The expression "aigo" (priyavacana) is an old Buddhist term that originated in India, but in the Sotoshu the context that we are most familiar with is the reference found in Dogen Zenji's text Bodaisatta Shishobo. Bodaisatta Shishobo, which means "The Four All-Embracing Methods of a Bodhisattva", is one chapter in his masterwork the Shobogenzo. "Aigo" literally means "kind, affectionate speech" or some might translate it as "loving words." I think it's fair to say that most Japanese people have not read the Shobogenzo, but all Japanese people associated with the Sotoshu, are familiar with the Shushogi ("The Meaning of Practice and Verification"). The Shushogi is a compendium of quotations taken from the Shobogenzo to form a sutra primarily for lay people that was composed by Ouchi Seiran in the early twentieth century. The Shushogi is comprised of five sections. The fourth section is titled "Making the Vow to Benefit Beings." The greater part of this section is a direct quotation from "The Four All-Embracing Methods of a Bodhisattva." It is in this context of the teaching of benefitting other people that most people have come across Dogen Zenji's teaching about "Aigo." Whether we translate this term into English as "kind speech" or "loving words", this is a notion that most people probably don't think of as being particular to the Buddhist religion, but rather see it an ethical concept we could find in any culture or religion. What is the significance then of this term in Buddhism? What did Dogen Zenji mean by it? These are questions I can't promise to answer, but I would like to write about some of the connections I see between this teaching and the larger context of the Soto teaching in general. I would like to begin by writing first about the significance of the term "Shobogenzo."
"Sho" in Shobogenzo means something that is eternal, something that will never change. The Chinese character for "sho" (正) means "true" or "right" and in this case means unchanging. "Ho" (法), which is elided as "bo" when it appears in Shobogenzo, is the Dharma. The Dharma is everything we see with the eyes, hear with the ears, taste with the tongue, smell with the nose, feel with the skin, and think with the mind. Human beings are also the Dharma. "Gen" (眼) means "eye." In this case, the eye represents each of the six sense functions: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking. The eye doesn't judge whether something is clean or dirty, big or small; it merely reflects what is seen. The tongue doesn't make the distinction between sweet and salty. All things in our lives appear through the condition of the five senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. It is within the mind that discriminations such as sweet and salty, like and dislike arise. The tool which makes those discriminations we call "consciousness." No discrimination is made in the sensations that are received by the eye, ears, or tongue. Discrimination is only within the function of consciousness. This means that it isn't bad to think of various things and such thoughts are not delusion. The function of the mind is nothing other than a tool for thinking. This is explained in the "gen" (eye) of Shobogenzo. "Zo" (蔵) is a storehouse or treasury. The meaning here is that by letting suffering be suffering as it is, letting anxiety be anxiety as it is, and by letting all discriminations be as they are, we function freely. Collectively, the four components of "Shobogenzo" mean that we ourselves are an eye that sees things correctly. It means to see all things as essentially one.
Many people think that "Shobogenzo" refers only to a book by Dogen Zenji, but if we trace the etymology of this expression we find it appears in the well-known story called "Shakyamuni Buddha Holds Up a Flower," (a story which Dogen Zenji refers to three times in the Shobogenzo.) Shakyamuni Buddha had wanted to resolve by any means possible the basic sufferings of human life: birth and death, old age and sickness. For that reason, he entered a place of ascetic practice. Speaking later about the nature of that practice he said, "No one either in the past, the present, or the future has practiced, is practicing, or will practice as severe ascetic practices as I have." However, no matter how much he punished his body, he was unable to attain true satisfaction. Realizing that he wouldn't be able to bring an end to the basic sufferings of human beings by means of ascetic practice, Shakyamuni Buddha regained his strength by accepting the food of a young village girl and then he sat. Some years later, at the instant of seeing the morning star, he realized that certainly there is a time when the self awakens to the self. He verified this for himself. For 49 years following his awakening, the Buddha traveled throughout India expounding the teaching that all things including mountains, rivers, and grass have been, are, and will be Buddha. However, the true meaning of Shakyamuni Buddha's teaching cannot be expressed in words. Toward the end of his life when it was time to decide who would be his successor, while on top of Mr. Grdhrakuta, he suddenly held up a flower and then let it fall. His disciple Mahakashapa broke out in a broad smile. Seeing this, Shakyamuni Buddha said "I have the treasury of the true Dharma eye ("Shobogenzo"), the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the Formless, and the subtle Dharma gate independent of words and transmitted beyond the teachings. I entrust it now to Mahakashapa." This expression "Shobogenzo" was used at that time. So, please know that Dogen Zenji's Shobogenzo has the same contents as Shakyamuni Buddha's Shobogenzo. At the same time, please keep in mind that you also are nothing other than this Shobogenzo. The main point that Dogen Zenji emphasizes again and again in the Shobogenzo is "How is it possible to really know oneself?" In general, we can say that Zen practice is the matter of getting to know the Self; it is the intention to know the Self that is one with all things.
Perhaps Dogen Zenji's best known teaching is "To study the Way of Buddha is to study the Self. To study the Self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as others. All traces of enlightenment disappear and this traceless enlightenment continues on and on." In this teaching, which also appears in the Shobogenzo, Dogen Zenji is clearly saying that practice (studying the Way of Buddha) is to realize the essential nature of things (Self). This is to realize fundamentally that there is no separation between oneself and others by forgetting the ego and that all things are part of one's body (enlightened by all things). When there is the realization that there is no need to compare outside of one's functioning right now (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking), the seeking mind ceases and great loving mind flows forth. Then, the true nature of the Self is manifested. The sense of the separate ego-self which is the source of dividing the essential nature oneness of things into self and other, pain and pleasure, increase and decrease, is the source of all delusion and anxiety. When the source of this delusion disappears completely, this condition is called liberation. It is also called "nirvana" or "enlightenment." When the self is forgotten, then the joyous activity that is free of the ego is born (all traces of enlightenment disappear) and verifies yourself at every moment, in every place, in any situation (continues on and on endlessly.)
Again, when we consider Dogen Zenji's teaching about "kind speech", I think it's important to see the larger context of his teaching.
To be continued.