on and don’t push away, ANYTHING. That and the discipline of refraining from labeling experience and thus habitually stamp ones personal meaning on the world. There is no need to do that.
The teaching I have pointed to in this post I hope helps a little with understanding. In Zen we are practice oriented 101%, to the point where practice disappears. By that I mean the self consciousness, the sense of practice being an add-on or something carried about, dissolves into the immediacy of responding to what’s there. Yes the sense of being a self arises during the day for all sorts of reasons (not a problem) and that sense passes, given half a chance.
Lots of tofu and veg to contemplate here!