Tuesday, December 15, 2009

why travel

You'll notice the URL to the blog is dusty-lands.blogspot.com. It's a euphonized reference to a quote from Dogen's Fukanzazengi ("Universal Ceremony/Recommendation for Zazen"):
Although it is said that there are as many minds as there are persons, still they all negotiate the way solely in zazen. Why leave behind the seat that exists in your home and go aimlessly off to the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep you go astray from the way directly before you.
and Genjokoan ("Actualizing the Fundamental Point"):
But the ocean is neither round nor square; its features are infinite in variety. It is like a palace. It is like a jewel. It only looks circular as far as you can see at that time. All things are like this. Though there are many features in the dusty world and the world beyond conditions, you see and understand only what your eye of practice can reach. In order to learn the nature of the myriad things, you must know that although they may look round or square, the other features of oceans and mountains are infinite in variety; whole worlds are there. It is so not only around you, but also directly beneath your feet, or in a drop of water.
Clear as crystal, yeah? (The two quotes are about different things, so don't strain yourself trying to correlate them. I just think they're cool.)

"The seat that exists in your home" is our fundamental nature: we usually outline it with a litany of things it's not, but it's the unimpeded vision of everything in the universe existing as an infinite set of relationships to everything else. We are all capable of seeing this directly, and beyond that, it's our natural state underneath the mess of mind and personality that we think of as being our selves. It's quite different from the usual Western conception of self: in Christianity, we're born flawed by nature, and we need God and Christ to redeem us from our sins both Original and later. In the Buddhist tradition, we are perfect by nature, and rather than gaining anything, we're working to let go of all the cruft obscuring our awakened nature, like seeing that the Sun always shines, even when the clouds hide it from us. So in that first paragraph, Dogen asks why we're looking for answers outside ourselves, why we're working so hard to acquire or find what we already have, what we can only see by ceasing our striving.

The thing is that Dogen did leave his home behind, traveling to China in search of a "true teacher" (Japanese Buddhism was in one of its declines then), and after a few years of training, he came back as one of humanity's greatest religious thinkers.

I'm off traveling, too. There's a laundry list of good reasons to go teach English to South American schoolkids right at this point in my life, but they all have to do with seeing what I can do and how I'll respond to the difficult and unfamiliar, and I'm pretty sure Dogen would have approved.

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