Dogen on Enlightenment

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“Kindling becomes ash, and cannot become kindling again. However, we should not see the ash as after and the kindling as before. Know that kindling abides in the normative state of kindling, and though it has a before and after, the realms of before and after disconnected. Ash, in the normative state of ash, has before and after. Just as that kindling, after having become ash, does not again become kindling, so after dying a person does not become alive again.


This being the case, not saying that life becomes death is an established custom in Buddhism -therefore it is called unborn. That death does not become life is an established teaching of the Buddha; therefore we say imperishable. Life is an individual temporal state, death is an individual temporal state. It is like winter and spring – we don’t think winter becomes spring, we don’t say spring becomes summer.People’s attaining enlightenment is like the moon reflected in water. The moon does not get wet, the water isn’t broken. Though it is a vast expansive light, it rests in a little bit of water – even the whole moon, the whole sky, rests in a dewdrop on the grass, rests in even a single droplet of water. That enlightenment does not shatter people is like the moon not piercing the water.


People’s not obstructing enlightenment is like the drop of dew not obstructing the moon in the sky. The depth is proportionate to the height. As for the length and brevity of time, examining the great and small bodies of water, you should discern the breadth and narrowness of the moon in the sky.”


– Excerpt from Dogen’s “Genjokoan