Genjokoan 2: Illusion and Verification – How do You Relate?

Head smeared with mud and dirt,
Thus does he clearly reveal himself.
- Zen Sand 10.350

In our Genjokoan study we’re continuing to work with these lines:

“To convey the self toward the 10,000 dharmas to do practice/verification is illusion. The 10,000 dharmas advancing and practicing/verifying through the self is satori.”

The conversation was quite rich last night, too rich for one post. Below I’ll begin unpacking the above passage and then make at least one more Genjokoan post this week, probably Sunday. Training period participants, please make a comment to both posts, picking up at least one of the questions at the end of the posts. Those not in the training are welcome to comment as well.

In the Genjokoan passage above, we have the medicine (and disease) koan of Soto Zen: practice (i.e., illusion) and verification (i.e., satori) are one – how so?

Usually in our day, practice and verification are whipped up into a quietistic, ineffectual, bland (save the noxious sweetness) smoothie. The Buddha Way, though, is much more vividly alive than the proponents of dead-sitting conflated practicenlightenment would lead you to believe.

For more on this, see #1 of “Dainin’s Four Essential Points ,” Keep Me in Your Heart Awhile, p. 96-98, and/or keep reading.

Despite the Soto teaching that practice-enlightenment (conveying and being conveyed) are one, most people read the above Genjokoan passage as saying that conveying the self is wrong and being conveyed is right. That is not right.

We worked with this at the study group last night. Understood in the usual way, these lines of the Genjokoan can be used to exacerbate our self-hatred because conveying our delusion is here with (almost) every breath. Or they can be used to self-justify the spiritual masquerade in its many forms. The needle point of zazen thus becomes an instrument of a self-inflicted wound.

Moreover, that illusion is somehow vile isn’t verified by experience. For example, I remember a striking moment years ago, following a strong hit of not-thinking. The first movement of the mind of which “I” was aware was a subtle sense of shame. And for the first time, shame itself was inarguably and clearly, a 100% beautiful leaping fish – thoroughly no problem and not something wrong.

As Kyogo says, “We should understand these sentences as all things are buddhadharma.” Shame, confidence, joy, sorrow, clarity, confusion, conveying, being conveyed.

When we see our illusions as also the buddhadharma, our relationship with illusion may shift and become much more gentle and tolerant, including the usual way of hating illusion, as Kyogo points out. That is also one of the dharmas on the ground of the buddhadharma.

So although Kyogo suggests that if we want it is okay to understand, “To convey the self toward the 10,000 dharmas to do practice/verification is illusion” in the common way (as wrong), he discourages us from having the same tolerance for the common understanding of enlightenment:

‘The 10,000 dharmas advancing and practicing/verifying through the self is satori’ should not be understood as the common meaning.

In other words, be tolerant of your common ways of seeing illusion as “wrong,” but root out your illusions about verification being “right.”

Questions for comment:
- Specifically how does it shift your relationship with illusion to see it as “all things are buddhadharma” (i.e., awakening truth)?
- How do you understand Kyogo encouaging us to be tolerant of the common way of seeing illusion but not with the common way of seeing verification?

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