Sunday, November 04, 2018

Before Dogen there was Zongmi saying "practice and proof."

Bursting another bubble here. Dogen did not coin the phrase "practice and realization" (修證, PY. xiūzhèng, J. shusho) or as I prefer to translate it, "practice and proof” (could also be “cultivation and confirmation” or "practice and verification"). Virtually every phrase or slogan that Dogen is famous for in his writings (circa 1230 to his death in 1254) was not coined by him, but picked up and used by him in his unique stylization of poetic prose. This also applies to what is perhaps his most famous phrase “practice and realization” (sometimes “practice and enlightenment” or “practice and verification” depending on the translator).  The term zhèng (J. sho) is a subject of some controversy because it means “proof, witness, verification, confirmation,” etc, but is very loosely translated as “realization” or even “enlightenment.”  Dogen specially emphasized that practice and its proof are one (修證一如), that is, we don’t practice to be able to prove enlightenment later, but that our correct practice is itself the proof of enlightenment.   This is just like the English idiom “the proof is in the pudding.”

This teaching of Japanese Zen Master Dogen is so famously known in Zen circles by its Japanese pronunciation “shusho” that many Western Zen students and teachers erroneously believe that Dogen coined the phrase. Not so.  I have not done an extensive search for the origin of the phrase, but I did come across it in the opus text written 400 years before Dogen, circa 835, by Chinese Zen Master Gjuifeng Zongmi titled Introduction to the Collection of the Various Expositions of the Fountainhead of Zen.

Sadly, the voluminous collection of the main text has been lost and only the introduction remains extant.  In his “Introduction to the Fountainhead of Chan” Zongmi details how Chan/Zen is the stream of Buddhism related to the direct awakening to mind and how the Chan/Zen stream relates to the stream of the teachings of the sutras and treatises. In doing so, Zongmi distinguishes the characteristics of the various branches of the Chan/Zen lineages stemming from Bodhidharma and correlates them to the various categories and teachings of the sutras and treatises.

In a section naming the Diamond-Cutter Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra and affirming that “these two sutras are the essence of our mind,” Zongmi points out how disciples of the time have confused ideas about this and who practice or cultivate mind consider the sutras and treatises as a separate lineage and those who explain and articulate the sutras and treatises consider the Chan/Zen Gate as a separate Dharma.  Zongmi then says, 

Hearing discussion of cause and effect and of practice and proof, they immediately suppose it belongs to the family of sutras and treatises. They don’t know that practice and proof are directly the root matter of the Chan gate.
Hearing the articulation ‘exactly Mind is exactly Buddha,’ they immediately suppose it belongs to the Chan of inner feelings. They don’t know Mind and Buddha are directly the root mentation of the sutras and treatises.”

So it looks like Zongmi’s phrase “practice and proof (修證, J. shusho) are directly the root matter of the Chan gate” struck a chord with Dogen and he elaborated on the theme.