Mountains are Mountains

Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi
Teachings of Mountains and Rivers, Part V

Featured in Mountain Record 25.1, Fall 2006


The Prologue

Not distinguishing east from west, nor north from south, day after day, morning to evening, evening to morning, so it remains. Is this being fast asleep? At times, the eyes are like comets, the mind is like lightning. Can it be said that this is wide awake? At times facing south and calling it north, is this mindful or mindless? Is this a person of the Way or a person of delusion? All traces of enlightenment having fallen away, one puts on clothing and takes a meal. Where spiritual powers wander at play among the ten thousand things, there is no way to frame it or to name it. Is this a sage or an ordinary being?

 

The Main Case

Master Dogen taught, “As for mountains, there are mountains hidden in treasures; there are mountains hidden in marshes, mountains hidden in the sky; there are mountains hidden in mountains. There is a study of mountains hidden in hiddenness. An old master said, ‘Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.’ The meaning of these words is not that mountains are mountains, but that mountains are mountains. Therefore we should thoroughly study these mountains. When we thoroughly study the mountains, this is the mountain training. Such mountains and rivers themselves spontaneously become wise ones and sages.”

 

The Capping Verse

When an ordinary person realizes it,
she is a sage.
When a sage realizes it,
he is an ordinary person.


This is the last of five talks on the teachings of mountains and rivers. In these passages from the “Mountains and Rivers Sutra,” Dogen spoke of various characteristics of the mountains. He talked about being in the mountains as a flower opening in the world, of blue mountains walking, of mountains flowing. He spoke of rivers rising up to the heavens and descending into crevices. He referred to a mountain giving birth to a mountain child. He described various possible attributes of mountains and rivers—indeed, the attributes of all sentient beings—in terms of the Five Ranks of Master Dongshan. Finally we arrive at the concluding paragraph of this incredible sutra, quoted above, where Dogen brings it home to the fifth rank. But keep in mind that each rank contains all of the other ranks. Each of the eight gates of training of the Mountains and Rivers Order contains all of the other gates. Each of the ten stages of practice contains all ten stages. Each of the paramitas, or perfections, contains every other one. These are not separate and distinct entities. We need to speak of them in terms of separate entities in order to study them and make them intelligible, but the truth is that everything that Dogen is talking about in this sutra is not only the total interpenetration of those five ranks—of absolute and relative—but is also the body and mind of each one of us. This very body and mind are these mountains and rivers. All of these virtues and characteristics of the mountains and rivers are the virtues and characteristics of all buddhas, all sentient beings.

In the prologue we have a description of a person who has integrated all of the five ranks in his or her own existence:

All traces of enlightenment having fallen away, one puts on clothing and takes a meal. Where spiritual powers wander at play among the ten thousand things, there is no way to frame it or to name it. Is this a sage ora an ordinary being?

 

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