by Ven. Kobutsu Malone, Zenji, The Buddhist Channel, June 25, 2005
Sedgwick, Maine (USA) -- When Dogen Gigen Zenji (1200-1253) returned after many years of Zen study in China he was asked, "What did you learn?" Dogen said he had brought back absolutely nothing at all from China except,"a little bit of gentle heartedness." What is the meaning of this?
<< "No one can bequeath this gentle heartedness to another. No Zen teacher can teach THIS. Selflessness, gentle heartedness, is the intrinsic nature of all beings. It cannot be obtained from the outside. Gentle heartedness is the direct manifestation of our true nature." - Ven. Kobutsu Malone, Zenji
Dogen Gigen Zenji is the founding patriarch of the Soto School of Zen, the largest schools of Zen today. The gentle heartedness Dogen refers to in our opening verse is that aspect of mind apparent with the sloughing off of the rough, hard, resisting egotistic structure that comprises what we perceive of as "self." This mind-structure-stuff that serves to foster the delusion of individuality is the core of the matter for Zen Buddhists.
For many of us, we appear to exist in a fragmented, confused and violent society offering precious little gentleness. We can sleep contentedly while close by others may sleep in the snow. Here, the notion of individuality arises with several facets; The notion of individual "space"; my cell, my apartment, my house, my street, my neighborhood. The notion of separated individuality in such concepts as; me and you, me and him or her, me and them, us and them and so on.
Dogen's gentle heartedness, Dogen's selflessness, serves to dismantle delusional barriers or neurosis that serve to isolate us through the concepts of me and mine, ours and theirs. While Dogen might beat his students mercilessly to bring them to the point of realization, he would not hesitate for an instant to give his last crust of bread to a hungry person. These actions, in the Mahayana tradition, are direct manifestation of gentle heartedness.
No one can bequeath this gentle heartedness to another. No Zen teacher can teach THIS. No ancient master can give THIS as a death bed gift to a beloved disciple. Selflessness, gentle heartedness, is the intrinsic nature of all beings. It cannot be obtained from the outside. Gentle heartedness is the direct manifestation of our true nature.
Whether we choose to recognize it or not, totally irrespective of our feelings, thoughts or emotions, our gentle heartedness is so close as to be almost imperceptible, totally inescapable, totally inseparable. Much of our time and energy nonetheless, is spent absorbed in our failings, our fears, and maintaining psychological boundaries in the form of machismo, aggression, aggrandizement and paranoia. It seems that here, in the present day, there is no oasis from neurotic trains of thought and egoistic bombast. Our popular culture promotes neurosis through vehicles such as commercials, sit-coms, and popular and perhaps not-so popular music. Yet, in spite of these conditions, we are heirs to a culture that is rich in what might be referred to as "heart centric" concern for each other. Whether we are Christians or Jews, Muslims or Rastafarians, agnostic or atheists, as Americans we all share in this "thread" of gentle heartedness that manifests through concern for our fellow beings.
The popular trends toward behavior patterns that seem to glorify pretending stupidity not withstanding, we possess a tremendous treasure in our American culture that has been totally neglected in the obsession with our perceived failings.
The practice of benefiting others
is the total truth.
Thus it liberates both self and other,
far and wide.
To realize this is to serve friend and enemy equally,
and to see that even grasses and trees,
wind and water,
naturally reflect this sacred activity.
- Master Dogen
To know more about Ven. Kobutsu and his work, please visit: www.engaged-zen.org.