Sunday, November 02, 2008

Self, Not Others

This weekend, I led the November zazenkai (day-long meditation period) at the center. It started Friday (Halloween) night, went through Saturday from 9 to 9, and wrapped up Sunday morning.

I had to give at least three talks, and for a topic I had chosen "Self, Not Others." However, in preparing, I wasn't sure how much material I would need to fill three hours, and I now think I over-shot.

Not that too much material would be a problem, but I felt compelled to try to go through it all. It was a bit rushed Saturday morning and a little more restrained Saturday afternoon, but I'm afraid I left the Sunday-morning audience, including a large number of newcomers, far behind. I'll try to go over the material here at a more leisurely rate and in several posts for those curious about what I was trying to relate.

So here's Part 1: For a general theme, I used two stories that should be familiar to regular readers of Water Dissolves Water (as if). First I shared a story of that old ascetic Mahakasyapa, as told by Dogen in the Eihei Koruku. The Eihei Koroku, for those curious, is a collection of Zen Master Dogen's short formal discourses to monks training at Eihei-ji temple, longer informal talks, koans with his commentaries, as well as short appreciatory verses on various topics. Anyway, Dharma Hall Discourse 27 reads as follows:

Here is a story. In ancient days, when Venerable Mahakasyapa was stamping on mud [to mix for making walls], a novice asked, "Why do you do hard work like this yourself?"

The Venerable One replied, "If I don't do this, who else would do it for me?"

The teacher Dogen said: The mind is like a fan in December, the body is like a cloud above the cold valley. If we can see that we act by ourselves, then we can see that someone is doing the work. If we can see that someone is doing the work, then we can see that we ourselves are doing it.

(Dogen’s Extensive Record, A Translation of the Eihei Koruku, translated by Taigen Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura, page 96)


A footnote informs us, "This story is from one of the Chinese lamp transmission anthologies of stories, Shumon Rento Eyo (Collection of the Essence of the Continuous Dharma Lamp). This may be an apocryphal story, not in the sutras. This story is very similar to a story about a tenzo, chief cook in the monastery, who Dogen met during his experiences in China, told by Dogen in his Tenzokyokun (Instructions for the Chief Cook)."

So I followed the story of Mahakasyapa with Dogen's account of his encounter with the tenzo:

When I was at Mount Tiantong, a monk called Lu from Quigyuan Fu was serving as the tenzo. One day after the noon meal, I was walking to another building within the complex when I noticed Lu drying mushrooms in the sun in front of the butsuden. He carried a bamboo stick but had no hat on his head. The sun's rays beat down so harshly that the tiles along the walk burned one's feet. Lu worked hard and was covered with sweat. I could not help but feel the work was too much of a strain for him. His back was a bow drawn taut, his long eyebrows were crane white.

I approached and asked his age. He replied that he was sixty-eight years old. Then I went on to ask him why he never used any assistants.

He answered, "Other people are not me."

“You are right,” I said; “I can see that your work is the activity of the buddhadharma, but why are you working so hard in this scorching sun?”

He replied, “If I do not do it now, when else can I do it?”

There was nothing else for me to say. As I walked on along that passageway, I began to sense inwardly the true significance of the role of the tenzo.

(Tenzo Kyokun, Instructions for the Cook, translated by Thomas Wright in From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment, Refining Your Life, Zen Master Dogen and Kosho Uchiyama, pages 9-10)


Two simple stories, both of which, in essence, raise the question: What is the self that is not others? All the forms and methods of Zen practice, in one way or another, provide us with tested approaches to seeing deeply into the nature of reality through study of the self, so this question truly cuts to the heart of Zen. I'll present the discussions I presented on this matter in sevreal upcoming posts.

1 comment:

Mettai Cherry said...

Thanks for putting this up here Shokai - let me know if you'd like me to plug it in the next newsletter.
I thought your content level was quite appropriate on Sunday. Although there was a lot of philosophical material, you put it in a straight-forward context and defined the odd terms.
I look forward to more postings on this,
Mettai Cherry