Genjokoan – Zenki (Total Dynamic Function)

Section seven of Shohaku Okumura’s explanation of the Genjokoan reads:

“When one first seeks the Dharma, one strays far from the boundary of the Dharma. When the Dharma is correctly transmitted to the self, one is immediately an original person.

If one riding a boat watches the coast, one mistakenly perceives the coast as moving. If one watches the boat [in relation to the surface of the water], then one notices that the boat is moving. Similarly, when we perceive the body and mind in a confused way and grasp all things with a discriminating mind, we mistakenly think that the self-nature of the mind is permanent. When we intimately practice and return right here, it is clear that all things have no [fixed] self.”

The first part of the section was explained on the previous page. This page will focus on the second part.

To be sure, whether it is the coast or the boat that is moving, we normally assume that it is the things we see in the outside world that are moving, while we stay the same! And we react to this view by trying “to find the underlying principle of this change so that we can control things. This has been the basic motivation for the development of human civilization.” But “when we think of scientific development without taking into consideration our own continually changing existence, our interconnectedness, and our mortality, our views are necessarily limited and inaccurate.” As is now increasingly visible, these delusionary views have led to a massive destruction of the very things our lives depend on.

“Yet,” Okumura says, “when we intimately practice and return to ‘right here,’ we see that we are impermanent, lack independent existence, and are connected to all things. “Right here” is the reality of interdependent origination, the reality in which everything, including human beings, exists within the vast network of causes and conditions.” Zen practice allows us to become one with this reality, and see that we share the same life with all things.

Okumura notes that Dogen used the analogy of riding in a boat in two other chapters of Shobogenzo: Zenki (Total Dynamic Function) and Tsuki (The Moon). These two chapters are closely related. In Tsuki, the Chinese characters for “moon” has the same meaning as Zenki. In Zenki, Dogen writes:

“Life is, for example, similar to a person riding in a boat. In this boat, ‘I’ use the sails, ‘I’ am at the helm, and ‘I’ pole the boat. Although ‘I’ operate the boat, the boat is carrying “me” and there is no ‘I’ other than the boat. ‘I’ am on the boat and ‘I’ make the boat into the boat. We should inquire and study this very moment. At this very moment, there is nothing other than the ‘world’ of the boat. The sky, the water, and the coast, all become the ‘time’ of the boat. This is not the same as the time of not riding in the boat. Therefore, ‘I’ give birth to ‘life.’ ‘Life’ makes ‘me’ into ‘me.’ When we are riding in a boat, our body and mind, self and environment, are all ‘essential parts’ of the boat. The whole great earth and the whole of empty space are essential parts of the boat. ‘I’ as ‘life’ and ‘life’ as ‘I’ are thus.”

Okumura comments: “The self, the boat, the coast, the entire ocean, and the whole universe are all moving and functioning together. Dogen Zenji says that there is no fixed self that does not move; all things are moving, and this entire world which is always moving is ‘me’.” Zen writings have used other analogies used to convey the same idea. Among those, Huineng’s analogy of the flag – is the flag moving? or is it the wind, or my mind? and Rujing’s analogy of the bell – is it the bell that rings, or is it my mind, or is it emptiness itself?

“In Shobogenzo Tsuki, Dogen says that in reality both the mountains and the person move … Both self and mountains have no permanent, independent nature because they are moving and changing and therefore empty. Everything in the universe is moving and changing, and this “total dynamic function” (zenki) is the reality of our lives. Our movement within this reality is expressed when we arouse bodhi-mind and continue to practice as we meet every situation in our lives. When we cling to certain views, theories, or concepts of reality, we become caught up in mere thinking and lose sight of true reality … [Dogen] always urges us to escape from the cave of thinking and to meet and live out reality as it comes to us.”

Hee-Jin Kim also quotes the passage about the interaction between the boat and the person operating it, but the last few lines are translated differently: “In riding the boat, one’s body and mind, and the self and the world are together the dynamic function of the boat. The entire earth and the whole empty sky are in company with the boat’s vigorous exertion. Such is the ‘I’ that is life, the life that is ‘I’.”

This translation shows how closely the concept of “total exertion”
(gujin), which Dogen uses frequently, is closely related to that of “zenki.” In How to Raise an Ox,” Francis Cook describes “exertion” as follows: “From the angle of the person who experiences the situation, [gujin] means that one identifies with it utterly. Looked at from the standpoint of the situation itself, the situation is totally manifested or exerted without obstruction.” “Without obstruction” refers to our letting go of all ego-based likes and dislikes, so that we can wholeheartedly embrace the present moment, and totally identify with the situation, so that it is “exerted,” that is, allowed to manifest as it is.

While we would tend to see ourselves as the ones who are “exerting,” we are here reminded once more that it is the dharmas that are doing the exertion. When the thinking self is dropped, one, as it were, “enters” into the total dynamic function of the universe, in a way one could compare to becoming part of an orchestra. We identify and resonate with it thereby opening the way for the total exertion of all dharmas, not one by one, but as a whole. Dogen wrote: “Those who know a speck of dust know the entire universe; those who penetrate a single dharma penetrate all dharmas. If you do not penetrate all dharmas, you do not penetrate a dharma … While you study a speck of dust, you study the entire universe without fail” (quoted by Kim).

Okumura concludes the chapter with remarks about Dogen’s unusual use of language. Instead of merely warning us that language is misleading as it is merely a set of concepts superimposed on reality, Dogen invites us to use words in a creative way, mimicking this dynamic interactive function of the universe. Dogen himself “uses language to negate language and to go beyond its ordinary limits. For Dogen, language and thinking can function as tools to help us awaken to the reality beyond language and thinking. This is what Dogen calls “dotoku” (being able to speak). When we truly see reality, we can say that the mountain is moving, the boat is moving, or both are moving simultaneously; all of these are expressions of reality. We can say the wind makes the sound, the bell makes the sound, the mind makes the sound, or the entire universe makes the sound, and all of these can be expressions of reality as well. This is what Dogen meant when he wrote, ‘When the Dharma is correctly transmitted to the self, the person is immediately an original person’. In other words, an ‘original person’ meets reality as it comes, without clinging to any particular fixed concept of reality.”

Shohaku Okumura – Realizing Genjokoan
Francis H. Cook – How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo 
Hee-Jin Kim – Eihei Dogen Mystical Realist

Sōjiji Temple, Yokohama, founded as a Shingon temple in 740, and later renamed as Sojiji in 1321 by Keizan, the institutional founder of Soto Zen, to become the second head temple of the school in Japan