Monday, May 18, 2009

Personal Growth and Dharma Growth

It is interesting to compare personal growth with Dharma growth.  With good advice the young person knows that she can’t predict what kind of career she will follow as an adult.  People train to be engineers and turn out to be teachers of English.  With good advice the Zen student knows that Realization will not turn out to be what she expects at all. On the other hand, a young person will grow up, even though she wants to stay as a child.  A Dharma student will not grow at all if she decides to stay where she is.


  1. Dear Aitken Roshi,

    How are you? I hope and trust your journey continues to be as wonderous, mysterious, and vividly real as ever.

    Thank you for sharing this insightful comparison (it was presented so gently that I did not even realize I had tasted the stick until I discovered the bump on my head the next day).

    I am personally very grateful for all the good advice I have had the fortune to receive. At the same time, I often find myself concerned with some of the "good advice" offered to Dharma students these days. Especially (as in the context and tone of your post) when that advice is given to newcomers to the Dharma.

    Fortunately, many newcomers begin down the path by making themselves familiar with the classic Zen texts, and thereby activating their ability to smell out the stinkier "advice." Nevertheless, many begin by joining some kind of Zen community. In such a case, they are just as likely to receive the advice of certain "unreliable fellows" (who look just like the reliable ones--bloodline certificates and all) as they are of receiving good advice.

    I have heard many variations of the arguments that "students cannot be unwillingly misled", or that "they are right where they are supposed to be", etc. etc.

    That is unconvincing. Even if I had not repeatedly witnessed it myself, the classic records of Zen would have been convincing enough (personally discovering their reliability has brought a certain trust in their expressions). Dogen's writings are full of lamentations about how students with genuine aspiration have been led astray by "slanderers of the Buddha." Rinzai and Ummon were quite vehement on this point too. Hakuin though, gets the reward for the most creative ways to disparage phony teachers. None of these masters would have wasted their time warning students of these dangers if they were not a real threat.

    I do not think anyone needs to go around hunting out rattlesnakes to kill. But if we see a rattlesnake in the midst of a group of pre-schoolers, the proper action is to cut off its head.

    I sometimes go on like this with the hopes of inspiring some newcomer to make themselves familiar with the classic Zen texts. They are filled with the "good advice" that has been transmitted from all our many guides along the ancient way-- All Buddhas throughout time and space, all Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas, the Great Prajna-paramita.

    For instance, your good advice that "Realization will not turn out to be what she expects at all", was worded by Dogen in similar terms about 800 years ago. He said it like this:

    "When you have thoroughly awakened in spite of yourself, it will be nothing like what you thought it would be before you had awakened. In whatever way you may have imagined it would be, what you awaken to will not at all resemble what
    you had imagined, for actual awakening bears no resemblance to what one may imagine it to be."
    Shobogenzo, Yui Butsu Yo Butsu, Translated by Hubert Nearman

    Thank you Roshi, for all your many years of good advice. I vow to embody it fully.


  2. Thank you Aikten Roshi.

    The flavor of this "miniature" is so warm and encouraging.

    We can see that nothing ever turns out exactly like we expect, especially in Zen. Koan study is a great example. Sometimes things turn out wildly different and why shouldn't they. Exceptions are the flotsam of mental processes and have no basis in reality.

    I'm afraid too that I have to problems discerning good advice. I hear advice coming from lots of sources. In the west, books, audio recordings and now the internets are our teachers. The number of potential inputs of advice are exponentially greater than in Dogen's time. Although quality in the modern era is questionable.

    Hakuin said "How sad that people ignore the near and search for truth afar...". Aitken said "A Dharma student will not grow at all if she decides to stay where she is." I think I'll wonder off and enjoy some wall staring time.


  3. Thank-you, Roshi.

    Ted, I don't mean to interfere with you efforts with the guillotine, but, I think chopping Dogen to bits for shaking at people may not always constitute 'good advice' (no matter how much it seems to affirm our preferred positions).

    Master Dogen goes on to say shortly after in that chapter:

    "Because it does not rely upon, and it has come far transcending the time prior to realisation, realisation is assisted solely by the force of realisation itself [i.e. realisation is a spontaneous, free conduct at this moment]*. Delusion, remember, is something that does not exist. Realisation, remember, is something that does not exist." (Nishijima/Cross trans.)

    *[] my brackets/comment

    That realisation and delusion simply actually do not effectively exist in even the first moment of sincerely realising sitting-zen may be the reason that such awakening does not bear any resemblance to what we imagine it to be when we are, say, day dreaming about being a realised Buddhist muscleman much superior to deluded snakes and unreliable fellows.

    By the way, Nishijima/Cross translates the relatively edgy (and uncharacteristically dualistic for Dogen) "When you have thoroughly awakened in spite of yourself..." as "When we perfectly realize it, while still as we are..."



  4. Dear Roshi,
    Thanks for this. I don't know what realization is. I don't know what I was supposed to expect from it. I don't know, and I really don't think anyone else does either.

  5. Growing into what you have always been sounds like a backwards movement! So... Don't stand still, Don't bolt to move forward...look into the backward way...back and back and back untill there is nothing left of you...then there is no movement at all!

  6. Rather late for this comment, but I happened upon this post today and it is just what I needed to read at this point in my practice. Thank you, Roshi, where ever you are.