When we don’t let go, when we stick to our conditioned way of being, one of the functions of a teacher is to take away what’s most precious to us, what we hold onto the most. That’s why teachers are called thieves. They steal everything away, until there’s nothing left. When there’s nothing left, you see the ground of being for yourself, you realize your own inherent freedom—the freedom that you were born with, the freedom that no one can give you because you already have it. “Since they’re from the same household, they know well the contents of the cupboard.” Since both of them, father and daughter, are from the same lineage, as well as literally the same household, they know very well what’s in the cupboard. They know the dharma food well—they have the same understanding.

The commentary to this koan says, “Samsara is nirvana, nirvana is samsara. There is fundamentally no difference between them.” We create both with our mind. Nirvana can only be realized in the midst of samsara. Samsara is delusion—nirvana is enlightenment. Enlightenment can only be realized in the midst of delusion. “Mountains, rivers, the great earth, and one’s own self—where are the distinctions to be found?” Isn’t this what Dogen says again and again? Sentence after sentence, line after line, page after page, he says, if you want to hear the teachings of the insentient, you need to be the insentient. You can’t stand out separate, and expect to hear it. Only the insentient can hear it.

 

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We have the ability to see unity. Heads is definitely not the same as tails. At the same time, heads and tails are two parts of the same coin. You can choose to see them as different, or you can choose to see them as one reality. How you choose makes all the difference in the world in how your life goes. “Where dragons and snakes are intermingled, even the sages cannot see into it.” Dragons and snakes are enlightened beings and deluded beings. When they’re intermingled, even the sages can’t separate them. “When going against and going in accord with, vertically and horizontally, even the buddhas can’t speak of it.” Going against and going in accord, holding back and letting go, lifting up and pushing down—all of these dualities are two parts of the same reality. Form is exactly emptiness. Emptiness is exactly form. Exactly. Not the same as, not similar to, not related to. Exactly.

The capping verse:

Ten thousand things are the true dharma.
The ten directions are one reality.
Don't you know?
The dharmakaya is not like anything.

It’s not like anything because it encompasses the whole universe. Nothing is left out. What does that tell you about the relationship between the buddhadharma and your life? Your life is the buddhadharma. It’s to be realized right here in your life. Spirituality is not something that happens periodically, or when you’re sitting cross-legged on a pillow doing meditation. Master Dogen says, “Those who regard the mundane as a hindrance to practice only understand that in the mundane, nothing is sacred. What they haven’t understood, is that in sacredness, nothing—nothing—is mundane.” So how do you understand this? Not what you’ve heard, not what you’ve read, but what you’ve experienced directly, intimately. This is the only way that you will transform your life. Please take care of it. Give life to the Buddha


John Daido Loori, Roshi is the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery. A successor to Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi, Roshi, Daido Roshi trained in rigorous koan Zen and in the subtle teachings of Master Dogen, and is a lineage holder in the Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen.

True Dharma Eye: Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans, is a complete, modern English translation of Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koan or Chinese Shobogenzo. This important collection of koans, translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi and John Daido Loori, is accompanied by John Daido Loori’s commentary, capping verse and footnotes (Shambhala Publications, 2005).