Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Misnomer of Dogen's "Practice is Enlightenment"

The oft quoted Dogenism, “Practice is enlightenment,” or its variation “practice and enlightenment are one,” appears to be a misnomer and misunderstanding created by translators and was never actually stated by Dogen as far as I can tell. 

The original term is 修證, pronounced in Japanese as shusho,  The first character shu means cultivation, practice, to cultivate, to practice, etc..  The second term sho means to confirm, evidence, testify, witness, and proof and also includes both the noun and verb forms such as the nouns confirmation, evidence, proof, verification, testimony, witness, etc., and the verbs to confirm, to give evidence, to prove, to verify, to testify, to witness, etc.  Some accurate or valid translations when used as a single idea would be cultivation-confirmation, practice-proof, practice-evidence, etc. When used as two words of one phrase it could be translated as the confirmation of cultivation, the proof of practice, the evidence of practice, verification of practice, etc.

So the emphasis on the two being one is not at all a strange concept. Dogen is simply saying that practice and the confirmation of practice are one.  It is nothing other then the commonly known example of a physician’s “practice” being the confirmation, proof or evidence of the physician’s “practice” as training. Thus for the physician, practice and the proof of the practice are one. Likewise Dogen is saying that for the follower of the Buddha way,  the practice and the proof of the practice are one.  To say it colloquially, we can say, “the proof is in the pudding.”

Dogen is emphasizing that practice is not something that is done just as a preliminary stage to be followed later by the evidence or confirmation of that practice.  It is like saying learning to cook and what is cooked as the evidence of that learning one.  When little kids learn how to make their first pancakes, their cooking practice and the evidence in the pancake that is cooked are one.  Dogen is saying don’t denigrate a beginning cook or a beginning practitioner of the Buddha Dharma as just practicing to become cooks later because in their practice they are cooks today. Their practice and confirmation of their practice are one.  If someone asks, “What it the proof of the Buddha way?”, Dogen is answering “The practice of the Buddha Way.” And if someone asks, “What is the practice of the Buddha Way?” then Dogen is answering “The proof of the Buddha Way.”

So how did this idea of “practice is enlightenment” or “practice-realization” come about?  It is because translators decided to freely translate sho as if it were one of two terms that are used interchangeably in Chinese Buddhism: “awakening” , satori or go in Japanese (Ch. wu), or “enlightenment” , kaku or gaku in Japanese,  (Ch. jue).  Sometimes the two terms are used together as the single word , kakugo in Japanese (Ch. juéwù), and means to awaken or become enlightened.  The cause of the confusion is that in Japanese-English or Chinese-English dictionaries all three terms  share the minor connotation of “realization.”   This is because English term “realization” can be used with the different connotations pointing to either “confirmation” (sho) with the sense of “to make real” (for example, a math equation is made real by its proof)  or pointing to “awaken to” (satori or go) in the sense of “to grasp or understand clearly” (for example, to understand clearly what is real).  So it appears that when translators read “realization” as a connotation of sho they immediately loosely translated it as “enlightenment” or “awakening” rather than the more accurate “evidence,” proof,” or “confirmation” and when they use the word “realization” they use it with the connotation of enlightenment rather that the connotation of proof or confirmation.   

For instance, this confusion is shown in the translation of Dogen’s famous short essay “Genjo Koan.”  In the book Moon in a Dew Drop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, the translation is attributed to Robert Aitken and Kazuaki Tanahashi and revised at San Francisco Zen Center.  This translation begins strangely enough by translating the title as “Actualizing the Fundamental Point” thereby removing any reference to the word “koan” in the title.  Thus, the term “koan” is very loosely translated as “fundamental point” and the term “genjo現成 is translated as “actualizing.” 

Then in what is identified as section 2, the term  sho (evidence, proof, or confirmation) is translated as “actualized” twice, and the term , satori (awakening or enlightenment) is twice translated as “realization.”  In section 4 sho is again translated as “actualized,” and , satori, as “realization.” So between the title and the body, we see a confusion of the use of the term “actualize.”

Also the translation fails to acknowledge that when the term sho is used by Dogen in that same section 2 that it is also in the combination form or 修證,  shusho,  but instead of being translated as the combination of “practice-realization” or “practice-enlightenment” it is translated simply as “experience.”  However, when 修證,  shusho,  is used in section 11, it is translated as “practice-enlightenment” and when it is used in section 10 it is translated as two words of the sequence, “practice, enlightenment, and people.”   There is just no basis for translating 修證,  shusho, as “practice-enlightenment” in the “Genjo Koan” when “enlightenment” should be a translation for either , satori  or , kaku or gaku. But apparently, since the translators of this version had already decided to use the English word “realization” for , satori, instead of translating sho as “experience” as they had done earlier, thus to make “practice-experience,” they substituted the word “enlightenment.” to make “practice-enlightenment.”   By comparison, Thomas Clearly translates 修證,  shusho, as “acting on and witnessing” in the earlier section, but as ”cultivation and realization” and “cultivates and realizes” in the later sections.  So while Cleary first translates the word sho as “to witness,” “to prove,” etc. he then later uses the connotation of “realize” and “realization” that leads to confusion with the connotation of enlightenment or awakening. 

In 1890, the Soto School wrote a sort of introductory outline of excerpts from the Shobogenzo as a standard of faith for Dogen’s Soto teachings titled 修證  Shusho Gi.  In the book Zen Master Dogen, An Introduction with Selected Writings, YuhoYokoi translates it as “The Meaning of Practice-Enlightenment,” while the Soto Zen Text Project translates it as “The Meaning of Practice and Verification.”  We see hear the two far different approaches to translating 修證  Shusho as either a single combination word or as two separate words.  When viewed as two separate words, it becomes far more difficult to maintain with a straight face that sho can be translated as “enlightenment” or “realization.”

So by means of this kind of interpolated translation the basic meaning of Dogen’s use of 修證,  shusho, has become confused with a different concept entirely.  Traditionally there are many kinds of oppositions, and two of them are the opposition of “delusion and enlightenment (or awakening)” 迷悟 and the opposition of “practice and proof” 修證.  By translating “practice and proof” as “practice-enlightenment” the second half of the first pair has been transposed to the second pair. Each pair has its own corresponding declaration that the pair of opposites are one and not separate.  For the first pair there is the saying “delusion and enlightenment are one thusness” 迷悟一如; and for the second pair there is the same declaration that  “cultivation and confirmation are one thusness” 修證一如.   The importance of these traditional pairs is that they go together and should not be mix-and-matched like items in a supermarket.  

Dogen was trained as a Tendai priest, and the opposition of cultivation and confirmation 修證,  shusho, comes from the Tendai teachings attributed to the Chinese Tiantai ancestor  Zhanran Jingxi 湛然荆溪 (711–782 or 784),. The phrase “the gate of the ten non-duals” or “ten gates of nonduality” (十不二門) refers to ten oppositions based on the Lotus Sutra and Zhanran’s teaching that the ten pairs of supposed oppositions are actually unified from the beginning.  Each pair is thus “a gate to non-duality” (不二門).  The ten pairs of apparent oppositions that are actually non-dual are: (1) 色心 matter and mind, (2) 內外 internal and external, (3) 修證 practice and proof, (4) 因果cause and effect, (5) 染淨 impurity and purity, (6) 依正 objective and subjective, (7) 自他 self and other, (8) the three karmas 三業 of body action, speech action, and thought action, (9) 權實 provisional and real, and (10) 受潤 receiving and enriching. 

For Dogen, the third pair of 修證,  shusho, “preparation and proof,” “cultivating and confirming,” “doing and witnessing,” “practice and verification,” etc. was especially important because of his emphasis on the practical matter of Buddhist practice as the practice of the non-dual. Thus from Dogen’s perspective, anything that suggests a dualistic practice is to be eschewed from the outset, and that means especially a view of practice as a prelude to or merely a training for the real deal to come later on.  In a non-dual view of practice, the practice itself is what is to be proven or confirmed, not something separate from the practice in the sense that a product or by-product is the end result of an assembly line.  Practice does not produce anything separate from itself but is itself what is produced.  But this is really no more of foreign or strange idea than the idea that the means and ends are not separate.

One can argue that this identity of practice and its proof are the demonstration of realization or enlightenment, that is, enlightenment is the end of practice to be proved. But this threatens to backslide into a dualistic view of both practice and proof.  There is no need to insert the idea of enlightenment as an end in the standard formulation by Dogen, and so there is no basis to become confused about the actual words of Dogen who did not say “practice is enlightenment,” but rather “practice and proof are not two.”  


PapaG said...


Anonymous said...

Enlightenment is a state of inner explosion