Directly Hitting the Mark: Jikige Jōtō

Here is an excerpt from my first book from way back in 2009, Keep Me In Your Heart Awhile: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri, that digs into an important Sōtō teaching. It highlights a Dōgen teaching we worked through during this past retreat:

Dōgen Zenji’s tenth of ten cautions in “Guidelines for Practicing the Way,” is translated variously as “Immediately Hitting the Mark,” “The Direct Realization of the Way,” and “Settling Down Right Here.” Such a range of translations might be due to the difficulty of the Japanese phrase, jikige jōtō.

The meaning is upside down from ordinary thinking. Katagiri Rōshi explains,

"Jikige is 'direct,' no gap between. of jōtō is to receive, accept, absorb, or to assimilate. is 'it.' 'It' is the identity with the ultimate, exactly the fundamental itself. Together, jōtō means to assimilate, receive, and actualize it. We are it so we have to digest it and then we can actualize what we are. It does not come from outside. Jikige jōtō is direct assimilating and actualizing it.

When Rōshi asks, “How do you do it?” “it” is the “it” of that he is asking about. How do you do the fundamental itself, exactly with no gap? One level of assimilating this pickle is to understand the trap where the student is caught. He overvalues the power of understanding and talking. If Rōshi had been Leonard Cohen, he might have sung, "I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see how you’re pinned."

But Rōshi was no sister of mercy. Instead of commiserating, he pushed the student’s face right in it, asking the same question again and again, like that ancient master asking a monk, “Who is it that is worthy of the robe and bowl?” ninety-six times before the monk finally gave a suitable response on his ninety-seventh turn.

Being direct might take some time and patience! If so, it is time and virtue well spent. “Direct,” jikige, is the fulcrum, the most important point of our practice.Katagiri has this to say about directness:

“Direct” does not mean you get something directly, nor does it mean to try to know it.  Instead, properly put your body and mind in the appropriate place. Then you are supported and you are allowed to be realized [emphasis added]. Instead of shutting yourself up in a small house—so called discriminating mind—throw open your heart.

What is the proper place to put the body? In Sōtō Zen we have many detailed practices, specifically manifesting how to sit, stand, walk, and lie down. To study Sōtō Zen is to study these four positions. And the spirit with which one takes them. Not only what to do but how. Finally, it is more a matter of what not to do, how not to obscure it, allowing ourselves to be realized. Throwing open the heart. Directly, immediately.

The spirit of directness is illuminated by illuminated by Rōshi’s turning phrase, “you are allowed to be realized.”

"This is to reverse your everyday life where I always comes first. Then even if you go to the wilderness, you will not get the spirit of the wilderness. If you jump into the ocean, it is not that you try to swim. You are allowed to be swimmed by something more than you and your effort. The ocean, the technique, your teacher, your emotions, and many things allow you to swim."

When the pivot of nothingness spins us around, it is really a big shock—clear and complete from the beginning,majestic, pure, and seamlessly unfabricated—and not realized by chasing after things.