Seeing your nature is Zen

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Ted Biringer
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Joined: Wed Jul 08, 2020 10:27 pm

Seeing your nature is Zen

Post by Ted Biringer »

Bodhidharma said:

Seeing your nature is Zen. Unless you see your nature, it’s not Zen.
~Trans. Red Pine

In Zen ‘seeing your nature’ is initiated and realized through practice-enlightenment grounded in Zen/Buddhist doctrine and methodology. Doctrine and methodology are nondual (not-two). Doctrine informs methodology, methodology authenticates doctrine. Zen doctrine presents (makes present) the truth of our nature, Zen methodology allows us to experientially verify that truth.

Zen/Buddhism employs myriad teachings and practices in its mission to save all beings – to help them see their nature. All these doctrines and methods have one thing in common; they direct us to our own experience here and now. They do so because beside our experience nothing exists – experience is existence, existence is experience. Understanding this truth through teachings allows us to verify it in practice. To verify the nondual nature of experience and existence is to know (i.e. be enlightened to the truth) that whatever is true of experience is true of existence (and vice versa).

To clarify the nondual nature of experience and existence, Zen commonly employs the traditional system of examining the nature of consciousness (experience) in ‘six modes.’

Briefly, this traditional system recognizes consciousness as functioning in six distinct modes, each of which is constituted of a sense organ, a sense field, and a sense capacity.1 The six sense organs, together with the six sense fields, and the six sense capacities constitute the elements or realms of the human sensorium,2 which Buddhism calls the ‘eighteen dhatus’ (realms). From the Zen/Buddhist perspective the sensorium constitutes the totality of existence-time.

The six modes of consciousness are eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, and mind-consciousness. Each of these consciousnesses is recognized as an inherent capacity to discern – thus actualize (i.e. make actualize)3 – the ‘type’ or ‘kind’ of phenomena (i.e. dharmas) belonging to its particular mode. For example, dharmas that are discerned/actualized visually are ‘objects of eye-consciousness,’ dharmas that are experienced/appear audibly are ‘objects of ear-consciousness,’ and so on. In this manner each and all the myriad dharmas are experienced/appear in/as one or more of six types of phenomena; sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and thoughts. Thus each and all dharmas are recognized as ‘objects of consciousness.’ In other words, ‘the myriad dharmas’ is everything experienced and ‘everything experienced’ is the myriad dharmas – existence only and always consists of particular sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and thoughts that are seen, heard, smelled, tasted, felt, and thought by particular sentient beings in/as existence-time.

Thus the traditional Buddhist division of consciousness into six modes clearly and simply reveals how all things, beings, and events are and must be phenomena, spatial-temporal forms of consciousness. When dharmas are seen as ‘objects of consciousness’ dharmas are recognized as both ‘what’ sentient beings are sentient of, and ‘what’ makes sentient beings sentient. Seen as what makes sentient beings sentient, dharmas are seen to be the very source and fabric of sentience, consciousness itself, life itself. Again, Zen affirms, to exist is to be experienced; to be experienced is to exist.

By assimilating the truth of this (through learning, practicing, verifying, and actualizing it), we naturally enhance and refine our capacity for the transmission of wisdom. By clearly seeing that our self (i.e. our existence) is our world (i.e. our experience), we recognize the universe (the totality of self/other) is an unceasing activity of self-expression – one’s self is realized by one’s world, and one’s world is realized by one’s self:

So life is what I am making it, and I am what life is making me.
Shobogenzo, Zenki, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

In sum, ‘what’ a sentient being is (ontology) is ‘what’ a sentient being is sentient of (epistemology). Sentience is consciousness, consciousness is only and always someone (self) conscious of something (other) – apart from a self and an other ‘consciousness’ is meaningless:

When speaking of consciousness of self and other, there is a self and an other in what is known; there is a self and an other in what is seen.
Shobogenzo, Shoaku Makusa, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

As long as we are not hindered by the wrong view that thought is independent of reality the nondual nature of thought is easy to verify. Verification is only and always realized through our own seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and thinking here-now. Therefore, we needs only to simply, but sincerely, focus on our own experience – of a self and a world here-now – to recognize that all ‘objects of consciousness,’ not only thoughts, are our nature. Sights, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile sensations, as well as thoughts are only and always experienced in, as consciousness (our nature here-now).

In practice-enlightenment you see that just as no thoughts are experienced/appear independent of your mind, no forms, sounds, flavors, fragrances, or feelings are experienced/appear independent of your mind. In making the effort to sincerely observe this over time, you cannot fail to suddenly or gradually awaken to the truth that the crash of thunder and barking of a dog (objects of ear consciousness) are no more or less ‘objects of consciousness’ than are imagined train whistles and voices in dreams (objects of mind consciousness) – ‘you’ are your sights, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile sensations and your thoughts, and they are you.

Seeing (experiencing) your nature (existence) is Zen (being awake to reality). Unless you see your nature, it’s not Zen.


Notes: 1. The six sense organs are eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body (tactile sense), and mind. The six sense fields are sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects (touchables), and thoughts. The six sense capacities are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and thinking.
2. sensorium
noun sen•so•ri•um \sen-ˈsȯr-ē-əm\
: the parts of the brain or the mind concerned with the reception and interpretation of sensory stimuli; broadly: the entire sensory apparatus
3. In Buddhism, sensing and actualizing are not two different things – we do not have sense capacities because there are things to sense, there are things to sense because we have sense capacities. For a good overview of this see Buddhist Phenomenology, Dan Lusthaus, pp.52-82
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