Tuesday, July 29, 2014

So behold poor Tokusan, a once proud and pious scholar, a fierce and steadfast expert on the Diamond Sutra, brought low by his inability to answer a simple question from an elderly dumpling vendor on the road. He is now practicing under Ryūtan, a teacher of the very school of Buddhism that he had previously vowed to destroy.

Ryūtan blows out a candle, and Tokusan all at once experiences what he perceives as a great realization, and makes his bows to his teacher.  But as Zen Master Dogen, who presumably knows a thing or two about these matters, observes, "We see merely that his paper candle was blown out, which is not enough for the transmission of the torch."  His teacher, instead of validating his experience with some words such as "You are like this, I am like this, the Buddha and the Patriarchs are like this,"  instead just asks him "What have you seen?"  In other words, "Why the heck are you bowing?"

Contrast this to Hui-Neng's words when another fierce, steadfast monk, the monk Ming, had his moment of realization. Hui-Neng tells Ming, "You have realized your true self, and anything deeper belongs to you alone." When Ming says that from now on, Hui-Neng will be his teacher, Hui-Neng deflects the compliment and says that they both have Hongren as their teacher, and that Ming should hold fast to what he had learned from him.

But Ryūtan merely asks Tokusan, "What have you seen?" and Tokusan replies that he has seen that his teacher is never to be doubted.  Great.  He still hasn't found his own light, hasn't yet become a lamp unto himself as the Buddha was purported too have said  (Ryūtan's blowing out the candle was a way of telling Tokusan that  he had to find his own light in the darkness). Where he formerly relied too much on the scriptures of the Diamond Sutra, Tokusan was now relying too much on his teacher.  Just one substitute for his own light after another.

But Ryūtan, with almost inconceivable, grandmotherly kindness, does not tell him this, does not throw muddy water over Tokusan's enthusiasm, but instead goes along with his charade of "enlightenment."  Ryūtan  tells the assembly the next day that there is one among them who is fierce of spirit ("fangs like trees of swords" and so on) and steadfast in his pursuit ("strike him with a stick and he won't even look away"), and that someday Tokusan will himself become a great Zen teacher and the abbot of his own monastery.

Someday.  But, as Ryūtan did not add, just not yet.

The 13th Century chronicler Mumon considers the whole affair to have been nothing more than a farce.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Painted Dumpling Cannot Satisfy Hunger

What did Tokusan see when Ryūtan blew out the candle?  To answer this, we have to first consider who Tokusan had been before meeting with his teacher.

Previous to his encounter with Ryūtan, Tokusan Senkan boasted that he had mastered the meaning of the Diamond Prajñā Sutra. He sometimes called himself “Shū, King of the Diamond Sutra.” He was reputed to be especially well versed in the myriad commentaries on the sutra, of which he himself had produced over 1,5000 pounds. It appears that there was no other lecturer to match him. 

One day, he hears that there is a teaching in the South being passed from successor to successor that points directly at the mind and does not rely on the scriptures.  Angered beyond endurance at this, he crosses mountains and rivers, carrying his sutras and commentaries with him, intending to set the record straight with those upstarts once and for all.  On the way, he stops for a rest by the side of the road and soon an old woman comes along and also stops for a rest beside him.

Tokusan asks, “What kind of person are you?”

The old woman says, “I am an old woman who sells dumplings.”

Tokusan says, “Will you sell some dumplings to me?”

The old woman says, “Why does the master wish to buy dumplings?”

Tokusan says, “I would like to buy dumplings to refresh my mind.”  (This apparently is something of a pun, as the Chinese words for generic dumplings - dim sum - also mean "refresh mind.") 

The old woman says, “What is that great load the master is carrying?”

Tokusan says, “Have you not heard? I am Shū, King of the Diamond Sutra. I have mastered the Diamond Sutra. There is no part of it that I do not understand. This load I am now carrying is commentaries on the Diamond Sutra.”

Hearing his insistence, the old woman says, “This old woman has a question. Will the master permit me to ask it?”

Tokusan says, “I give you permission at once. You may ask whatever you like.”

The old woman says, “I have heard it said in the Diamond Sutra that past mind cannot be grasped, present mind cannot be grasped, and future mind cannot be grasped. Which mind do you now intend somehow to refresh with dumplings? If the master is able to say something, I will donate a dumpling. If the master is unable to say anything, I will not to much as even sell him a dumpling.”

Tokusan is dumbfounded at this: he does not know how he might politely reply. The old woman just swings her sleeves contemptuously at him and gets up to leave.  Tokusan, realizing that he must be in the vicinity of a great dharma teacher, asks her for directions and is pointed toward the temple of Zen Master Shin of Ryūtan.

After the candle was blown out, Tokusan praised his teacher and then set fire to his voluminous commentaries on the Diamond Sutra.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ryutan's Lantern

The next day, Ryutan ascended the rostrum and declared, "Among you, there is a fellow who's fangs are like trees of swords and who's mouth is like a pool of blood.  Even if you strike him with a stick, he won't turn his head to look at you.  Some day, he will climb to the highest of all peaks and establish the way there."
- excerpted from Case 28 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate)
Tokusan would later become known for his wild, fierce teaching style, including shouts and striking his students. Trees of swords and bowls of blood are reputed to be among the implements of torture in the hell realms. "Strike him with a stick, and he won't turn his head" means that he is exceptionally confident and steadfast. But the late John Daido Loori says that, like an overly meddling grandparent, Ryutan was spoiling Tokusan with his praise.

Zen Master Dogen tells us that studying the way is not at all easy, and that Tokusan remained for thirty years as an attendant for Ryutan, attending to towels and carrying water for washing, and still did not understand Ryutan's mind.  "Deeply we should sympathize; deeply we should sympathize" (Eihei Koroku, Dharma Hall Discourse 291).  In Shobogenzo Shin-Fukatoku (Mind Cannot Be Grasped)Dogen says that Tokusan does not appear to have experienced any great enlightenment, but only the odd moment of violent behavior. "We see merely that his paper candle was blown out, which is not enough for the transmission of the torch."

Zen Master Tanka once said that Tokusan had not "awakened to entering the grasses and searching for people with his whole body soaked in muddy water," and that he was endowed with only one single eye (meaning he could only see things from one perspective).
After meeting Tokusan himself, Zen Master Isan declared, "Some day, this disciple will go and build a grass hut on a solitary mountain peak where he'll revile the buddhas and curse the ancestors" (The Blue Cliff Record, Case 4).

So here we have two Zen Masters, Ryutan and Isan, both recognized Buddhist patriarchs, one declaring that Tokusan will climb the highest of all peaks and establish the way there, and the other declaring that he will revile the buddhas and curse the ancestors from his solitary peak.  Further, we have Dogen and Tanka both denying any evidence for Tokusan's awakening, yet Tokusan is considered a recognized Zen Master and a Buddhist patriarch.

What did Tokusan see when Ryutan blew out the candle?  This warrants closer examination.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A True Dragon Appears In The Dark

One evening, Tokusan sat silently outside the teacher's room.  The teacher, Ryutan, asked, "Why don't you go back to your room?"  Tokusan replied, "It's dark."  Ryutan lit a paper lantern and gave it to Tokusan. 

But as Tokusan grasped the lantern, Ryutan immediately blew it out.  Tokusan was greatly enlightened and made prostrations.  Ryutan asked, "What have you seen?"  

Tokusan said, "From now on and henceforth, I will never under the heavens doubt the tongue of my old master."  
Although your efforts to engage the way should be put to rest,
With a grandmotherly mind, Ryutan spoke on and on for you.
Loving the true dragon, the true dragon appeared
In a single scene of blowing out a lantern.  
- Volume 9, Case 24 from the Eihei Koroku (Dogen's Extensive Record)

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Response




The tree service men showed up about midday yesterday and cut away the branches and limbs on top of the neighbor's house, chipping the wood into mulch and revealing the damage done.  When they finally cut through the trunk, letting it finally complete its fall to the ground, the thud of its impact could be felt throughout my home.

The house is totaled. Inside, roof beams have crashed all the way down to the floor, destroying furniture and anything else beneath.  Had someone been in the impact zone at the time, they surely would have been killed. 

As the rain began again in the late afternoon, roofers arrived and manged to get blue tarp over the house with remnants of the tree still protruding. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014



6:20 Sunday morning . . . Get up 10 minutes before the alarm clock to feed the cats, who had been jumping  up on the bed to remind me that I forgot to fill their food dish before going to sleep last night.

While in the pantry filling their dish, I hear that unmistakable sound of a falling tree - the crashing of branches, the crack of splitting wood.  I brace for the impact, instinctively hunching up my shoulders to protect my neck, but hear no impact.  I stand there for a moment or two until I am sure that there is no further danger.

I go outside to assess the damage, and see that the tree that fell was in my next-door-neighbor's yard, and demolished their roof.


Fortunately, no one was home.  They're retired and have taken to spending their summers up at a lake in the North Georgia mountains.  But the damage to their house is significant, even catastrophic.


I let them know what happened, apologizing for calling so early and for being the bearer of bad news. They're on their way back now to what's left of their home.  The Fire Department's been by (another neighbor called 911) to assure that there are no electric lines down or gas leaks, and the couple's adult son has been by to assess the damage.


The tree came down less than 50 feet from where I had been sleeping earlier that morning, 60 feet from the pantry I was standing in at the moment of impact.  I have a good dozen trees that size or larger in my back yard, and it's only a matter of time before one comes down on my house, and a matter of probability as to whether or not I'm home at the time or in the path of the falling tree. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

The '60s (Part 2)


I haven't done one of these here in a while, even though I've been covering the years 1979 through the present over at the other site.  Anyhow, as I recall, this site left off somewhere around the year 1966, when I was in the 6th and highest grade of elementary school.  I was on top of the world back then and could game the system to my liking pretty much at will.  I was a little bit like a younger, public-school version of the protagonist of the film Rushmore. All that changed the next year, though, when I entered Junior High and was at the lowest grade in a school full of older adolescents.

But first, there was a summer at the beach. I don't think I was prouder of anything than my white transistor radio, always tuned to the Top 40 station WABC, and my felt hat with its chain made of beer tabs (the old pull-off tabs from aluminum cans before they were replaced by the current, safety version).



Playing frisbee, above, as my little brother watches on, and starting a sand castle with my sisters, below, as my little brother watches on.



The summer concluded with a week of fishing at a cabin on a lake somewhere upstate New York.



When the summer was finally over and school had begun, I was miserable in the 7th Grade.  Not only was I then in the lowest grade and at the bottom of the pecking order, but all my friends were in different classes and the school was on the other side of town - too far for me to walk.  My grades plummeted, and then it got even worse.  After one year in Junior High, my parents enrolled me in a private school, a real-life Rushmore, with stiff academic standards, required jackets and ties every day, Saturday morning classes, and mandatory chapel every morning.  Oh, and no girls.  I was not pleased with this revolting development at all. 


To make matters worse, I was a day student, commuting to class and back daily from home, at a school of predominantly boarding students.  I was apart from my friends and no longer part of their daily social activities, and as a day student, I didn't fit in with my new classmates, either. Meanwhile, I was going through puberty and new hormones were careening through my bloodstream, and there was not a single girl in any of my classes or anywhere in sight. 


Right-wing evangelical Franklin Graham, son of the charismatic Billy Graham, was enrolled in the same school, one year ahead of me.  He was something of a bully back then but everyone let it slide because we all knew he was over-compensating for the high expectations set by having a famous father.  To this day, he can be counted on to issue homophobic and Islamophobic hate speech, and is a disgrace to his faith.  


This was 1967-68, the height of the Vietnam War, and we had one exchange student from the indigenous Montagnard tribal area of the Vietnamese Central Highlands.  He could barely speak English, much less answer our questions about whether or not he had ever killed anyone (he eventually confided to me that he had once killed a water buffalo and felt guilty enough about that, but had never killed a man).  60 Minutes once set a news crew over and filmed me and some of my fellow students talking with him, and aired the story as that of a neolithic tribesman living in 20th Century America, entirely missing his humility, his shyness, and his humanity.  It was not the only time I've seen 60 Minutes cover a story on which I had some inkling of background information, only to realize that they got it all wrong.   


It might seem like we spent an inordinate amount of time lining up, but these black and while photos are scanned from the 1968 school yearbook, for which most of these pictures were taken.


I attended private school for two years, 8th and 9th Grades, before finally returning to public school.  I hated it at the time, but to be honest, it gave me a genuine, first-hand taste of the Ivy League experience and I got such a good education those years that I was able to cruise through the 10th and 11th Grades of public school barely having to crack open a textbook, as I had already been through most of the curriculum.  It wasn't until my Senior Year that I needed to start studying again, but by then it was the '70s and I simply no longer cared.


But before the '70s began, there was still one more, invaluable educational experience in store for me.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Another tree fell in the neighborhood yesterday - another 12 hours without power, anther 24 hours without cable or internet.

If a tree falls in the neighborhood and no one can post a picture of it online, does it really fall?

Meanwhile, the power steering went out in my car and it's now in the shop (I'm driving a loaner).  If it's not one thing, it's another.