Zen That Works

Zen That Works May 11, 2008

Dogen, in his “Dream Within a Dream” (Muchu Setsumu”) fascicle offers this image for working dynamically in the world. This translation is from Hee-Jin Kim’s Dogen on Meditation and Thinking. We’ve been working through this text for the past couple years, I think, in the Thursday night study group. When I asked Tetsugan how long we’d been studying it, she said, “Forever.” I take it she meant “Timelessly.”

I’ll say more about the image of the steelyard in posts to come but for now, let me leave you with Dogen’s description of the steelyard and his comments.

In the olden days, people used a steelyard, or portable unequal-arm balance, to measure the weight of an object. The beam of the steelyard consists of two unequal portions: The shorter one has a hook or a pan for holding the object to be weighted and the longer one has a scale and movable counterpoise for obtaining the weight of the object. The steelyard is suspended at the point where these two portions, or arms, of the beam meet. One determines the accurate weight of the object by moving the counterpoise along the scale of the longer arm in order to attain equilibrium of the object and the counterpoise. Only when equilibrium is obtained, do we see fairness. Once we have obtained equilibrium, it does not hinge upon the object, the steelyard, or its workings. You must investigate this thoroughly: Although [the object, the steelyard, and its workings] hang in empty space, if you do not bring about equilibrium, fairness is not materialized. Just as the steelyard itself hangs in emptiness, so does it accept things to be weighed, regardless of their weight and lets them play freely in emptiness.

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