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GOOD AND EVIL
IN ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT



PRESENTED BY
the Wanderling



Zen master Dogen begins his chapter "Shoakumakusa" in the Shobogenzo by quoting a familiar passage which occurs in several places throughout the Buddhist scriptures, but especially so the DHAMMAPADA XIV: Awakened; verse 183 (the verse is a summary from a talk called the Ovada Patimokkha, which the Buddha is said to have delivered to an assembly of 1,250 arahants in the first year after his Awakening. Verse 183 is traditionally viewed as expressing the heart of the Buddha's teachings) :

The Buddha said:

Do not commit evil;
Do good devotedly;
Purify your mind.
This is the precept of all Buddhas.

Having stated his text, Dogen then isolates the first part of it "Do not commit evil" and begins to expound on its meaning at some length. He does the same, subsequently, for each section of the verse, but here we are only going to consider his treatment of this first line since this will produce the essence of his view about the question at hand, Good and Evil in Zen Enlightenment.

Every Buddha, it seems, has left us this injunction against evil. On the face of it, it seems both a trivial and imprecise command and suggests the image of the faithful Buddhist as a sort of simpleminded puritan preoccupied with the negative function of avoiding whatever orthodoxy disapproves. Dogen, however, sees this injunction in quite a different way. It is important not because it is a piece of good, if pedestrian, advice but because it is pregnant with ontological illumination. To put the matter briefly, "Commit no evil" is the self-expression of the Unborn, and the practice of it is the Unborn itself in action. Dogen then goes on to say:

"This Do not commit evil is not something contrived by any mere man. It is the Bodhi, the Supreme Enlightenment, Anuttara Samyak Sambodi, turned into words.... It is the (very) speaking of Enlightenment."

The significance of this is that the Enlightenment spoken of here cannot be separated from Ultimate Reality itself.

It is an important Mahayana understanding that the Absolute and the knowing of the Absolute are identical--the knowing and the being are one.

Consequently, to say that "Do not commit evil" is the very speech of Bodhi means that it is the self-expression of the Absolute. Having established this, Dogen goes on: "Being moved by the Supreme Enlightenment one learns to aspire to commit no evil and to put this injunction into practice. As one does so, the practice-power emerges covering all the earth, all words, all time, and all existences without remainder."

NOTE: To understand this important statement it is essential to realize that for Dogen "practice-power," (the power by which a man performs what is good and attains Enlightened understanding) is not simply the power of the individual ego, the sort of thing a man boasts of as his "willpower"...but is rather, the Bodhi-power or Dharma-power of the Absolute-Absolute, Ultimate Reality, conceived as power.

While Dogen's last quote above prior to the note could be interpreted as somewhat unclear, it basically means that the practice-power manifested as the Buddhist or Adept applies himself to avoiding evil (the power not to do evil) and the injunction not to do evil are united. "Do not commit evil" is thus then, in a sense, the verbal self-expression of the Absolute...and its fulfillment is the active self-expression of that self-same Absolute.


The above section, appearing initially in AWAKENING 101: Folder #4, The Right View, was excerpted, edited, and modified for our purposed here from:

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