Symbol and Symbolized

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Symbol and Symbolized

Postby Ogyen » Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:56 am

The Main Case

A monastic asked Master Zhaozhou, “Of the three aspects of Buddha—the physical, the moral, and the metaphysical, which is the original one?”
Zhaozhou said, “Do not leave out any of them.”
Master Dogen said, “The supreme truth of bodhi is just the painting of a picture. Neither the dharma world nor empty space is anything other than the painting of a picture.”

The Commentary

The questioner is asking which of the three aspects of the Buddha is the real one. Is it his material existence—that which can be perceived through the senses? Is it his moral teachings, which are a symbol of his existence? Or is it his transcendent reality—that which we point to in the sutras, the liturgy, the buddha images—all the pictures we have painted of the Buddha? What is his reality and what is the picture of his reality? Indeed we could ask, is there a difference between the picture of reality and reality itself? We generally regard a picture or a work of art as a representation of something else, a symbol of that which is symbolized. But we should understand that the symbol and the symbolized are nondual. The symbol is the symbolized.

Haven’t you heard Master Dogen’s teaching? In the dharma, even metaphors are ultimate realities, thus picture is reality, reality is picture. The transcendent reality that we point to in sutras, liturgy, and images is in fact the sutras, liturgy, and images themselves. The mythical and the real are one reality. For this reason, dreams, illusions, and images are boundless sources for satisfying spiritual hunger.

A monastic asked Zhaozhou, “What is Buddha?” Zhaozhou answered, “The one in the shrine.” I ask you, what is real? What is reality? Where do you find yourself?

The Capping Verse

The moon and the pointing finger
are a single reality.
Aside from painted cakes,
there is no other way to satisfy hunger.


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Mud to Lotus

"To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget." –Arundhati Roy
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