Teisho: The Thirteenth Hour, Pierre Dokan Crépon

During this teisho I’m going to comment on a phrase by Master Dogen. Drawing on words from the Dharma (extracts from sutras, the words of Zen masters) and letting them develop, is a good way to study the Way.
The sayings of the Masters are points we can draw on that help us to progress. They are also anchors that prevent us from flying off. As we deepen the practice, in the same way that we become intimate with our zafu, with our bowl, we become intimate with the words of the masters. All of this is part of the substance of the Dharma, even though we cannot truly say that there is substance in the Dharma.

The phrase I am going to comment on is taken from a text in Dogen’s Shôbôgenzô entitled, Hakujushi, which means “the oak”. The text is about Master Joshu and a famous mondo in which a monk asks him, “Why did Bodhidharma come to the West?” Joshu replied, “An oak in the garden.” This question about the coming of Bodhidharma to the West has often been asked and has elicited many replies.
At any rate, the phrase I want to talk about is at the end of the text and is not directly linked to this mondo. To understand it, I have to explain a cultural point. In China and Japan, the day is traditionally divided into twelve hours, instead of the twenty-four we use in the West. Each hour, or each period, is designated by a Chinese astrological sign: tiger, ox, rat, rabbit, etc. It starts with the hour of the rat from 23:00 to 1:00, then the hour of the ox, etc.

Here is the phrase in question: Dogen said, “As for the moment when the oak realizes the state of Buddha, although it’s within the twelve hours, it is also within the thirteenth hour.”

The thirteenth hour is outside of the twelve hours of the day. It is a time outside of time, outside of the time that ticks away during the day. It is the world outside of the world. The thirteenth hour is the hour of the religious mind, of the mystic mind, the hour of Buddha.

Our practice is at the heart of the thirteenth hour. If it were not so, it would belong only to the twelve hours of the day and would become an ordinary practice. Then zazen would be only a form of gymnastics with psychosomatic effects, and samu would be like doing voluntary work on a building site. However, this is not the practice of Awakening: zazen is not just crossing your legs and taking up the posture. It is putting on the kesa, covering oneself with the thirteenth hour. It is like this for each moment of the practice, clothed in the religious dimension.

But, at the same time, we practice within the twelve hours of this world, within passing time. It is not somewhere else; it is not a religion of another time. It is neither before nor after. It is a practice of today.
We often think that things were better before. It was better in Master Deshimaru’s time, in Master Dogen’s time, or in Shakyamuni Buddha’s time. The weather was better before. This is a human sentiment. Before, it was paradise. This is a nostalgia for our roots. Religious fundamentalists want to go back to the beginnings of their religion.
Or perhaps we think that later things will be better. Later on the messiah will come. Later on there will be a revolution and everyone will be happy. This is eschatology. When I can do the lotus, when I have solved such and such a problem, I will really be able to practice the Way.

At the time of Dogen, the belief was widespread that it was a time of degeneracy or decline of the Law. This concerns the theory in which the Buddha-law declines progressively over several periods. We find a similar idea in the Indian theory of different cosmic ages. So, people would say, “We are in this period of decline; we cannot attain the state of Buddha.” This is why Amida Buddhism developed at that time in Japan, preached by Honen and Shinran: the world was too degenerate to practice the Buddha-law and, according to Amida Buddhism, one could only put one's trust in Amida Buddha who had made the vow to save all beings.

But Dogen’s teaching is different. He says, “No, it is now, in this period of decline in the Law that we may attain the Buddha-state.” It is at the heart of this period of time, now, in the twelve hours, that we can practice. Not before, not after, but now.
Practicing within the twelve hours means daily practice: the time of getting up, the time of zazen, the time of ceremonies, the time of genmai, of samu, etc. Each moment of the twelve hours is the moment to attain the state of Buddha. This also means not escaping from oneself, not escaping from one’s body. It is with our body, which tires and ages over the years, that we attain the state of Buddha.

But, further, it is also at the heart of the thirteenth hour. It is like the phrase, “During the forty-nine years of his preaching, Shakyamuni never pronounced a single word.” There are the twelve hours that are all the sutras, Hinayana and Mahayana, the whole Buddhist Canon where the teachings of Shakaymuni are recorded. And, at the same time, there is the thirteenth hour where “Shakyamuni never pronounced a single word.”

You read the words of Buddha and at the same time you hear that not one word was pronounced. This is the moment when the oak realizes the Buddha-state. The oak is Joshu, me, you, each one of us. The oak with its skin, bones, and marrow is like ourselves with our bark, wood and sap when we realize the Buddha-state.

Realising awakening is awakening realising itself, because awakening is not something other than its realisation. Bodhi does not exist outside of Bodhi-realisation, God does not exist outside of the realization of God.
This moment is within the twelve hours, within the thirteenth hour, within form, and non-form. This is why Dogen says, “Realising awakening is being at the heart of the twelve hours and the thirteenth hour.”

The heart of our practice cannot be accessed by a discursive mind only, by ordinary logic, but at the same time it is not something mysterious or incomprehensible. On this point, Dogen often used the expression, “understand everything through not understanding.” This is because it is at once in the realm of the twelve hours and in the realm of the thirteenth hour.


Pierre Dokan Crépon

The Gendronnière, 5 August 2007