Saturday, February 23, 2013

8th Day of 12th Month

Hello Everyone,

Case 1:

Shakyamuni Buddha, on seeing the venus start, had realization. He said, "I and all sentient beings of the great earth have in the same moment, have in this very moment, attained the way. There are two points we talk about in the dokusan room regarding this mythic tale. First, he saw the star and had realization. What happened? What did he realize?

Some folks might answer these questions with, "Oh, he realized the 4 Great Vows'" and others might say, "He realized the noble truths...or the precepts...or the paramitas." As many of you know, JackRabbit Roshi said when asked this question, "He realized the truth of mutually dependent arising." Prairie Dod Roshi responded to the same question with, "He realized the underlying fact of oneness.'" Moose Roshi said after dipping his face in the creek and munching duckweed, "Um, delicious." I imagine you could say Moose gave the best answer of those three, but he left out one very important thing. He left out the star. Shakyamuni did say and teach the 4 Noble Truths, mutual arising, dependent origination and so on, but these came later. They are, all of them, important and vital tenets of Zen Buddhism but they came afterwards. They came as Shakyamuni was integrating and then presenting his realization.
If you leave out the star, you are leaving out a very important piece of yourself. You are leaving out an important part of your life and the life of the world.

If we leave out the star inevitably we leave out other things. We leave out what is right before us. We, maybe, leave out some people we don't like. Maybe we leave out what is beautiful. We leave out what we truly could love, maybe. If we leave out the star, it is possible that in some way, we are beginning to use our practice as a defense. Practice becomes something that we 'use' rather than a practice that uses us. When we leave out the star, practice is about us, about our world, our insight, our needs and wants. When the star enters, the entire sense of an isolated, substantial self is loosened and we become more porous and available. In a sense we begin to twinkle and shed light.

Take a walk tonight under the clear skies of the winter Palouse and let the dark in. Let the cold in. Let the stars in...then you will be the rightful teacher of JackRabbit, PrairieDog and Moose.

Shakyamuni woke-up on the 8th day of the 12th month and said, "I and the great earth and all sentient beings have in the same moment attained the way." This is the second point we talk about in dokusan. He woke from his personal dream into the great dream of all buddhas from the past, present and future. He woke from the small dream of 'I am here and you are over there' to the greatest dream which a human being can have. He woke to an intimate knowledge of kinship, of common ancestry...with all things, sentient and insentient; already born or yet to be born; near or far away; living or dead; here or there.

In the waking-up story of Hsueh-feng in the Blue Cliff Record, one translator wrote, "Hsueh-feng exclaimed, 'Today, I woke-up on Turtle Mountain.'" A more accurate and true translation would be, "Today, Turtle Mountain and I woke-up." This is an echo of Shakyamuni's words when seeing the Venus star for the very first time. This is intimacy, with all(each) allowed. In the Platform Sutra, Hui-neng said, "Our nature contains the 10000 things. And the 10000 dharmas are our nature."--another echo coming across the vast reaches of space and time. This is how they said it. How would you say it?

Keizan Jochim heard the echo and he wrote, "One branch from the old plum tree/ Extends splendidly forth. All of us from the old, the ancient plum tree. Some sprigs, others twigs. Some straight, some crooked. Big, small. Old, young. And all with the capability to come splendidly forth.
He then wrote, "Thorns become attached to it,/ In time." Cook translates this as, "In time, obstructing thorns flourish everywhere." No other translation I looked at had 'obstruction' in it and, I think, this completely changes the truth of Keizan's words--giving thorns a negative inference. Thorns do flourish but, in this case, they do not obstruct.
Cleary translated, "Thorns come forth at the same time." His 'at the same time' echos the case but, I think obfuscates the point. Thorns do come forth, but they come forth (or attach, or flourish), in time. This is a subtle but important shading.

One branch from the old plum tree
Extends splendidly forth.
Thorns attach to it
In Time.

This is not cause and effect. They cohere but are not coterminous... But now I am making clear water rather muddy. What verse is closet to the echo you hear?  From the three verses, what would you pick and choose to create something closer to your understanding and your experience in the world of practice and life?

I am interested to hear what you come up with,
with my warm regards



  1. PZC Scribe’s Report, Saturday, March 2, 2013, Introduction to The Record of Transmitting the Light

    We begin by discussing the introduction (paraphrasing here): consequently traditional geneaologies are not “true” – there are other ways … myth is a form of truth that has no historical basis – resonates with our discussion last week between the literalists “who insist [myth] is nonsense because it never happened” and those who have a problem with “myth is truth” – there is pragmatic use-value in myth (useful for expressing ideas). “Truth” is too loaded; let’s talk about “propositional claims” and what we do with them. The geneaology, the conferring of authority, how we rely on these texts to help guide or practice. A Dharma teacher is someone whose been there before you: fiath in them, and the “truthfulness” of their claims, legitimacy of the transmissions, of their authority, have very real consequences. We want to believe – it makes life easier. Comfort we find in authority vs. danger of authority, but someone has to take it. “If someone says he knows the answers, run.” Do we need to have faith in this practice? Or what guides one, brings one back to the cushion? Pain & Suffering. Think about the first verse of the Dhammapada, “mind precedes phenomena” (Wallis translation) – state of my mind will determine the quality of my phenomenal experience; here we have the kernel of practice. But what if you don’t know how you mind works, yet your use your mind to figure out the world. … Okay, not connecting these things, because they are two related/tangled threads, but to clarify what we are discussing: Straightforward logical approach to articulating ideas vs. myth and other forms. Are both valid/useful; just different ways of thinking through, different journeys to take. Truth is what our brains make, for better or worse, but in practice we come back to the breath, without words. Myth as skillful means. What if our “truths” are working, and we’re happy? Are we alive if we’re not in crisis? We’re potatoes in boiling water, rubbing dirt off one another.
    Next week: Case 2.

  2. Plums! The perfect Palouse fruit: requiring little care, hardy, generous. Once prunes were a major crop around here. You can still find pockets of abandoned orchard, home to magpies and mourning doves, plum jungles crossed by game trails, littered with an occasional pile of bottles and cans from decades ago, once garbage, now archeology. We plant trees and take out the trash and 75 years later that is what remains of our time here. What a great proposition.


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