The Genjokoan is a short collection of teachings that initially may seem to have little to do with one another.  The title, Genjokoan, has been translated as “The Issue at Hand” (Thomas Cleary) or “Actualizing the Fundamental Point” (Aitken and Tanahashi).  It is one of the best-known chapters from 13th century Buddhist monk Dogen Zenji’s seminal work, the Shobogenzo.  Like much of Dogen’s works, the Genjokoan seems intended to challenge “commonsense” assumptions, using language to point beyond language, employing a series of metaphors and images.  For example,

When you ride in a boat and watch the shore, you might assume that the

shore is moving.  But when you keep your eyes closely on the boat, you can

see that it is the boat that moves.  Similarly, if you examine myriad things with

a confused body and mind you might suppose that your mind and nature

are permanent.  When you practice intimately and return to where you are, it

will be clear that nothing at all has unchanging self.

Those who have studied physics may be reminded of Albert Einstein’s famous “thought-experiment” involving one observer on a train and another at the train station that Einstein used to illustrate his special theory of relativity. In his discussion Einstein reconciles how two lightning strikes that appear simultaneous to someone observing the train from the station, do not appear simultaneous to someone riding inside the swiftly moving train.

One can easily make too much of comparisons between Dogen and Einstein, but they both are telling us that our perceptions, and indeed our reality, depend on our frame of reference, and that apparent conflicts arise because of conventional, but false, assumptions.  The assumption that Dogen attempts to shake is belief in a permanent, independent, and abiding self.  In the Genjokoan he states,

To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. 

That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.