A fish swims in the ocean, and no matter how far it swims there is no end to the water. A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies there is no end to the air.My tendency has been to read Dōgen's lines here as referring to something like a medium, the "that through which" something like a fish or a bird or me passes. It's endless, right there with the critter in question, in fact pretty goshdarn near coextensive with the critter in question, too. But it's BIG, like the ocean and the sky and life. And even though I read that the bird is the air and the fish is the water, it's been hard to shake the feeling of vastness, since, let's face it, sky and ocean and life are just about as big as things get around here.
I think my tendency has been misguided, since it's not a size issue but an inexhaustibility issue.
It's as small but as inexhaustible as a 16th note, as I heard in a recent teisho. It's as insignificant but as inexhaustible as Gutei's finger. It's as minuscule but as inexhaustible as that smudge I missed on the window pane. It's as trivial but as inexhaustible as a shake of the salt from the shaker. It's as passing but as inexhaustible as that sip of coffee I just took.
Here's the kicker: this inexhaustibility is not a function of the things in question, since 16th notes, fingers, smudges, shakes of salt or coffee sips are whole, complete and one in themselves. Rather, t's a function of the fact that as close in as I get to any of them, as "one with them" as I can possibly become, there's still that whisper of a self that slips in as the very condition of my getting in good with them at all. Seems there will always be a moment of divergence, however slight and hopefully diminishing, between me and every other thing, and that divergence is what keeps me coming back for more and more and more, going (seemingly) deeper and deeper and deeper.
At least, of course, until that self extinguishes and, with it, everything else as well. But that's another matter entirely.