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Invitation of Mountains

More from Shobogenzo:

“I say, Remember, among Buddhists we do not argue about superiority and inferiority of philosophies, or choose between shallowness and profundity in the Dharma; we need only know if the practice is genuine or artificial.  Some have entered into the stream of the Buddha’s truth at the invitation of grass, flowers, mountains, and rivers.  Some have received and maintained the stamp of Buddha by grasping soil, stones, sand, and pebbles.  Furthermore the Vast and Great Word is even more abundant than the myriad phenomena.  And the turning of the great Dharma-wheel is contained in every molecule.  This being so, the words “Mind here and now is buddha” are only the moon in water, and the idea “Just to sit is to become buddha” is also a reflection in a mirror.  We should not be caught by the skillfulness of the words.  Now, in recommending the practice in which bodhi is directly experienced, I hope to demonstrate the subtle truth that the Buddhist patriarchs have transmitted one-to-one, and thus to make you into people of the real state of truth.  Moreover, for transmission of the Buddha Dharma, we must always take as a teacher a person who has experienced the [Buddha’s] state.  It is never enough to take as our guiding teacher a scholar who counts words; that would be like the blind leading the blind.”

‘The invitation of mountains and rivers’. What a phrase!

I have been reflecting on the practice of Zazen. When I do it daily, my days are different than they are when I don’t do it. I was thinking that this had a meaning that led to the conclusion that I “should” do Zazen daily. Then I realized that the word “should” is a word which demands to be ‘counted by scholars’ and eagerly clutches at the reflections in the mirror.

I’ve concluded that sitting Zazen does nothing more than allow me to hear the ‘invitation of mountains and rivers’ and if I want to accept the invitation, well then, first I have to able to hear it. And since ‘the turning of the great Dharma-wheel is contained in every molecule’, and my molecules are no different than all of the other molecules, it follows that the turning of the Wheel goes on eternally and inevitably, whether I am sitting or not.

If attainment is not the point; if philosophical superiority or inferiority are irrelevant; if shallowness and profundity are immaterial, then we are left with nothing much.

What does Dōgen mean when he says  “we need only know if the practice is genuine or artificial”? Well, I can pretend to know what I’m talking about, and I can pretend that I have some understanding of Zen, and I can talk about the Eternal Now until the cows come home, but I can’t pretend to be putting my butt on the cushion. Either I’m sitting there, or I’m not.

Dōgen’s recommendation is literally a demonstration by which he hopes to make me into a person of ‘the real state of truth’.  How can a recommendation be a demonstration? By exclusion, I think. By saying that Zazen alone is the ‘practice in which bodhi is directly experienced’, Dōgen is saying, “Shut up, sit down, and quit worrying about it!”

That’s all there is to it.

I thought of a poem I wrote a long time ago, that I think might have something to do with “the invitation of mountains.”


It will be time soon

to go into the hills

looking for more

evidence of creation:

turned stones underfoot

rain from old cabin eaves

on high trails where aspen leaves

plaster black boulders in cold gold.

Where marmots turn their heads

to whistle warning; sniff

chill incense of spilled leaves

drifted deep in choked gullies.

Here the white wind leans down

from circled, angled stone

to whisper once again:

“This is the end.”

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