Citation from Commentary on Dogen Zenji's
MITSUGO (Intimate Words)
Eihei Dōgen: Mystical Realist, by Hee-Jin Kim
from Chapter Three: Activity, Expression, Understanding
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TO DOGEN, koans functioned not only as nonsense that castigated
reason, but as parables, allegories, and mysteries that unfolded
the horizons of existence before us. In this sense they were
realized, but not solved.
The upshot [...] is a striking new way of looking at conventional
ideas such as sutras and koans. Dogen liberated them from the natural
confines of traditional, especially Zen Buddhist, understanding, which
more often than not tended to view them as nothing but instruments or
means to attain enlightenment. This meant that words and letters (i.e.
language and symbols) the common components of sutras and koans
were given a positive significance in the total scheme of spiritual things.
They were no longer a means to an end, but rather, a means that embodied
the end within. Referring to the traditional story when Buddha silently
held up a flower one day before a congregation on Mt. Grdhrakuta, and
Mahakasyapa alone, laughing, understood it, Dogen attacked those who
regarded the absence of the Buddha's utterance as the supreme
evidence of the profundity of truth. He then proposed his own view:
If Buddha's utterance is shallow, his holding up a flower and
without a word must also be superficial. When you say that Buddha's
utterance is mere names and forms (myoso), you do not understand the
Buddha Dharma. Although you know that the utterance is words and,
letters, you do not yet discern that there are no mere words and forms
with Buddha. This is due to the deluded state of ordinary mind. To
the Buddhas and ancestors, the whole being of body and mind is cast
off and constitutes sermons, discourses through utterances, and the
turning of the Wheel of Dharma.
Buddha's holding up a flower in silence was his "speech" or expression.
The sutras, words, and silence even an infant's mumblings, the
alcoholic's "snake," and "whatnot" were all the possibility of
expression that were in turn the activities of emptiness and Buddha-
Nature. To study them was to study the "reason of words and letters"
(monji no dori). Dogen's view was neither a derogation nor an
idolization of language, but simply an acknowledgement of the
legitimate place of language in the spiritual scheme of things. For
this reason, Dogen's emphasis was not on how to transcend
language, but on how to radically use it.
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