Friday, December 13, 2013

Dried Shit

Hello All, We had a great dark, cold sesshin last week. Temperatures stayed between 10- and 25 degrees with a low of 7 degrees one morning. It snowed a few inches early in the sesshin and the ground stayed white for the week. All of our systems (water, electric, wood heat etc) held up and we felt pretty good about the work we’ve done over the years to make winter retreats possible. Spring, summer and autumn retreats and sesshin certainly have their own unique beauty and power but there really is something special about sitting with fellow wayfarers in the depths of darkness lighted often only by stars and a single candle. We stayed up until midnight on the last night of sesshin to celebrate the enlightenment of a man, a person--not a god or a son of a god—with a precept reading, candles, bells and vast, almost overwhelming, darkness when all the lights were extinguished. For 10 or so minutes there was only pure dark, dark silence and the breathing of compatriots and the heat of bodies and…

This will be our last case from the Transmission of the Lamp this year. We will start up again on January 18th with Case 52 (Eihei Dogen) and finish the book on the following week with Case 53 (Koun Ejo).

Today we will discuss the opening Dogen’s teacher, T’ien-t’ung Ju-ching, had when his teacher asked, “How will you purify what is pure from the beginning?” Ju-ching could not respond when he was first asked this question and he worked with this koan for more than one year. One day, suddenly, with broad realization, he said, “I beat that purity.”

The verse accompanying this case reads, “ The wind of the Tao blows far; / It is harder than a diamond;/ The whole earth is maintained by it.

As many koan do, this one came right from the immediate fact of Ju-ching’s daily life and practice. He had been with his teacher’s community for some time, focused on zazen, when he asked to be the head of the team cleaning the latrines. From that request came the koan, “How will you purify what is pure from the beginning?” Once, in the immediacy of practice life, a monk asked Yun-men, “What is Buddha?” Yun-men said, “Three pounds of flax”.  Another time he was asked this same stock question and again he gave an unstuck response when he said, “Dried shit.” These are only a couple examples of the hundreds of immediate, specific and clear presentations of the great matter right within the worlds of our lives. The koan are not puzzles or riddles but clear and precise presentations of what is always right before our eyes. I imagine some of the responses were tailored exactly for the one who was asking (“dried shit”—to one too finicky and focused on ideas of the Pure Land?) or to the larger community. These responses were not spontaneous, as in anything goes, but teachings exactly in accord with the situation, the life, and the practice of the practitioner(s).

Ju-ching’s teacher, Hsueh-t’ou, said in paraphrase, ‘I will let you clean the latrines when I am sure, and you are sure, what you will actually be cleaning’. Every job we do, each act of our lives, has its roots in clarifying the great matter whether we are aware of that or not. Sometimes it is fine if we are unaware of what we really are doing but sometimes it is best if we put our conscious minds to the specific truth of our endeavor. When you are in the garden weeding, what is your true purpose? When chopping vegetables? When taking out the compost, what is your intention? Each situation is the best place we can find ourselves in to wake up. There is no situation or activity that is wasted or just a detail or just some small thing. When we think like this—just a detail, only a little thing etc—we are implying there are other special, important, greater things and an implication of this type of thinking is that we are special, important and/or somewhat grand ourselves. This is the beauty of Ju-chings request, I think. He says, ‘Please, I would like to be in charge of cleaning the bathrooms and outhouses’. This is a wonderful teaching in itself. Each thing is worth our attention. Each thing is important. How often do you volunteer for the menial, the behind the scenes task?  Many, I notice, volunteer to be leaders at sesshin which is a good thing but how about chopping? Or bathrooms? Or sweeping?

How will you purify that which is pure from the beginning? Purity has nothing to do with sacred and holy, unblemished or tarnished, wholesome or unwholesome. It is your original nature, which is no nature, where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess. This is the very Mind of the Buddhas past, present and future and they, each one of them, are present in this true nature of yours. You are not separate from them and they not separate form you no matter what direction you walk. The original dwelling is the same for buddhas and beings and it is what we continually move in. We each already posses the pure wisdom of realization, but we need realize that for ourselves. Only you can tell salty and sour by putting the drink to your own lips. Yet, it doesn’t matter if you are quick or slow, dull or bright, female or male. Buddha nature isn’t different for the wise and the not-yet-wise…and so we chant, and chop vegetables, weed the garden and clean the toilets…moment after moment,; lifetime after lifetime…purifying that which is pure before the beginning because that is our nature, that is our practice.

Enjoy and good holidays to you and yours


ps My e-mail had been utterly erratic for over a month now. It sends...sometimes. It receives...rarely. It is, so far, being worked on unsuccessfully. It has been diagnosed with a virus, a bacteria and IBS. I hope before the new year I will be in better shape and in better touch with you. My apologies…

1 comment :

  1. What is it that taints the purity? The disease of mental confusion, centering around the you that seeks something... call it purification from this dis-ease? Circling always inside the mental dream where the me is trying to correct or resolve. There can never be resolve in this realm. Already pure is the innate clarity when identity comes back home.


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