How do we know when something comes to its conclusion? Is the picture complete? Is the action fulfilled? How does a journey end? How does any particular stage of the journey end? How do we paint the neverending line? We say that the calligraphy of the enso—the circle—is best left incomplete. The brushstroke does not fall back on itself and divide the inner from outer space. One theory states that the enso is presented that way so the viewer can complete the picture with their participation. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s incomplete because it cannot be complete. Because it is in that very incompleteness that completion is possible. How do you complete the expression of a lifetime? How do you complete the cultivation of the empty field? How do you complete the consistent conduct of a person of the Way?

Kaz Tanahashi’s new translation of Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo just arrived, and as the epigraph Kaz simply and wisely uses more Dogen. Let Dogen speak on Dogen.

This is from the “Ceaseless Practice” fascicle of the Shobogenzo:

On the great road of buddha ancestors, there is always unsurpassable practice, continuous and sustained. It forms the circle of the Way and is never cut off. Between aspiration, practice, enlightenment and nirvana, there is not a moment’s gap. Continuous practice is the circle of the Way.

A circle that never ends, yet is complete in every moment.

Maezumi Roshi’s appreciation and teaching of zazen was “zazen is life,” nothing excluded. So it is with every aspect of this training. Liturgy is whole life, art practice and creativity is whole life, body practice is whole life, work practice is whole life, moral and ethical teachings better be the whole life, your relationship as a student with the whole world embraces the whole of life. Do you see it that way? This does not stop unless you stop. This will take you everywhere, touch every aspect of the world you meet if you choose to see it this way and practice your life this way.

What happens when we live this way? In the “Mountains and Rivers Sutra” Dogen talks about the virtues of people who head into the mountains and practice within these mountains and rivers:

Although we say that mountains belong to the country, actually they belong to those who love them. When the mountains love their master, the wise and the virtuous inevitably enter the mountains and when sages and the wise ones live in the mountains, because the mountains belong to them trees and rocks flourish and abound and the birds and beasts take on supernatural excellence. This is because the sages and wise ones have covered them with virtue. We should realize that the mountains actually take delight in the wise ones and sages.

 

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