A student asked Yunmen, “What is the teaching that lasts a lifetime?”
Yunmen said, “Say something in response.”
—The Blue Cliff Record, Case 14
John Tarrant on: The Alembic of Practice
You’re in the alchemical vessel. You know, we’ve been talking some about the notion of the alembic, which is a European notion; but it’s also a Chinese notion, because of their alchemy tradition. You know, alchemists kept getting confused about whether they were trying to turn lead into gold, become immortal, or really just discover the nature of the human mind.
The alchemical model was a sort of metaphor—that the experiments and things that happen; the pressure, the steam, the cutting out, the drowning, the burning—that this all happens to you. You feel that in the journey. You can’t avoid that, and so there’s this huge initiatory force going on. And that’s an intrinsic part of transmission. It’s not like, “Oh, you get over that, and then you’re in transmission.” It’s that we accept, and in a way welcome, and find joy in those aspects of life that we try to get away from.
Meeting with a Teacher
Working with a teacher is part of an active engagement with meditation and koans, and with your own life and transformation.
Individual meetings with a teacher are one of the ways to go deeper into your meditation and koan practice. As a member of Pacific Zen Institute, you have the opportunity to work with teachers one-on-one, in person, online, or in some cases via email or phone. You may connect with a teacher at one of our centers, at a workshop or retreat, or through their online teachings. You may contact a teacher to learn whether they are available to work with you as a student.
It is beneficial to support your teacher financially, as much as your circumstances allow, through dana contributions, and to support teachers and the whole community through volunteering. You may talk to your teacher about ways to help out and be connected to the community, even if you live far away. Visit our Teachers page for more information on each PZI Teacher and how to contact them.
What Is Dokusan? As Defined by Joan Sutherland
In Japanese this is called dokusan, which means going alone to the teacher, and sanzen, going to Zen. As English-speakers, some of us use “work in the room,” another traditional term for these private meetings that are always part of a Zen retreat and that may also happen between retreats. Sanzen styles have varied from school to school and teacher to teacher; the common element is an encounter that goes beyond what’s conceivable. The style described here is one evolving in the West, and because a meeting is by its nature a collaboration, I asked some longtime Zen students for their perspective on the matter and have included their thoughts and some of their words here.
Zen meetings have the simplest of forms: two people sitting on the floor, face inches from face, in a candlelit room. And yet that small room is a large field, containing the stars and the earthworms and poems and cities. In the vastness, the Chinese teacher Linji said, the true person has no rank; everyone and everything is perfectly equal, and completely themselves. Here we don’t even have stories about what meetings are for. The world of how you think it ought to be and whether you’re making a good impression is a ghost world; work in the room is sitting together in the real, where anything might be possible. Authority lies in the timeless moment itself: What is most real, most true, right here and right now?
The teacher invites the meditator into this field, and the meditator’s response is where the encounter begins. Every meeting is different—laughter, tears, sitting together in silence, banging about the room, songs sung and koans explored. Most often there is the deepest kind of conversation. I notice in myself that the feeling that arises naturally from this field is love.
Excerpt from Article: What Is Dokusan? Published by Lion’s Roar, Dharma Dictionary
Direct Encounter with the Big Questions of the Blue Cliff Record – with Tess Beasley
Transcript: Secret Fidelity & One Finger Zen, Even in the Bardos – with John Tarrant
Bodhidharma’s Response to Emperor Wu – with David Weinstein
Transcript: No Rank! Or the Wild Path of Awakening – with John Tarrant
Ways to meet