photo by Anneliese Rockenbach


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Although humans have a deep understanding of the content of the seas and rivers as water, they do not know what kind of thing dragons, fish, and other beings understand and use as water.

In Buddhism, dragons are enlightened beings. They are usually depicted holding a jewel—the mani gem representing the teachings of the dharma—in one of their claws or under their chin. Hakuryusan is a white dragon, guardian of a monastery’s buildings and grounds.

As we enter into our second decade of the twenty first century, the need for a legion of bodhisattvas is imperative—a need for enlightened beings from all walks of life to act as the spiritual, environmental warriors of our new millennium. These modern guardians should be individuals of great personal integrity and strong moral and ethical values. They must understand the relationship between religion, politics, the environment and social action, and must be able to fearlessly act out of their understanding. They must be skilled in communication and modern technology and be able to use these skills for the benefit of all beings. Fully appreciating the absolute marvel of the human body and its connection to this great earth, they should know how to nurture, develop, and heal both when necessary. Most importantly, twenty-first century bodhisattvas should know how to creatively express themselves, and to use art as a means of personal and global transformation. In simple terms, these bodhisattvas of today must be able to mediate a conflict, lead a protest, write a poem, love a mountain, nourish a child.

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From the timeless beginning to the present, the mountains have always been the dwelling place of the great sages. Wise ones and sages have made the mountains their personal chambers, their own body and mind. And it is through these wise ones and sages that the mountains are actualized. Although many great sages and wise ones have gathered in the mountains, ever since they entered the mountains, no one has encountered a single one of them. There is only the manifestation of the life of the mountain itself; not a single trace of anyone having entered can be found.

Since time immemorial, sages and wise ones have entered the mountains for periods of fasting, pilgrimage, and retreat, and to build temples and monasteries. Then why does Dogen say that no one has ever met a single one of them?

We should understand that when Dogen speaks of “entering the mountains” he’s speaking of the non-dual dharma. There is no separation between the sage and the mountain. When we have made the mountains our own body and mind, our personal chambers, there is no meeting them. Since the mountains and sages are one reality, that the sages have entered the mountains means that there is no one to meet and nothing to be met. There is only the mountain itself.

The appearance of the mountains is completely different when we are in the world gazing at the distant mountains and when we are in the mountains meeting the mountains.

The nature of the mountains is completely different when we separate ourselves from them as observers, and when we are the mountains with the whole body and mind. When we are intimate with something, it no longer exists and we no longer exist. There’s no way to talk about it, judge it, analyze or categorize it. It fills the whole universe.

Master Dogen said, “To hear sounds with the whole body and mind, to see forms with the whole body and mind, one understands them intimately.” To understand intimately does not mean to acquire information. Intimacy is the dwelling place of the great sages. It is realization, a quantum leap of consciousness in which our way of perceiving ourselves and the universe radically changes. And from this new perspective, a different kind of imperative emerges—an imperative for compassionate action.

In Zen, we say that enlightenment without morality is not yet enlightenment and morality without enlightenment is not yet morality. On one side, we have the danger of wisdom that lacks compassion. As Gary Snyder once said, “Wisdom without compassion feels no pain.” In fact, we could say this is not really wisdom. On the other hand, there is compassion without wisdom, which essentially becomes doing good. Of course, doing good is valuable. But doing good is different from realizing compassion. It is only doing good. When we are doing good, we should carefully examine who or what is being served by our actions. Doing good requires a sense of self: someone who will help someone else. In compassion there is no self, no other, no doer or doing. Ultimately, compassion is dependent on wisdom, wisdom is dependent on compassion. When one arises, both arise. There is no way to separate them. Taking it a step further, we can say that wisdom is compassion, compassion is wisdom. They are two sides of the same reality.

Taking one view, there is flowing; from another perspective, there is nonflowing. At one point in time there is flowing; at another, not-flowing. If our study is not like this, it is not the true teaching of the Way.

A koan in the Miscellaneous Koans of the Mountains and Rivers Order reads:

The bridge flows; the river is still.

What kind of reality is this? We can be sure that it’s not something we can explain rationally or understand intellectually. Understanding will only get us so far. Zazen, wisdom and compassion, enlightenment, the Five Ranks—none of these can be understood. They must be realized. They must be made real in everything that we do.

When it comes down to it, all the skillful means in the world won’t help us if we do not realize the mountains, the rivers. They will not help us if we do not realize the nature of the self. Why? Because realizing that the mountains are one’s own body and mind is transformative.

“Mountains” are all form—all things, all beings sentient and insentient, and neither sentient nor insentient. To realize all form as one’s own body and mind is to dwell in a universe that is unborn and inextinguishable, a universe that has no beginning or end. You have no beginning or end. Then how will you care for the mountains and rivers, for your own body and mind, the body and mind of the universe?