Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More Dragons

Zen Master Sekisō Keisho (807–888), wanting to master his own mind, established a temple consisting only of a Kobokudō, a “withered tree hall” or zendo, where he sat and slept among the monks. Once, a monk asked Master Sekisō, “Among the withered trees, what is the roar of the dragon?”

Ordinary people talk of withered trees, but a distinction needs to be made between the withered trees that ordinary people speak of and the withered trees of which the Zen Masters and monks of the past spoke. Even though ordinary people talk about withered trees, they do not know what a withered tree is in Zen. Ordinary people imagine that a withered tree is something dead or dying, and that such a tree cannot blossom in the springtime.  

But in Zen, the withered tree is a common metaphor for someone who has reached a deep level of meditation and has experienced the dropping off of body and mind.  Such a person has let go of greed, anger, and delusion, and their passions have all but disappeared. Being unshaken by the arising of delusive thoughts, the withered tree is unwavering.  The withering of the tree is its blossoming, and its blossoming is the roar of the dragon within a withered tree. 

Zen Master Dogen points to mountain trees, ocean trees, and sky trees as examples of withered trees. He is  describing the various types of meditators - mountain trees are those who are sitting as still as a mountain, ocean trees are those who are exploring the great depths, and sky trees are those who are exploring the unbounded.  Even the largest of trees are said to have descended from some withered tree. 

Zen Master Tōsu Daidō (819-914) of the District of Jōshū originally studied the teachings of the Kegon sect, but later realized the Way in Zen Master Suibi’s order.  He then built a hut on Mount Tōsu (Tōsuzan), where he was known for the simplicity of his life.  He wanted to be able to concentrate solely on his original task, so he had others take care of the rice, which they boiled together and ate in common. After his death, he was given the posthumous title of Great Master Jisai.  A monk once asked Master Tōsu, “Does the roar of the dragon exist even within a withered tree?”

Tōsu replied, “I say the lion’s roar exists inside of skulls."

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