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More on the Power of Intention

Dogen consistently uses the term “Who is it” throughout his writings. It can be interpreted in a couple of ways. Simply one’s Buddha Nature. And yet Dogen also recognizes that we have a heart-mind, or more importantly that we are embodied heart-mind and secondly that there is that which is beyond Buddhahood.

What is that which is beyond Buddhahood? I don’t know. It could be called a mystery or it could be called complete clarity. Or as the Tao Teh Ching begins:


The Tao that can be named is not the Tao

Names can be named, but not the eternal Name

As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless;

As “the Mother” of all things, it is nameable.

In being without desires, one experiences the wonder

But by having desires, one experiences the journey

Yet both spring from the same source and differ mostly in name.

This source is called “Mystery”

Mystery upon Mystery,

The womb giving birth to all of being.


Yet, it is in the embodied world around us, the world where the dishes need to be done, the lawn to be mowed, or dinner to be cooked, that we reside. And here Dogen writes about translating intention into action, about being purposeful.


“From the time when you first give rise to the intention to spiritually awaken and incline your steps towards training and practice of the Buddha’s Way, you will be heartily putting into practice a difficult course of training. And, though you put it into practice, you may not hit the bull’s-eye even once in a hundred tries. Even so, you will ultimately hit the target, sometimes by following the advice of your spiritual friend and sometimes by following Scriptural texts. The one hit today is due to the strength of a hundred misses in the past. It is the fulfillment of those hundred misses”. In my words – keep showing up if you want to express your intention.


So, for Dogen our challenge is to express our intention – and that is through our practice. And he doesn’t promise us a rose garden. Rather he promises us a difficult course of training. Again, he writes, “…if we should fail to explore through our training that we have Buddha Nature, it would not be the way to study the Way”. More simply put, to express our intention means doing so with courage, perseverance, and determination. To express our intention takes us to sesshin – touching heart-mind. Maybe when we are beginners we subtly ask ourselves, “What’s in it for me?” Nothing really, just dropping off of body and mind, and coming to the understanding that this intention and its expression are to help all sentient beings reach the other shore. We start right here on the cushion or on the chair in sesshin.


In gassho, Zochi



Sitting Inside Alone by Horaku


I went to a spacious valley

walked slowly among flowers

vibrant colors in bloom —

gazed silently at majestic mountains

snow capped peaks in quiet repose

then I found the way back

to my humble abode by the river

only to suddenly realize

I never left.

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