In another koan, Yaoshan had not given a dharma discourse for a long time. Finally, the monastery director approached him and said, “The assembly has been waiting and wanting to receive a teaching from you. Please give a discourse to the assembly.” Yaoshan asked him to hit the bell and announce the talk. The monastics came together. Yaoshan got up, took the high seat, sat there for a while and then got down and went back to the abbot’s room. The director followed him and protested, “You agreed to give a discourse to the assembly. Why didn’t you say a word?” Yaoshan said, “Scriptural teachers are for scriptures, commentary teachers are for commentaries. What do you expect from this old monastic?”
In the opening lines of “Dotoku: Expressing the Way,” Dogen says:
The buddhas and ancestors are the expression of the truth. Therefore, when buddhas and ancestors are deciding who is a Buddhist ancestor, they always ask, “Do you express the truth or not?” They ask this question with the mind. They ask this question with the body. They ask this with a staff and a whisk. They ask it with a pillar and a stone lantern.” In other lineages, this kind of question is lacking, and thus the expression of the truth is lacking, because this state is lacking. This kind of expression of truth is not accomplished by following other people, and it’s not a faculty of our own ability.
Of course, this begs the questions: How do you ask with the body? How do you ask with the mind? How do you respond with the mind? How do you respond with the body? And going further, what does the Way itself express? What does practice express?
In the original manuscript of Dotoku, there’s a little footnote in Dogen’s hand that says: “Twenty or thirty years is the time taken for the expression of the truth to be realized. These years and months, with all their energy, cause the truth to be expressed.” It must have been a note that Dogen jotted to himself, and it clearly points to the effort and meticulousness in practice necessary to truly embody and express the awakened reality. To pass a koan, or grasp a point of the dharma is not considered complete until it’s fully absorbed. We tend to intellectualize koans. It happens all the time. It’s inevitable that people kind of figure things out, then just go on intellectualizing the dharma, and when they do that, they’re not embodying it. It needs to be fully absorbed and realized. It’s called kyogai, when the truth of that point of the dharma or that koan or that realization has been manifested in every relationship in one’s life.
Realization needs to become a fluent aspect of our behavior, of how we act, of how we treat each other. It needs to be displayed in every action without deliberate effort or self-consciousness. It needs to be present in the body so that the body itself teaches without words, without explanation.
There’s another aspect of spiritual training called “nurturing the sacred fetus.” Dogen talks about it in Dotoku, but he doesn’t elaborate on it. What he’s talking about is that period of time in the training of Zen practitioners, after they’ve sat for years—after deepening their understanding through koans, liturgy, work, and in the study of the sutras—it becomes clear that kyogai is embodied, has been manifested. It’s at this point that the nurturing of the sacred fetus begins. This is what happened with the Sixth Ancestor. His teacher told him to go off for sixteen years and not teach, just let his understanding mature. He asked him to step out of training for a while, so that all traces of realization, all traces of Zen, of the dharma, disappeared. Then, in their very ordinariness, the profound teachings of the buddhadharma are manifested in every action. The practice expresses itself. The Way expresses itself. The Way comes through the self.