Sunday, March 23, 2014


by Elihu Genmyo Smith

Zazen is marinating - marinating as this universe, marinating as endless dimension universal life, marinating as this true nature that we are. 

What is marinating?  Marinating is when something seemingly solid, seemingly with fixed boundaries, is placed in liquid - and slowly the liquid permeates it; the solid is filled with the liquid, becomes one with the liquid, is one with the universe it is in. So marinating is opening boundaries and the believed limits of separate identity; we can say it is letting go, forgetting self.  In one sense it is shrinking from the body-mind conditions and circumstances what we believe are our boundaries, allowing the marinate in, allowing the universe in, allowing experiencing - being penetrated by all that arises. At the same time marinating is expanding body-mind conditions and circumstances so that we expand and extend throughout all that we are marinating in, being as we truly are, being all that we marinate in.  Seeming boundaries becoming transparent, are transparent, are non-hindering.

Always this is being right here -  and any place ”in” this marinating is not limited by this or that; this contains all that is marinating, not only contains but is; if we say it another way, “all” is connected to and manifests all that “it” is marinating “in.”

So, though I should cover my ears and wash out my mouth for saying this, when we do zazen we are marinating as this Buddha-nature that we are. Sitting zazen is this universe marinating, right here. 

It is only when we refuse to be this, we refuse to be this moment, that we refuse to marinate as this life, that trouble arises. So I say, when we sit zazen, we are this marinating universe.

There is an interesting scientific discovery which connects to this.  In sleep research with mammals researchers have found that when mammals sleep their brains literally shrink – and it seems this happens  “in order” for the cerebral spinal fluids to flow through and into the brain tissue and do something like wash the brain, rinse it, clear it, makes it more functional for when awake. This takes care of the toxins; as you know the self-centeredness poisons of greed, anger and ignorance are toxins for humans.  So we see that reducing toxins for the mammals enhances functioning, an important and necessary aspect of sleep for mammals.  This research has not yet been done for humans.

This research finding is an analogy for zazen, for allowing the limits and boundaries of self to be washed, bathed in the fluids of this life that we always are, which are always, always exactly this moment. We are never the limits that we place on our self, whether in terms of the bag of skin and bones or the limits of self that we hold onto. Though these boundaries seem real, our zazen is the opportunity to marinate as this life that we are - and it is up to us to marinate our self - and we can do it. 

Don’t get caught by the analogy; if my description of marinating is not complete or has errors, if you don’t cook, if marinating seems strange to you, leave that aside. It is important to be clear on being zazen.  Zazen is not an act limited to when we sit upright, much less doing some technique or other. The specific ways we think of zazen are to enable us, encourage us, even fool us, so that we go “beyond self-centeredness”, to forget the seeming self-boundaries that we want to hold to or the self-reactions and thoughts and feelings that we want to play with and agitate about, and be as we are - opening to what and who we always are. 

Dogen says in Shobogenzo Temborin (Turning the Wheel of Dharma), “My late Master, the Old Buddha of Tendō, once began a Dharma talk by saying, ‘The World-honored One once remarked, ‘When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, the whole of space in all ten quarters falls away and vanishes.’” Do you see Master Tendo’s point? Giving rise to truth by returning to source, this is zazen, being marinated by the truth of life is returning to the source - then all the ideas, limits, boundaries, the whole of space in all the ten quarters, ten directions, falls away.  (The quote is from the Surungama Sutra.)

“My master, commenting on this quote, made the following remarks:  This is what was expounded long ago by the World-honored One, but His Teaching has not escaped from people’s capacity to create thoroughly strange and wondrous interpretations of It. I, Tendō, am not like that. When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, that ‘begging child’ will have broken his rice bowl.” 

Tendo’s comment means no longer needing to beg for truth, being the source returning to source, nothing to look for.  Of course, I’m explaining, which is extra. “The Venerable Abbot Goso Hōen once said, ‘When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, he will keep bumping up against the Space in all the ten quarters.’” Nothing but this, no matter where or how we turn, our encounter from morning to night is nothing but this, has always been nothing but this - and yet we miss it. So marinating as the universe, then we know for our self that wherever we are is just our marinating life. 

“The Venerable Abbot Busshō Hōtai once said, ‘When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, for him the whole of space in the ten quarters will simply be, for him, the whole of space in the ten quarters.’ Meditation Master Engo Kokugon once said, ‘When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, he will embellish the whole of Space in the ten quarters with his brocaded flowerings.’ I, Dōgen, of Daibutsu-ji Temple would put it this way, ‘When someone gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source, the whole of space in the ten quarters gives rise to Truth by returning to the Source.’”

The whole marinade awakens, is awakened, is giving rise to the Truth, is returning to the source, is the source. You marinate in the awakened life, and the awakened life marinates as your life, as your zazen.  

In a way this is what Shakyamuni Buddha says, “I and all beings of the great earth together attain the way,” - each and every thing marinating is the whole of the wisdom and perfection of the returned to source. This is what our zazen is, not some little thing where I’m trying to take care of my problems or fix something. You could do that – try to fix little problem, but then you are only doing little bits, then your fiddling with this little piece and are missing the whole marinade that we are marinating as.  This whole universe is exactly our life.  This is zazen.  Doesn’t matter inside, outside, doesn’t matter near or far.  And we have that ability, not because we have to do anything extra, anything other than that right here. Because right here is connected to all of the ten directions, is giving rise to the Truth. Despite ideas, “this is my limits, this skin boundary is my limits, or these things that I’m aware of and I think about, these feelings emotions thoughts are my limits, yet this is not so.  The ideas of our limits is not so.  Except if we insist that they are so.  

Master Shoushan Xingnian (10th century China - Shuzan in Sino-Japanese) is asked, “The Buddhas all issue from this sutra; what sutra is this?” Though this phrase is from the Diamond Sutra, it doesn’t matter which sutra it is - all the Buddhas derive from this. The Master said, “Speak softly, speak softly.”  When we disturb or demand loudly, remember this revealing response, “speak softly.” The monk seems to have had an insight and then asked, “How am I to receive and maintain this?” Shoushan said, “Never defile it.” Never defile it, this is “returning” to the source, living the source, giving rise to the Truth. Live this that you are. Never defile it.  We are marinating as the universe, not because we do something special, and yet we have to taste it for our self; this is the opportunity of our life, of our zazen.

A disciple asked, “Can a single tree blossom?” Shoushan said, “It’s long been in blossom.” The disciple asks, “Can it bear fruit or not?” Notice the monk didn’t see our long blossoming single tree life, but persists in his blindness. So Shoushan sharply said, “it suffered a frost last night.” When we do not see what is so, when we act against it, then we need to hear that blooms die from frost, though it is nevertheless long blossoming. Shoushan is asked, “What is a bodhisattva before she becomes a Buddha?” He answers, “all beings.” “How about after she becomes a Buddha?” “All beings, all beings.” Do not be trapped by before or after, or by our other categories.

So, marinating as this that we are is not something extra and special.  And yet never defile it; unfortunately we can defile and defile. Please be zazen - otherwise these defiling habits, these “I want, I don’t want, I am, I’m not, I like, I don’t like,”  may seem true.

Dogen isn’t talking about marinating - but he is; he says when someone gives rise to the truth by returning to the source and we could say, returning to the sauce - because the sauce extends in all directions.  See, marinating as the universe, it is clear to us that the sauce/source extends in all directions.  Isn’t that what Shoushan says? Asked "what is it," he responds, “All beings, all beings.” This is the sauce that we marinate in.  All beings - and all beings means beings in all the ten directions in all the myriad forms, mind, body that we encounter.  Sauce and source are all together just this - speaking with my New York accent sometimes makes source and sauce unclear to some, and sometimes it adds sauce to this nourishing meal that is our life.

© 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith