”Form is nothing but form, emptiness is nothing but emptiness“ — Dogen
Is it all right to be in love with form?
I love the form — the formalities and order of our Zen sittings. It’s the beautiful container that holds the essence of the practice within: Bowing to one’s cushion, one’s neighbor, and the Buddha, lighting the incense, chanting the Gatha of Atonement and Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo, the posture of sitting, walking kinin between sittings, chanting the Four Vows, listening to the jikido intone his closing gatha, the final bows. Molded by centuries of practice, it’s like a piece of driftwood sculpted by the elements until nothing remains but an inner grace revealed through the wear of time itself.
There’s nothing in the form itself that will get you enlightened, make you a Buddha. Chanting obscure words in a foreign tongue creates no insight, improves no character. Walking in circles around a room is just walking around in circles around a room — it’s not even particularly good exercise. Bowing to others does not, in and of itself, create respect. Vows to save beings are just words.
One can go through all the motions, and it can all be empty — not the Buddhist ”empty,” but the existential one.
One can bristle and rebel: Why am I doing any of this? What has this got to do with anything? Bow to the Buddha? Isn’t that idol worship? Save all beings? Isn’t that claptrap? Keep my mind on Kannon day and night? What’s up with that?
What matters is the spirit in which it is done. Can it all be done with constant presence, with undivided attention and intention, with one’s full being? If so, then form is no longer form but something inhabited and alive — a vehicle that carries you beyond itself. Form becomes content. It becomes a window into emptiness.
You could have been doing something else with your undivided presence — chopping wood, carrying water, making music, making love. You could have been at home, in the woods, by the sea. The zendo is just a building. There was nothing special about the form itself that awakened you.
But the form itself is beautiful.
Is it all right to be in love with form itself?
Enmei Jukko Kannon Gyo
Yo Butsu u in;
Yo Butsu u en;
Bu po so en;
Jo raku ga jo.
Cho nen Kanzeon;
Bo nen Kankeon.
Nen nen ju shin ki.
Nen nen fu ri shin.
Veneration to the Buddha!
With Buddha I have origin;
With Buddha I have affinity;
Affinity with Buddha, Dharma, Sangha;
Constancy, joy, self, and purity.
Mornings, my thought is Kanzeon;
Evenings, my thought is Kanzeon.
Thought after thought arises in mind.
Thought after thought is not separate from mind.
(trans. Robert Aitken Roshi)