Dogen’s “Genjo Koan”

(The following is excerpted from a commentary I’ve just completed, Dogen’s “Genjo Koan”)

There’s a sentence in the “Genjo Koan” where Dogen speaks about the life that fish and birds enjoy, and he says:

…each one realizes its limitations at every moment and each one somersaults (in complete freedom) at every place…

(translation by Gudo Nishijima)

In D. L. Bartilink, “No Special Effort”, and the “Best of Ways”, I wrote about somersaulting in place:

The trick is to allow for movement in where I am, even when I’m not moving.

The place where I am can “turn and move freely everywhere” (as another translator rendered “somersaults”), and the place where I am can also remain stationary; when the place where I am is free to move yet remains stationary, the rest of me may turn around the place where I am, instead.

Cheng Man-Ch’ing spoke of a saying from the classic literature of Tai-Chi, “the millstone turns, but the mind does not turn”:

the turning of the millstone is a metaphor for the turning of the waist. The mind not turning is the central equalibrium resulting from the sinking of ch’i to the tan-t’ien.

‘The millstone turns but the mind does not turn’ is an oral teaching within a family transmission. It is similar to two expressions in the T’ai-chi ch’uan classics which compare the waist to an axle or a banner. This is especially noteworthy. After learning this concept my art made rapid progress.

The statement in “Genjo Koan” about finding your place is followed by a parallel statement about finding your way:

When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point…

While I sometimes separate out and bring forward certain senses in the experience of place, and at those moments my ability to find where I am appears in fact to depend on the exercise, there is in the wake of such moments an awareness of where I am as contact in any sense takes place. This I believe is why Dogen spoke not only of “when you find your place”, but also of “when you find your way”…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *