"When you examine "the entire earth" or "the entire universe," you should investigate them three or five times without stopping, even though you already see them as vast. Understanding these words is going beyond buddhas and ancestors by seeing the extremely large as extremely small and the extremely small as large. Although this seems like denying that there is any such thing as large or small, this [understanding] is the awesome presence of active buddhas." (p. 83, "Beyond Thinking", edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Shambala books 2004.)
This saying reminds me of my own work with the Lord's prayer, specifically the first two words of that prayer.
If duly contemplated, the first word of this prayer, "our", extends well beyond the limits imposed by our anthropocentric view. It implies the entire universe- all of reality in its myriad manifestations. It can be experienced as both personal- in the sense of our person as it contemplates- and impersonal- as our person attempts, through an attuned awareness and inner sensation, to extend its understanding past the established boundaries , to include all that is.
This may or may not include visualization, but to visualize actually isn't necessary. It is the act of sensing this commonality that invokes a relationship with a certain kind of vibration. This commonality extends from the "strings" of vibration that create reality at the quantum level all the way up to the galaxies that populate the universe. ... and of course it's called the universe because it is all one thing. So the universe is our common property- we belong to it and it belongs to us.
The United States of Vibration.
The United States of Vibration inevitably contains all the collective consciousnesses of the universe, so it has an inherently conscious property. You can't take the consciousness out of this unity without denying consciousness itself. By this we absolutely know that one of the properties of the universe is consciousness- and if the universe at its root is one thing, one single supreme state of vibration, well, consciousness is part of its nature, isn't it?
"Father," the second word in the prayer, refers to the single source of prime arising that gives birth to reality- the sacred Om, the single prime or "male" vibration that penetrates the female nature of all matter, collapsing the quantum state and giving rise to what we call material reality. This force is also at once both personal and impersonal. It too is an indiviudal- that is, an undivided being- composed of a single thing, which is vibration. Its individuality is too vast to comprehend, however. I say it's impersonal because it is also objective- that is, untouched by human concerns. Alien to us and supreme in purpose- a single manifestation of truth alone.
In the act of contemplation and sensation during the study of this prayer, I can attempt to sense within me the intersection of both the incomprehensible scale of the universe and the "quantum web" of vibration that gives rise to my being. This exercise connects a "cellular" or "magnetic" sense of being to the vastness of all that is. Here the extremely large- the universe- becomes small as I try to allow it to dwell within me, and the extremely small becomes large, as I try to encompass and accept the vibration at the root of reality. I'm extending my experience of being in both directions, upward and downward, from a center of sensation and awareness that forms a bridge between these levels.
There is rich ground to explore here. It needs no manipulation, only participation. In and of itself it already knows what it is. I'm the one who is still in the dark.
Within the exercise it's sometimes possible to gain a taste of what Dogen is saying. We find within it that tangible bridge between Zen and Christianity which so fascinated Thomas Merton- and within it, too, we find a gesture that underscores a hidden connection between the two "opposing" forces of science and religion, which, as Gurdjieff pointed out, actually have the same aim.
There's a lot more to work with this prayer, of course. The first two words are just an appetizer for a meal that will take a lifetime- or perhaps several of them- to consume.
One last note: Dogen asks us to contemplate "the earth" or "the universe" three or five times without stopping. Perhaps this is a suggestion that in meditation, we try to examine the question from the point of view of three or five centers- in other words, to sense this question with all our various minds, rather than just the one that plays with words.
There are other exerices more specifically attuned to that undertaking but they lie beyond the scope of a blog.