Dogen says you cannot practice the Way with an idea of gaining something. This essential truth is a bitter pill to swallow in a culture that is all about name and gain, in a culture where you do not exist until you establish your identity through accomplishment and acquisition. Dogen also says that in order to train, you cannot follow your own ideas. And yet at the same time, you must have complete faith in yourself. It’s because of that trust that we can let go of our ideas. When there is little faith, there is much insecurity, and when there is insecurity there is a lot of holding on. What do we hold onto? Everything that we think we need to exist. In such a moment, when we encounter “Wrong!”—when we encounter an iron mountain—some will be filled with self-doubt and may give up the path altogether. Some may find fault in their teacher and decide they’ve seen all there is to see. Others, who have faith, will turn back into themselves and take up the path again, renewed and resolved.


photo by John Daido Loori


Dogen says, “Let your practice and the Way coincide. Only when the mind of practice coincides with the Way, will body and mind be calm.” Isn’t this the nature of our training—to live in accord with what’s true and real? To be able to live in accord with yourself, with strangers, with friends, with enemies? Thus we study causes and results, completing the beginning, completing the end. We examine that which arrives and departs, and realize that which has never arisen and departed. We have intimate encounters with the truth of just this. What is this? Xiyuan calls out, “Tianping.” Tianping raises his head, “Wrong.” Xiyuan swings the sword of Manjusri to shatter the pillars that support heaven and earth and maintain the illusory sense of separation. “Wrong” and “wrong” again; to take it all away from Tianping so he can stand naked and fresh, realizing that right where he stands, virtue is complete. But though Xiyuan can swing the sword, only Tianping can shatter the pillars. Thus the power ultimately—and always—lies in the hands of the student.

When Tianping was at another community, long after his encounter with Xiyuan, he said, “When I was on pilgrimage, an evil wind blew me to Xiyuan’s place. There an old worthy named Xiyuan tested me. I made two mistakes, encountered two wrongs, and he wanted me to remain there for the summer to discuss them. I wouldn’t say that I committed an error at that time. When I set out to travel South, then I understood the mistake.” Wrong.