John Tarrant Roshi leads a conversation on koans that reveal themselves through predicaments. “I might find myself imprisoned in a crypt, or hanging from a branch by my teeth. Or trapped in a job or relationship I think I cannot escape.” A lively exploration follows. July 11, 2013.
David’s dharma talk during Bare Bones retreat about falling down a well. “How does the fully enlightened person fall into a well?” The koan brought to mind an old Maquire sisters song that goes, “Wella, Wella, Wella waiting for the Bella to go ding dong, ding dong…” We all fall into our own personal wells of suffering. David lends a hand to pull us out by sharing his own well stories.
“We all have the urge to be better people, and behind all our self-improvement there is a profound impulse. Self-improvement is a gateway, the first step in a quest, a clue to a deeper life. The most beautiful form of the beautiful life is inner freedom, the awakening taught in the ancient spiritual traditions.” Published Shambhala Sun Magazine, September 2013.
Physicist and Physics professor Chris Gaffney gave a talk in Santa Rosa on a Monday evening in July 2013, and this is what he said about it:
“What is real magic?” I have noticed a strong attraction in myself and others toward incidences of ‘magic’ – whatever that phrase brings to mind for you. It is also true that science, and those who practice it (such as myself), have long been considered the squashers of magical notions. This question of magic may be a nice gate in.
Speaking of gate, here’s the koan:
Long, long ago the abbot of a Zen monastery was asked this question by a monk. Here is what happened – this version of the koan being provided by Roshi John Tarrant.
Whenever Baizhang gave a talk, an old man was there listening. When the people left he left too. One day he stayed behind.
“Who are you?” asked the teacher.
The old man said, “It’s true, I’m not a human being. In a previous universe, in the time of a different Buddha, I was the abbot on this mountain. A student asked, ‘Does an enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘someone like that doesn’t fall under the law of cause and effect.’ Because of this, I’ve been reborn 500 times as a fox. Please will you say a turning word for me?”
Baizhang said, “You don’t cut the chains of cause and effect.”
At these words, the old man had a great awakening.
Here is a poem on this koan by Wumen:
‘Not falling, not evading-
Two faces of the same die.
Not evading, not falling-
A thousand mistakes, ten thousand mistakes.’
Wumen also described the old man’s 500 lives as a fox as 500 lives of grace.
Some things you might consider:
– Obviously after the first few hundred lives the former Zen (Master!) knew he had given the wrong answer. Apparently the standard escape route of ‘understanding the problem’ is not available: he’s already 500 lives in.
– We’re all 500 lives in: absolute minimum, and I’m talking about just today.
– Cause and effect is for many the essence of not-magic. If it’s all cause and effect, the phrase ‘karma’ comes to mind, then no leap of freedom, no spontaneity, nothing not predictable.
– Awakening comes with hearing the turning words: ‘you don’t cut the chains of cause and effect’. Strange: down in the bone shop, the warming planet among us billions, the apparent ‘chains’ of our lives, the old man becomes free with the simplest of noticings.
– What foxy chains do you see standing ‘in the way’ – the original meaning of ‘Satan’ – of your practice? What if these were not the chains that they appear to be? Can you have chains of grace?
It seems, to me, that there is a kind of magic in this story that is real. That’s probably because I feel like it is my story in some very interesting way. July 2013, Monday evening talk at Santa Rosa Zen Center.
Roshi John Tarrant gives the third of three koans for Bare Bones retreat. The head of the koan is: “What is the sharpest sword or the sword which will cut even the finest piece of hair in two?” The response to the question is, “Each branch of coral holds up the moon.” February 22, 2013.
On the second day of retreat, John Tarrant talks about the second koan of the triptych, “How does an enlightened person fall into a well?” How do we as practitioners handle major issues in our lives which cause us to fall into darkness or depression? When things are bleak or difficult, the opportunity is to turn toward our practice and the teachings or our community. January 21, 2013.
Allison Atwill Sensei describes the making of her amazing art piece inspired by the koan, “Each Branch of Coral Holds Up the Moon.” January 24, 2013.
John opens the Harvest Moon retreat at the Angela Center with an ancient Koan about a buffalo passing through a lattice window. “To give an example, it is like a buffalo passing through a window. Its head, horns and four legs have all passed through. Why is it that its tail cannot?” Meditate on the tail and the question of the tail. What is the tail, why could a huge buffalo enter but the tail cannot? October 13, 2013.
David Weinstein Roshi continues the conversation during retreat regarding the ancient Koan about the buffalo passing through a lattice window. How can the buffalo get through the lattice window all but the tail? What is it that is difficult for me to let in? Can we be compassionate with ourselves when we find the place on our life where there is a no trespassing sign?
John opens the evening with the koan “The True Person of No Rank.” It goes something like this: “There is a true person of no rank who comes and goes from the portals of your face.” Who is that person of no rank?
Linji was a great teacher and the ancestor of most of the koan lines of Zen and this is a koan of his. It has been used since ancient times as a meditation both for beginners and advanced students.
Probably the best way to work with it is to play with it. Don’t rank how you are doing. Just let it keep you company, like an animal would. You forget about it, but every time you look, there it is! And after a while it doesn’t go away. October 17, 2013.