John opens the first evening at summer retreat talking about the spirit of a koan. We were nestled in the lovely redwood mountains of Land of the Medicine Buddha in Soquel California. We were meditating, walking and diving into the great koan, Sickness and Medicine. It is based on a koan which goes like this, “Sickness and Medicine are in accord with each other. The whole world is medicine, what am I?” July 14, 2014.
PZI Zen Online: Zhaozhou said, “Clay Buddhas cannot pass through water; metal Buddhas cannot pass through a furnace; wooden Buddhas cannot pass through fire.” Which Buddha survives? The mid loves its ideas, structures, concepts and so does society. Some of those constructs are always dissolving. Discomfort of change in society norms and our own personal norms. As recorded June 10, 2020.
PZI Zen Online – Living words come from the our hearts and the vastness of connection. We try to cut things up to manage our lives. Beliefs inhibit our natural responses and gets in the way of what the universe offers. If we avail ourselves of the mystery – it’s alive! The words love & trust are alive and so are the teachings in the koans.
Audio: PZI Zen Online – Sarah investigates the other within and the call of the beloved with ‘The Crag Called Empty One’ & the ‘Lindworm Tale’. Otherness, longing/yearning. What is required of the beloved? As recorded May 15 2020.
The Heart Sutra in the context of its relationship to koans and what koans are. I want to pursue that line a little bit. And the first thing to say about – probably the first attitude people have to koans is that they are a sort of tool, a gadget of some kind, and you use them and you concentrate on them, and you use them – a can opener for the mind
The Heart Sutra, like any koan, contains the universe, and so you have to go in somewhere. I want to go in through the “Mantra of Great Magic.” Even the word “mantra” is, in a certain way, a reference to magic, a sort of portable access to reality that you can carry around with you. And the word “magic” is also used for the word “mantra,” so where we use “mantra” to produce magic, there’s a transformative quality about the mantra so that, when you repeat it, when you keep company with it, you end up in its world.
In the evening dharma talk John introduces us to an ancestor in the koan tradition, Dahui Zonggao 大慧宗杲 (Ta-hui Tsung-kao, Daie Soko), 1089-1163 and his disciple Wuzhuo Miaozong (無著妙宗; 1096–1170 CE), Miaozong lived during the Song dynasty and was one of the first nuns to be included in an imperially sanctioned Zen lineage history. The conversation between Dahui and Miaozong is instructive of his early method of using only the head of the koan and become one with it. His method was formulated for his culture like we are for ours.
Joy and peace don’t stop the mosquitoes from biting. All these things have their source in meditation. So you want to open your heart. You want to –whatever it is – during meditation. That’s what he’s saying. Right. It comes from within.
When you really stop disapproving of your life, and think maybe, “what if I’m living the right life, right now, with
everything I’m complaining about?” If I’m living the right life, right now …. Hey, it’s not so
Audio: Allison sits with the beautiful preface to the Blue Cliff Record – before Bodhidharma’s encounter with Emperor Wu. Noticing our strategies of controlling experience, which shut life out. Issa’s story of love and loss. As recorded April 21st.
PZI Zen Online – Wondrous images of our uncertain ‘gestational time’ in corona virus lockdown. The children of night – doom, destiny, dreams, lamentation among them. Eros born of Nix’ (Goddess of the Night) silver egg laid in the lap of darkness. Rawness of love in out dark time. As recorded April 14th includes Tess intro, silent meditation, participant insights.
So you are thinking about your loved ones, your ancestors and decide to take a trip out to the cemetery. You find your family vault and with a key open the stone door and step inside. You won’t stay long, you just want to pay your respects. But a gust of wind comes up and…
In practice you are traveling, you are on a path. It is different from a plan because you are on uncertain turf. Practice also has more love in it because you are moving in the dark in a positive way. The koan is like the dog that follows you around with a bowl – it foils your serious plans.
Two swords are crossed (like in the movies, which actually I don’t think happens in real life, but it’s very popular in the movies. It was popular in the movies like 1200 years ago.) Two swords are crossed. There’s no way to retreat. You’re a lotus in the fire. You can’t help it. You’re determined to go higher. Farther, higher, up , further, more. So two swords are crossed. There’s no way to retreat. You’re a lotus in the fire. You can’t help it. You’re determined to go higher.
So we’ve been talking about old poems that are also a map of the path, but they’re a map of the kind where you have to see what rises in your meditation to meet them to find out how useful they are to you. Today we’re on the fifth of the ranks, the fifth poem. Five ranks by an old Zen teacher, and this is the final one, so you now know conclusively that there are only five stages to the path. And it goes:
When something confronts you, don’t believe it. Whatever appears, shine your light on it. Have confidence in the light that’s always working inside you. When the heart rises, the 10,000 things arise too. When the heart is still, the many things cease. They come to rest. When the heart does not rise… when the heart is not anxious, as John put it last night… when the heart does not rise, the 10,000 things are without blame. So when something confronts you don’t believe it. Don’t believe it. That’s been such a kick to sit with. I just noticed that I start suffering, and when suffering comes it, it doesn’t even name itself. I’m not even aware of what I’m wrong for doing or not doing.
I want to describe the process that I went through over the last year, of making the painting, and I want to do that in the spirit of when something
arises, don’t believe it, and shine your light on it. So in a year, a lot of things can arise not to believe, and they did. But even, if you’re in the meditation hall, five minutes is
probably long enough for plenty to arrive not to believe in.
Tonight I want to talk about another aspect of the koan about who’s hearing, who am I, what am I. There’s a spectrum I’ve been talking about so far for all of one previous talk. And I wanted to get at it slightly at an angle by going in through dreams, and the idea of is there a difference between what we’re doing and dreams anyway, which is certainly relevant to who we think we are.
Hakuin would paint that as a demon. This is demon number three. Which number demon is that? And the other things is that thing about how the thing we thought was the problem can transform, there is that real sense of what’s wrong with being a demon? If I think there’s a demon obviously I’m it.
So there’s something about where we’re located, which is in the middle of nothing, good to know, and then how do you manage there? And also something about expression being eloquent. So what is eloquence when you’re in the middle of nothing? And also something about not reaching for approval, categories, emperors, sages, psychologies, ideas, history, anything that’s not nothing. Okay, so here we are.
A koan is a piece of old wisdom in a very concise form. I think of it as a vial of ancient light that has been passed down to us. It’s the same light that was in the heart of the teacher who invented the koan. So, if you can get the vial open, what will pour out is your inheritance. It won’t be the usual kind of inheritance with bank accounts, real estate, debts and family feuds. This inheritance will be a perspective—the way an old master saw and experienced the world.
The practice part of it is that it doesn’t matter if you think you lost the coin and start to be unhappy about life. That is another theory. And it doesn’t matter how many times that theory rises. Even that theory is the coin. A koan practice means that you go back to the river over and over again and you can trust that process.
This is from an old Chinese poet, and koans and poems were always, poems, koans, koans, poems, they’re always somewhat intertwined in their history. And so often poems were used as koans and vice versa. This is a series of five poems by an old Chinese teacher called Dongshan, who kind of did a map of the Way in five stages, because everybody knows there are five stages for the Way [laughter].
And so the certain categories of koans are designed to help us see the implications. We’ve been playing with a few this week, and the one I’d like to do today is “Stop the war.” It’s kind of succinct. Cut it out! Stop the war, or can you stop the war?
Everybody probably has a road that would come to mind. I remember getting a bus in Tasmania and driving through the west coast mountains to a mining town where I was going to work, get a job, and how the snow was coming down and the bus would just go around this really narrow road like that, and there are certain parts of the world that have truly alarming narrow mountain roads with truly alarming drivers and very ancient buses.
This is one of those “in the old days, once upon a time” stories. There are a couple of interesting things about this. The first thing is about the idea of just getting in the bath, that maybe one of the metaphors for spiritual tradition is you get in a bath, and not only that, you do it together. We do it with each other. You could say we do it with the crows who call, we do it with the frogs, with the trees, with the birds. And then something happens in the bath. What happens in the bath, I suppose, is really most of what happens on the spiritual journey.