Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mountain Above, Heaven Below

The verse for Ta Ch'u, the 26th hexagram in the I Ching, goes:
If, when you see the stars, you connect them with lines and think of where they lead,
If you can watch the night shift hour by hour until you see the grey east rise
And you breathe in the wind and touch the falling snow,
You have found the secret. 
If you see in your child your spouse's face and yours,
And that beggars and gods, monkeys, serpents, and orbs floating in seawater are also in her face,
You can answer her well the moment that she asks
What will come the next day.
What will I see when I look at her, and how will I answer?

Ta Ch'u is the symbol of restraint and of accumulation.  That which is restrained accumulates in strength and increases in volume.  The hexagram teaches that one who goes about accumulating virtue will be firm and correct, and may then undertake the most difficult enterprise of crossing the great river.  

Ta Ch'u pictures the disciplined person, sitting with as much presence as a mountain and channeling the power of heaven.  If we realize such great restraint, how can we fail to cross to the other side?   

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mountains can tell stories for those who've learned how to read the rocks.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Zen Beyond Transmission

Zen can be defined several different ways, but one would be the unmistakable, handed-down tradition Master Dogen described in Bendowa.  This concept of teacher-to-student transmission, with a lineage traced back to the Buddha himself, is an integral, if not defining, aspect of Zen, and to imagine "zen" without transmission would be to imagine something other than Zen.

But the lineage itself is a hoax, an artifact of a time in Chinese history when various Buddhist schools were vying for prominence and recognition.  A group of contemplative monks claimed that they were the one school practicing the true teaching of the Buddha, and to back up their claim, they manufactured a narrative of students receiving the true teaching from their teachers, and claimed the chain extended all the way back to the Buddha,  In order to flesh out the claim, they had to fill in the occasional historical gap by inventing "transmission stories" for some teachers of whom very little was known.  These collections of stories became known as the "lamp" anthologies, "lamp" used in the sense of the passing on of the flame.  Today, and at least since the time of those Seventh Century monks, records of the teacher-to-student transmission have been carefully maintained.

But this very narrow and exclusive lineage manages to leave out all of the other great Buddhist traditions, and implies that the Tibetan Buddhists, the Theravadan monks of southeast Asia, and even the other Chinese traditions all were practicing an inauthentic teaching.  This very narrow and exclusive lineage manages to leave out all of the other teachings in the world, from the Dao of Lao Tzu to the transcendentalism of the Christ, from the Greek philosophers to the European Enlightenment. Meanwhile, I have little doubt that were I to research these other traditions, I would find that they each claimed to have the one true teaching.

This isn't to dismiss Zen or Zen teachings at all, but just to assert that perhaps there may be wisdom, there may be insight, there may even be realization, in practioners outside of the transmitted lineage. Further, I suspect that in Western culture especially, with its fetishistic attachment to credentials and the power of its authority figures, the almost fundamentalist concept that only the transmitted can be teachers or be awakened is especially strong.

I challenge that notion.

Monday, April 27, 2015

This is the time.  And this is the record of the time.
- Laurie Anderson

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Nothing Is Good For Zazan - Shokai

There is, of course, a corollary to this.  There are those who've had profound spiritual experiences, who have resolved the great questions of "what is self?" and "what is life and death?," and have awakened to the true nature of the universe, but who are not themselves charismatic or necessarily attractively calm, centered, and self-assured.  Their experience and their practice will not make them into someone else, into someone who is charismatic and attractively calm, centered, and self-assured, and ignorant people caught up in the surficial appearances of things will not listen to them.  "That can't be a teacher," they think. "That person is unattractive and isn't in great physical shape.  That person isn't caring for their own body, and obviously isn't hydrating and exfoliating properly."  

That person may talk funny, or that person may have quirks in their personality, or even a different sexual orientation.  The ignorant, caught up in the surficial appearances of things, wouldn't even recognize the Buddha when she held the door open for them.  

Emperor Wu didn't recognize who Bodhidharma was even when the patriarch was standing in his court and speaking the truth to the Emperor, and Wu regretted his mistake for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Original Chuck D

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

- Charles Darwin

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Zazen Is Good For Nothing - Kodo Sawaki Roshi

There are some people that we meet in the world who are charismatic and attractively calm, centered, and self-assured.  These people make good spiritual teachers, but they did not become charismatic and attractively calm, centered, and self-assured due to their spiritual practice - they were like that before practice and even without their practice they would still have been charismatic and attractively calm, centered, and self-assured.

Genuine spiritual practice in general and zazen in particular does not make you something that you weren't before - it strips away the layers of what you're not and leaves you naked as you really are, and if you're charismatic and attractively calm, centered, and self-assured, you're in luck because you'll still be that way.  

It's a mistake to enter into a spiritual practice with the intention of becoming like that charismatic and attractively calm, centered, and self-assured spiritual teacher, because you're you or at least some sort of manifestation of you.  And if your charismatic and attractively calm, centered, and self-assured spiritual teacher holds out the promise that you'd be like him or her someday then run - they're not offering a genuine spiritual practice and at the end of the day they'll have your money and be wealthier, charismatic and attractively calm, centered, and self-assured spiritual teachers.