Meet conditions with flexibility

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In his essay, “Mountains and Rivers Sutra” 13th century Zen master Dogen writes, “When you see mountains from the ordinary world, and when you meet mountains while in mountains, the mountains’ head and eye are viewed quite differently.  Your idea or view of mountains not flowing is not the same as the view of dragons and fish. Humans and heavenly beings have attained a position concerning their own worlds that other beings may doubt or may not have the capacity to doubt.”

Here, Dogen is talking about the difference between all the different kinds of creatures and all the views that there are. His main message here is, “Don’t hold on to any view. Rather, respond to conditions as they arise.”  In the next paragraph he emphasizes his point when he writes, “Do not remain bewildered and skeptical when you hear the words mountains flow; but study these words with the Buddha ancestors.   When you take up one view you see mountains flowing and when you take up another view, mountains are not flowing. One time, mountains are flowing, another they are not flowing. If you don’t understand this, you do not understand the true teachings of the Buddha.”

In the beginning of this essay that I have been writing about for the last two years, Dogen really pushed the point about mountains flowing because we don’t usually think mountains flow.  He had to make us understand what he meant by “mountains flow” so we could say, “Okay, I got it. Mountains flow. I can forget about the idea that mountains don’t flow.”   But as soon as we grasp that insight he says, “No.  Don’t get stuck on the idea that mountains flow because then that becomes your narrow view.”   This section of his essay is about duality and non duality. If you get stuck on the idea that all is one, then the next minute when all is not one, you feel lost. If you get caught in one side of an argument, you lose the truth.

We all know people who bug us. Sometimes when you meet them you are compassionate and kind. But another time you’ll say, “I’m out of here.”  If you want to be a compassionate person, you may criticize yourself for this reaction. But when you see that each reaction contains the opposite reaction you can say, “I’m out of here,” without demonizing this person or throwing your good heart away.  If you can protect your space without aggression and hatred in this way, you have learned to discern that sometimes mountains are flowing and sometimes they are not flowing. This seeing both sides at the same time is the secret of many Zen teachings.

Suggested Practice: Next time you are in conflict with someone with whom you have been friends, try to see that person from the side of friendship and from the side of the conflict at the same time. Notice how that affects your attitude and actions.