'Someone' Nonthinking, 2015 acrylic on canvas, 66" x 66"
"Nonthinking is identified by Eihei Dogen as "right thinking", one of the categories of the eightfold path that leads to the cessation of suffering and the attainment of nirvana. . . .This hermeneutic move by Dogen is noteworthy, in that it implies that not only is right thought to be practiced simultaneously in conjunction with the other seven categories of the path (i.e., right understanding, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration), but also is the kernel of them all, that is, of the Buddhist path of liberation. This is in itself quite a novel interpretation of the eightfold path as the early teaching of Buddhist praxis.
Furthermore, in the context of the three divisions of the eightfold path—morality, meditation, and wisdom—Dogen singles out right thought from the division of wisdom (prajna). He takes it to be the essence of meditation, as if he were overriding the conventional arrangement of right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration under the division of meditation. . . . Dogen is not only challenging the conventional divisions of morality, meditation, and wisdom in Buddhism, but also grappling with the thorny problems of meditation and wisdom in Zen.
What is right thinking in Dogen's religion? First and foremost, right thinking is informed, purified, and empowered by the cardinal principle of emptiness, as signified by nonthinking. Emptiness is not any ultimate reality or its attribute, nor is it concerned with the existence or nonexistence of ultimate reality; it is a salvific designation connoting the absence of any self-existing essence (jisho). Hence its function is to liberate practitioners so that they may freely and openly explore and experiment with soteric possibilities without being trammeled by substantialist, representational obsessions. (p.91)
Empowered now, nonthinking/right thinking may be likened to the "custodian" of emptiness in the dynamics of Zen realization. Such a function of nonthinking is what Dogen seems to have had in mind by "someone" in his enigmatic statement "There is "someone" in nonthinking and this someone sustains the one [who sits in zazen]. Or to put it differently, in Dogen's schematic terms, nonthinking may be regarded as the "mediator" between thinking and not-thinking. . . . Dogen: "We actualize thinking and not-thinking in and through nonthinking/right thinking." . . . As the method of zazen, nonthinking/right thinking orients thinking and not-thinking; it facilitates and negotiates ongoing dialogue between them, generating right thinking that is responsive to, and responsible for, daily affairs. Yet it is free and unattached to them." (p.92)
— Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on meditation and thinking; a reflection on his view of Zen.