Right before he died Zen master Deshan entered the hall and addressed his monks. He said, “If you have no affairs of the self, then you have no delusive craving.” No affairs of the self means that the self is forgotten. “That which is obtained through delusive craving is not truly obtained. If you have no affairs of your mind, nor mind in your affairs, then you are unoccupied yet animated, empty and wondrous.” This is the key to seeing with the unconditioned eye. It’s not enough to get to the top of the mountain and experience the absolute basis of reality. This practice is not over until you have descended the mountain and gone back into the world. Then that which has been realized informs everything you do.

The unconditioned eye very quickly becomes conditioned; it wants to be conditioned. Each one of us wants to be an expert. We want to be informed, sophisticated, and experienced. When we “get it,” we’re proud, and we flaunt it. But what I’m saying is—be wild, be innocent, be a beginner, be uninformed, search, question, examine. Push the edges constantly, there are always going to be edges because we set them up every step that we take. Ultimately, there are no edges. This practice is boundless, and it is in that boundlessness that we can realize our own inherent freedom.

The capping verse says: Within darkness there is light, within light there is darkness. As it says in the Identity of Relative and Absolute, “It’s like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.” This is another way of saying, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness is exactly form.” The difficulty we have with such a statement is it doesn’t make sense to us. That’s why it needs to be experienced. That’s why it cannot be conveyed through words. I could teach for the rest of my life and I still wouldn’t be able to give it to you. The Buddha couldn’t give it to you. The Buddha’s words are the words and ideas that describe the reality. But what’s the reality itself? In order to answer that question, you need to go to your own experience, and you need to do it with a mind that is open and receptive.

Within darkness there is light. Darkness is the absolute. In darkness you can’t discern one thing from another; everything is equal. But within that is light. Within emptiness there is form. Within form, there is emptiness. Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form. We need to see the whole thing; not just one side or the other.

When the dharma wheel turns, it always goes in both directions. Again, a wheel turning simultaneously in both directions doesn’t compute. Good, don’t compute it. Realize it. Because when you do, you realize the nature of the universe, your nature and my nature. Buddha nature. It is intrinsically free, unbounded. We should see it, and in doing so, give life to the Buddha


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)