Dogen Preaches on Nonduality
(A Digital Dogen Project)
This is a presentation of a lecture, or Dharma Talk, given by Zen Master Dogen to his assembly of monks at Eiheiji Temple. The original Chinese text, as spoken by Dogen and recorded by his attendant, Gien, is followed by an English translation.
of Buddha Nature
by Eihei Dogen
Although there are twenty-five realms of transmigration, there are situations that are most difficult to attain. First is to be born so as to encounter the Buddha Dharma. Even if you have already been introduced to the Buddha Dharma, it is still most difficult to arouse bodhi mind.
Already having gained entry into Buddha Dharma, furthermore abandoning parents and leaving home is most difficult to do. Even if you have left your parents and gone from your home, it is moreover most difficult to lead your six relatives to enter the Buddha way.
After accomplishing the way, all buddhas practice five things, one of which is to expound the Dharma for the sake of one’s father and mother to help them enter the Buddha way. If the father, mother, or six relatives cause these children who are sramanera, whether bhiksus or bhiksunis, to return home to lay life, or lead them into causes and conditions for obstructing the Buddha way, you should know that they are bad parents, and should not be followed. If they support causes and conditions for leaving home and practicing the way, you should know that they are bodhisattva parents.
High Ancestor Caoxi [the sixth ancestor, Dajian Huineng] when he was lay practitioner Lu and left his impoverished mother, desiring to visit and study with Huangmei [Daman Hongren], provided only forty silver coins to his mother to provide for her food and clothing. Truly this is one of the most difficult things to carry out. It seems that none before or since match his stature. Finally he visited Huangmei, and for eight months spent day and night pounding rice to offer to the assembly, without sleeping or resting.
How magnificent! He became a good teacher until he was eighty, and graciously was willing to be the thirty-third ancestral teacher [after Sakyamuni]. So as a result, although he was the crowning peak of all laypersons, he was able to transmit the Tathagata’s robe and Dharma. In India and China few have compared with him. We have never heard of anyone like him.
In the eighth day of the first month of the Yifeng era (676 C.E.), [Dajian Huineng] arrived at the Faxing (Dharma Nature) temple in Nanhai. In the evening he was resting on a temple walkway, and two monks were arguing about the wind and a banner. The ancestor resolved their questionings.”
There was a Dharma teacher named Yinzong, who regularly lectured on the Mahaparinirvana Sutra and was highly esteemed by the assembly. He appreciated the uniqueness of [Huineng’s] words and invited him for further discussion. The ancestor clarified [Yinzong’s questions] with his understanding of truth. Yinzong, astonished, stood up and asked, “How have you verified this?”
The ancestor immediately described the story of his attainment of the Dharma from beginning to end, and brought out the robe that had been entrusted to him, and allowed [Yinzong’s assembly] to examine it and make prostrations. After Yinzong and the others had done prostrations, he asked again, “In great teacher [Daman Hong] ren’s entrustment of you, what instruction did he give?”
[Huineng] said, “He only discussed Buddha nature, unfabricated without outflows, and did not comment on meditation or liberation.”
[Yinzong] further inquired, “Why did he not comment on meditation or liberation?”
[Huineng] said, “Dharma that is dualistic is not the Buddha Dharma. Buddha Dharma is the teaching of nonduality.”
Again [Yinzong] asked, “What is it you call the Dharma of nonduality?”
[Huineng] said, “Dharma teacher, you lecture on the Mahaparinirvana Sutra and clarify Buddha nature, which is the Dharma of nonduality. As Lofty Precious King of Virtue Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, ‘World-Honored One, those who violate the four prohibitory precepts, or commit the five grave misdeeds, or are icchantikas, have they severed the good roots of Buddha nature or not?’
“Buddha replied, ‘Lofty Precious King of Virtue Bodhisattva, there are two kinds of good roots, one permanent and the other impermanent. Buddha nature is neither permanent nor impermanent, and therefore it is never cut off.
This is called nonduality.
One side is good; the second side is not good. Buddha nature is neither good nor not good. Therefore it is never cut off.
This is called nonduality.
The [five] skandhas and the [eighteen] realms [of sense objects, faculties, and consciousnesses] ordinary people see dualistically, but those with wisdom clearly realize that their nature is nondualistic. This nondualistic nature is exactly their true nature.’”
[Huineng added,] “Therefore we know that Buddha nature is exactly the Dharma of nonduality.”
After hearing this, Yinzong stood up with hands joined in gassho, and asked humbly if Huineng would become his teacher. Then Yinzong also announced to his assembly, “This layperson is a bodhisattva in the flesh. What I expound is like tiles and pebbles; what he discusses is like refined gold. What I expound is like tiles and pebbles; what he discusses is like refined gold. Do you all believe this?”
The whole assembly made prostrations and took refuge [with Huineng]. On the day of the fifteenth, Yinzong gathered many renowned worthies, and shaved Huineng’s head. On the eighth day of the second month, Huineng received the full precepts from Vinaya Master Zhiguang.
The teacher Dogen said: Caoxi and Yinzong conversed together as teacher and student in such a manner. What the World-Honored Tathagata and Lofty Precious King of Virtue expounded and heard was also in such a manner. This morning, I, Eihei, would like to repeat and expound this for the sake of the cloud and water assembly.
After a pause Dogen said: To open the lock of going beyond, how is Buddha nature concerned with nonduality? All dharmas basically have no self-nature. People of today mistakenly call them oranges [north of the Huai River], or tangerines [south of the Huai River, even though they are the same fruit].
This is an excerpt from Dogen’s book
Volume 6, Dharma Hall Discourse 430
English translation by
Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura
in their book
Dogen’s Extensive Record:
A Translation of the Eihei Koroku
A Digital Dogen Project
(presenting his original texts* online for worldwide access)
*Japanese was Dogen’s native tongue but, coming as he did from an aristocratic background and upbringing, he was also fluent in the Chinese language, and a substantial portion of his work, including many poems and Dharma talks, are in Chinese.
Dogen’s masterwork, the Shobogenzo, is already available online at The SAT Daizōkyō Text Database:
Other Dogen E-texts available on the same site are:
Universal Recommendation of Zazen
Gakkudo Yojin Shu
Guidelines for Studying the Way
Dogen Osho Juko
Master Dogen’s Verses Praising Ancient Koans
(Volume 9 of Eihei Koroku)
Dogen’s Pure Standards for the Zen Community