"How To Raise an Ox" by Francis Dojun Cook

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    steve mareno

    I’ve just started reading this book, and it is unlike most of the “Buddhist” books that people are familiar with. It’s a translation of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, and seems to fully capture the meaning of what Zen actually is, and the fundamental method that is used to put that into practice.

    As Dr Cook says in her first sentence of the introduction, “The Zen of Dogen is the Zen of practice”. If one understands that the heart of Zen (or of Buddhism itself I would venture to say) is meditation and carrying that meditation forward in our lives to help other sentient beings, then one could close the book at this point and need read no more. That is it in a nutshell. But being the way we are, we are curious, and Dogen has much more to say, although, again, he might have stopped right there himself.

    This is an experimental spiritual practice that Shunryu Suzuki also focuses on in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Some people are going to feel a great affinity for this, others who may prefer a more ritual based Buddhism will not really understand it I suppose. Zen is like that, as it is at heart about practice and the somewhat contradictory idea that while everyday reality is enlightened reality, we are far from that reality in our normal ego driven lives. To understand the mystery, wonder, and magic of life, we first have to start w/ the truth that this magic is only magic because we have become so unaware of it. It is only special because it is not special at all.

    I know a lot of people have difficulty w/ Zen as they see it as too stripped down and spare, as well as containing no “spiritual” element, but the “vast emptiness and nothing holy about it” of Bodhidharma leads to the experience of something which may be called spiritual. Suzuki calls it our understanding that we exist in many realities and planes of existence simultaneously and all at once, forever. We weren’t born into this world, we were already here, and when we go, we are gone, but still here always. To call this spiritual is to miss the point if we actually experience something like this. For when we experience this, and it can only come about when we drop all expectations and desires to attain it, then that mysterious element is simply life as it is. Otherwise, it is simply more woo woo talk.

    It looks like a great read, and even more, a stimulus to our own practice. As I said, one either has an inmate affinity for this perspective of Dogen’s and Suzuki’s, or one finds it lacking and moves on to other forms of Buddhism. But whatever outward form of Buddhism one becomes involved in, they all say the same thing, just in different ways. All Buddhism lineages stress the importance of carrying forth our work into the world, a world that needs us. Sitting on a meditation cushion or studying sutras is only the preparatory work for a lived “spiritual” doctrine. Otherwise, as Dr Cook writes, our path becomes a stale, dogmatic life based on scriptural authority, or the reliance on otherness that some religions rely on.

    • This topic was modified 1 year, 8 months ago by  steve mareno.

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