Mountains Meeting Mountains
Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori Roshi
Featured in Mountain Record 25.1, Fall 2006
The empty sky vanishes. Mountains are level with the plains. Above, not a tile to cover the head. Below, not an inch of ground upon which to stand.
The Main Case
The great Master Dogen taught, “From time immemorial the mountains have been the dwelling place of the great sages; wise ones and sages have made the mountains their own chambers, their own body and mind. And through these wise ones and sages the mountains have been actualized. However many great sages and wise ones we suppose have assembled in the mountains, ever since they entered the mountains no one has met a single one of them. There is only the actualization of the life of the mountains; not a single trace of their having entered remains.”
The Capping Verse
When we truly enter the mountains,
birds, bugs, beasts and blossoms
radiate supernatural excellence
and take great delight in our presence.
In Buddhist lore, mountains and rivers frequently symbolize samsara, the cyclic nature of phenomenal existence and the ups and downs of life, phenomena. But in studying the “Mountains and Rivers Sutra,” it doesn’t take long to appreciate that Dogen’s mountains and rivers are not just the mountains and rivers of samsara. He challenges us, declaring that because mountains and rivers are samsara, they are nirvana. In other words, samsara is nirvana, nirvana is samsara.
In the sutra Dogen writes, “From time immemorial the mountains have been the dwelling place of the great sages; wise ones and sages have made the mountains their own chambers, their own body and mind.And through these wise ones and sages the mountains have been actualized.” Notice that he doesn’t just say “wise ones” or “sages.” He says “wise ones and sages.” “Wise ones” refers to those who do not yet have complete realization; they still lack vision of the Way. “Sages,” on the other hand, refers to those who have attained that vision of the Way. Dogen is saying that these two kinds of practitioners have “made mountains their own chambers, their own body and mind,” and it is through them that the mountains have been actualized. How do you actualize the mountain? To actualize the mountain, you first need to realize it.