On observing

Some aspects of Buddhism are more scientific than religious. Consider this verse from the Blue Cliff Record, Case 39:

If you want to know the meaning of buddha-nature, you should observe times and seasons, causes and conditions.

— tr. Cleary and Cleary (1977, 240)

It is essential to your practice of observation that you be aware of its limitations. As Dogen put it in his ‘Genjokoan’:

Though there are many features in the dusty world and the world beyond conditions, you see and understand only what your eye of practice can reach.

According to the glossary of this translation (Tanahashi 2010), ‘beyond conditions’ is ‘格 外 [kakugai], literally, outside frameworks.’ A psychologist might say “beyond conditioning”; in Turning Signs we may say beyond the cognitive bubble. Or we might say that Dogen’s point is the flip side of Peircean pragmatism.

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