Dogen says, “The cypress tree is not an old shrine. It’s not sacred. It’s not mundane. And because of this, it is totally immersed.” Each and every thing is totally immersed. Nothing is ever separate. Nothing is ever half-hearted. Nothing is ever two. From seed to compost, the tree is immersed. From cradle to grave, each and every one of us is always vast and without contradiction. To know this intimately, we have to be immersed in intimacy. That is what practice is—seeing how we turn the self into an object in each and every moment, and seeing that we turn everything that our senses touch into an object. This is attachment itself.

Shugen 2 of 3 Bernat Guàrdia

The true self has never been lost, so then where will we seek for it? To trust this dharma, this body of the buddha that you occupy, in the end, as Daido Roshi says, there’s “nothing whatsoever to say.” Just listen to The pine trees singing in the spring’s warm breeze. The ten thousand hymns of forest and wind fill the river valley. Just listen to the sounds of the street block party, the rush of city traffic, the dry leaves blowing in the autumn air. After all, it is very simple. Walt Whitman says, “Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born? I hasten to inform him or her that it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.” As an old master said, “When you die to the idea of the self, you can’t die again.” Whitman writes, “I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-washed babe . . . and am not contained between my hat and boots.” In other words, there is something here and I will call it “Shugen,” but there is a True Name that is not that. Whitman continues:

And peruse manifold objects, no two alike, and every one good,
The earth good, and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.
I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself;
They do not know how immortal, but I know.

That’s the birthplace of compassion. Tasting your own immortality—which is not the same as living forever. Nothing is an object. Nothing is what we think it is. Then we can see upside-down-ness and it’s okay. It’s not a problem. It causes problems, but it itself is not a problem.

This is our nature, this old cypress tree in the garden. Who would have thought? Who could imagine that it would contain this? It’s no different from you and me. Form is emptiness. Don’t think for a minute that this teaching is about anything other than every single thing that you see and hear and feel and taste and touch and think. It’s about every event, every moment, every arising. There’s nothing abstract or distant about it, but it is difficult to enter. This is why we practice.

The True Dharma Eye is a complete, modern English translation of Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koan Shobogenzo, translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi and John Daido Loori, with Daido Loori’s commentary, capping verse and footnotes.