Monday, April 27, 2009


"If the dharma has not yet fully come into one's body and mind, one thinks it is already sufficient. On the other hand, if the dharma fills one's body and mind, there is a sense of insufficiency." Dogen, Genjokoan

I'm very interested in these lines, partly because I wonder if we in the "West," might display something else than what Dogen experienced in his time. It seems that students in Dogen's day, upon tasting a little bit of true nature, of clear understanding and seeing about their lives, may have been very prone to arrogance. Not unlike the undergraduate student that learns a little about psychology and then walks around claiming to understand how everyone thinks and what everyone's personality is. Yet, does the same hold true for those of us studying zen now, especially in western nations?

It strikes me that feeling insufficient, having a strong sense of lack, is pretty common here in the U.S. anyway. Ironic, given how much "material abundance" we have, even those of us who are fairly poor, at least in comparison to much of the rest of the world. But it's also beyond this. I remember hearing about how the Dalai Lama was shocked that some people in "western" countries were plagued by self hatred, or at least battered "self-esteem." And beyond this, the strong influence upon the cultures of our society of the doctrine of original sin, and the view that we're all fallen and soiled, no matter what we do in our lives. Which makes me wonder if it's really possible that a lot of us could display the kind of arrogance Dogen was writing about in the Genjokoan.

This is not to suggest that there isn't any arrogance appearing from students of the way who glimpse their deeper nature. There definitely is. And maybe some of those cases are very like the one's Dogen experienced, or read about in the historical teachings. But I can imagine there's also another set of things going on with a lot of seeing "a bit of truth" for the first time. Like feelings of insufficiency, inadequacy, puffed up arrogance followed by self-centered doubt, maybe even self hatred.

None of these is the humility Dogen displayed upon his own enlightenment, as he went to verify what he had experienced with his teacher. The insufficiency he speaks of seems to call forth an awareness for the need for constant curiosity about life, since it's depths are always unfolding, always changing. Instead of a sense of openness and curiosity, though, the patterns I mentioned above are all closed down and self-centered "insufficiencies." Which makes me wonder if these lines from Dogen need further exploration in terms of their teaching, given the context of our 21st century lives and experiences.

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