How We See the World · Jundo Cohen - Treeleaf Zendo · Towards A Correct view of the Self

Anatman – No-Self – dialogue

i realize that it is a bit on the philosophical side, but i am wondering what the Soto Zen stance on “anatman” (no-self) is. Where does Dogen deal with the subject?

What has been coming up in my practice is that “there is no lasting substance” to anything in the “solid world”…. that the nature of all physical entities is impermanence (has a beginning and an end, and is not (ever) lasting )….. that the 5 sense “center” in each self-aware being creates the illusion of a self…. and that this illusion of self “goes back to the source” when a self-aware beings body expires….. i am wondering if this picture is similar to the Soto stance on the subject.

Would be grateful for any teaching on this subject. 🙏🙏🙏 Gassho – Shou An


Jundo Cohen’s reply:
Hi Gerald. I would say that “non-self” is basic to all Buddhism, all Mahayana and all Zen. The most direct Dogen comment on this may be his Shobogenzo riffing on the Heart Sutra (Maka-hannya-haramitsu) where, in his usual “Jazz it up, bend it and do the Picasso thing” style, he did this to the Heart Sutra [Hoshin-Yasuda];

“The moment of Avalokitesvara’s practice of vast and perfect knowing is the clear seeing with the whole body that the five aggregates are all empty. Existence is the forming of the five aggregates of form, basic reactivity, symbolization, habitual patterning, and consciousness. These are five aspects of perfect knowing because clearly seeing these is perfect knowing. If you understand this, then you can understand the teaching that “form is emptiness, emptiness is only form” Form is form. Emptiness is emptiness. It is the hundred grasses, it is all forms.Perfect knowing is sometimes analyzed into the twelve spheres: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; form, sound, smell, taste, touch, mental objects. Or even into eighteen which would be these twelve and also the visual consciousness, the auditory, the olfactory, gustatory, kinaesthetic and mental.”

PS – I would caution against reifying this “the source,” but as the Sandokai says, ““The spiritual source shines clear in the light.” Suzuki Roshi had this comment on this line: “The source is something wonderful, something beyond description, beyond our words. What Buddha talked about is the source of the teaching, beyond discrimination of right and wrong. This is important. Whatever your mind can conceive is not the source itself.
The source is something that only a buddha knows. Only when you practice zazen do you have it. Yet whether you practice or not, whether you realize it or not, something exists, even before our realization of it, that is the source. It is not something you can taste. The true source is neither tasty nor tasteless.”

Gerald Shou An Stewart Thank you Jundo Cohen for this clear teaching. Greatly appreciated🙏🙏🙏 So, in our “individuated” experience, seeing through the illusion of self to no-self seems to be one “step”, and then letting go of ones anxious grabbing on to anything that seems to have a “stationary substance” seems to be another “step”, and then learning to live in the “flowingness” seems to be “ongoing awakening”? It seems almost like begin freed from a basic human illness…. first our grabbing on to stuff “exterior” to ourselves, then grabbing on to “potential solutions”, then when the insubstantiality of everything shines through, to “let go of the post we pounded into the ground to keep our sense of vertigo under control”….. Could it be seen like that? (i realize i am asking the unanswerable, but asking it more in terms of “when this road sign comes up, one can say “Aha”…..)


Jundo Cohen I don’t say you are wrong at all, but it is very intellectual and formulaic. I’m not sure. Like describing how to sail a boat vs. actual sailing. 🙂 Can I cop out with a Zen teacher’s “Just Sit”? Then get up from Zazen and get sailing. We are our seemingly individual selves, we are the Total Flowing of the world just manifesting as you and me for a time here and now, get up and get sailing that flowing which is just you too. Sometimes we are more individual, sometimes more just the flow, sometimes both at once … sometimes we fall out of the boat!


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