From ‘Dogen’s “Mountains and Waters as Sutras” (Sansui-kyo)’, by Graham Parkes


In an essay on the Mahavairocana Sutra, Kukai writes that the ultimate text of that sutra is the entire universe: “the vast and boundless text that exists spontaneously and permanently, namely, the mandala of the Dharma of all the Buddhas.


Dogen substitutes for Kukai’s hosshin seppo the notion of mujo-seppo, which emphasizes that even insentient beings (mujo) expound the true teachings: “The insentient preach the Dharma. In this preaching the Buddhas are present and the patriarchs are present.” Dogen encourages, like Kukai, practice that effects an opening up of normal, everyday awareness so that such preaching may become audible. “When we each get rid of our husk, we are not restricted by former views and understanding, and things which for vast kalpas have been unclear suddenly appear before us.” Kukai’s notion that the ultimate sutra is the universe itself appears again in Dogen, who counters an overemphasis on study of literal scriptures in certain schools of Buddhism by maintaining that sutras are more than ancient texts and scrolls containing written characters. In the chapter “The Buddhist Sutras” (Bukkyo) he writes:

What has been called “the sutras” is the whole Universe in the ten directions itself; there is no time or place that is not the sutras. They use . . . the words and letters of the heavens above and the human world; they use the words and letters of the world of animals and the world of angry demons; they use the words and letters of the hundred weeds and the ten thousand trees.


Dogen says that viewing the world from the usual anthropocentric standpoint is like “looking through a bamboo tube at the corner of the sky” (sec. 6). For a fuller experience, he recommends entertaining the perspectives of other beings, such as mountains, drops of water, celestial beings, hungry ghosts, dragons, and fish.”

From ‘Dogen’s “Mountains and Waters as Sutras” (Sansui-kyo)’, by Graham Parkes

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