Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Carved Dragons

Do not hold the remote in high regard or low regard; just be accustomed to it as the remote. Do not hold the close in high or in low regard; just be accustomed to it as the close. The "remote" here refers to the ancient sutras recorded in India many centuries ago, while the "close" refers to our own experience in zazen.

While Baso Dōitsu (704-788) was training under Zen Master Nangaku Ejō (677-744), he received the immediate transmission of the mind-seal. As other accounts of this kōan make clear, the incident of the polishing of the tile took place some considerable time after this transmission. During that time, Baso sat in his hut doing his meditation day after day regardless of the weather, even to the point of sitting in the deep snow that covered the floor of his hut. One day while Baso was sitting in meditation, Nangaku came to where he was and asked him, “Virtuous monk, what is the aim of your sitting in meditation?”

This question needs to be carefully investigated; we need to consider what Nangaku might have been asking. Did he have in mind that there is something above and beyond sitting in meditation? Or has there never been a practice beyond that of sitting in zazen? Or should we not aim at anything at all? Or was he asking Baso whether some goal had manifested itself from his constant sitting in meditation?

There is a story of a Chinese artist who was so skilled at fashioning carved dragons that his carved creations could summon up clouds and rain. One day, when a real dragon showed up in his studio, the experience was so powerful that it totally overwhelmed him. In this story, the carved dragon is a representation, or an explanation, of zazen, while the real dragon symbolizes zazen itself, which goes beyond any notions one may have of what zazen might be. Although both the carved and the real dragon possess the ability to summon up clouds and rain, we should prize the real dragon more than the carved one.

We should not treat our eyes lightly, as the eyes can clearly see the way things are. We should not attach great importance to our eyes, as the eyes are associated with the mere appearances of concrete things, or the function of perception. We should not treat our ears lightly, as the ears can accurately understand what things truly are. We should not attach great importance to our ears, as the ears respond to words and are associated with the function of intellect. We should just make our ears and our eyes sharp and clear.

(adapted from Shobogenzo Zazenshin by Zen Master Dogen, 1242)

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