T H E P A I N T E D C A K E O F T H U S N E S S
"Dogen employed the metaphor "A painting of a cake (gabyo) does not satisfy hunger" to express the fact that life and death, coming and going are all a painted picture (gato). Painting a picture, the painter, and a painted picture all constituted a single reality; religion and art ultimately converged in the holistic view that mirrored the self and the world.
From this, Dogen drew a striking conclusion—entirely different from the traditional interpretation—that the painted cake alone could satisfy hunger, or to put it differently, unless we ate the painted cake, we could never satisfy our hunger. . . life and art, truth and the imagination are never bifurcated but constitute a total reality in which the spring is realized as a painted picture via the plum blossoms and the painter’s striving. The painted picture “allows the plum blossoms to exert the spring” and thereby the spring “enters the [plum] tree."
The painted cake of thusness is not a metonym. Since it is reality, it has the power "to bring us into line with our experience of totality". This power erases any demarcation between reality and illusion; has multiple meanings (multidimensional); interfuses the symbol and the symbolized so that "likeness" is "thusness"; expresses emptiness since it is the substance of realization; expresses transformative concepts in the soteriological milieu to avoid dualistic notions of bifurcation; triggers religio-philosophical imagination; interprets the transcendental/static in terms of the realizational/dynamic; expresses analogy as identity; expresses discontinuous continuity (multidirectional)."
Dogen: On Meditation And Thinking