This post is a short offering with some thoughts on a famous quote from Master Dogen, a
12th century Zen Buddhist Monk. Dogen is one of the most famous Buddhist teachers to have ever lived. He is seen as the founder of the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition, which originated in Japan. There are many books and volumes of information on the internet about Dogen and his teaching. So do check him out. However this post is going to focus on a line from one of his many famous writings. I will then discuss what I believe is the relevance of this saying for modern day leaders and anyone living in the modern world.
Dogen wrote the following beautiful phrase.
"To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by myriad things."
I love this quote! It is very deep and Buddhists have studied this short passage for centuries. I once attended a retreat at a Buddhist monastery where we studied this quote over four days. The amount of teaching that came from it was incredible but I will focus on one line of this passage only.
The line I want to focus on is the final line of this passage.
"To forget the self is to be enlightened by myriad things".
In my experience this line is the least studied in this famous passage but it is my favorite line. This line has had a major impact on how I approach Buddhist practice, my leadership roles and my daily life. This line for me is revolutionary and it encourages us to take a completely different approach to life.
In our own lives we sometimes become so busy we get bogged down with things and we begin to dread every interaction. In the next meeting will I face the same difficult questions? Is the next person I interact with going to be difficult? Will I cancel that walk with my friend tonight because I feel so exhausted?
These thoughts are all too common for many of us.
However, what is it to be enlightened by myriad things? The myriad things just means all the things we encounter in our daily life. The difficult person, the kind person, the rainy day, the sunny day, a gray building, a beautiful mountain scene, feeling tired, feeling energetic, being unwell and being well. All of these states are part of life. Not to be rejected and not to be sought after either.
All of these encounters are part of the myriad things. Dogen encourages us to be enlightened by the myriad things. For me this describes a transformational approach to life. If we get up in the morning with a mindset that we can learn and be enlightened by all that we encounter it can help change our outlook on the day ahead. The difficult colleague or the meeting we are dreading becomes an opportunity to learn and grow. When we feel stressed and angered we can see them as part of the learning process. Letting them go quickly and observing our reactions to them but not getting stuck in them.
As well as experiencing the difficulties in life we also notice the beautiful blue sky or the person who holds the door open for us in the office. We go for that walk with our friend and enjoy their company. We embrace feeling tired and go to bed early and wake in the morning feeling more refreshed. We see that life's ups and downs when approached as a chance to grow and find peace in everything we encounter (the myriad things) can help us learn and find joy in daily life.
As we try to practice this approach to life on a daily basis we begin to forget the self as Dogen states. Our entrenched views on how the day will go, or how the meeting will go or how the difficult colleague will behave softens slightly. We can move through life more easily. We still face the same challenges but the obstacles that stop us from feeling content in life just don't seem so big anymore. I challenge you to try and take this approach to life and see if it helps.
This spirit of being enlightened by myriad things is best told in the old zen story of the three laughing monks. This story often brings a tear to my eye. It is simple but yet profound. Please take five minutes to watch and listen to the film below, you will not regret it. If you enjoyed this blog post please consider buying a copy of my novel The Buddhist CEO from the shop above. Thanks for reading and please subscribe to get my regular blog updates.