Dogen said: “To study the way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.”
We forget ourselves in our habitual activity, and we also forget ourselves in activity that is generated without any intent. As consciousness takes place, we realize an ability to feel. When our experience of our ability to feel acquires continuity, we can lose ourselves in “being where we are” (the famous Zen master Yuanwu advised a student in a letter, “just be where you are, 24/7”).
In my experience, the continuity of the ability to feel is really only the fluidity of changes in the alignment of the body, in response to the occurrence of consciousness and the necessity of breath at the moment.
Gautama the Buddha described consciousness as a phenomena that only occurred out of contact between a sense organ and a sense object. The continuity of consciousness he described as an illusion, similar to the illusion of the existence of fire independent of fuel; when a forest fire leaps between the tops of trees, he said, an illusion of the existence of fire independent of fuel is created, yet the truth of the matter is that fire only burns when there is fuel. Similarly, he said, consciousness only exists because of contact between a sense organ and a sense object, and can be described as “eye consciousness”, “ear consciousness”, “nose consciousness”, “tongue consciousness”, “touch consciousness”, or “thought consciousness”. For one who observes sense organ, sense object, consciousness, impact, and feeling with regard to each of the senses, he said, the eight-fold path to the end of suffering and all the factors of enlightenment develop and go to fruition. In this instance, I believe the impact Gautama referred to is the impact of the occurrence of consciousness on the balance of the body and on the stretch associated with that balance; from impact comes activity that affects the alignment of the spine, and the ability to feel.
Dogen described his practice as “shikantaza”- literally “pure hit sit” or “just hit sit”. The focus here is on the instance of feeling that results from the impact of the occurrence of consciousness on the stretch inherent in balance. In contrast, the Gautamid described his practice before and after enlightenment as “the development of mindfulness that is mindfulness of in-breaths and out-breaths”. Each particular in his statement of this practice was framed in the context of mindfulness of inhalation, or mindfulness of exhalation. In my experience, the occurrence of consciousness, the impact of the occurrence of consciousness on fascial stretch, and the ability to feel realized through such impact only make possible a continuity of feeling out of a necessity of breath; therefore, as far as forgetting the self, to me the practice of Dogen and the practice of Gautama the Buddha are one and the same.
Simply by being where we are as we are, we can come to forget ourselves, as Dogen suggested. I would say this experience is a lot like hypnosis: when an awareness of the necessity of a particular movement of breath comes forward, the free occurrence of consciousness and the relaxation of activity can allow our posture (or even our gesture or carriage) to be realized in the continuity of feeling. We forget ourselves out of necessity, and where we are sits, stands, and moves beyond doubt.