Friday, February 7, 2014

In & Of

Hello All, This week we begin to cultivate the empty fields, a fitting start in early February with temperatures in the single digits at Mountain Lamp. The fields are dry stubble and rarely do we see a coyote or even a starling. The night especially is very cold and still. It, at times, feels lonely with only the quiet for company and it is easy to stumble, fall and become disoriented. But at times like this, if you look closely, especially on these frozen nights before the moon has come up, the fields seem to mirror the star-filled sky. It’s like the sky has fallen because it is dark, dark but twinkles and glitters. The sparkling night light moves from grass tip to grass tip throughout the fields and it is hard not to be dazzled and smile. This is the field we will be cultivating. And our time together won’t be lonely because we have a beautiful, sweet and poetic guide in the old master, Hongzhi. 

I know Hongzhi only from the Shoyoroku, The Book of Equanimity. Hongzhi compiled and commented on this book of 100 koan which in our lineage we pick up @ half way through our koan work in the dokusan room. It is a mature book, filled with insight, challenge, poetry and the remarkable workings of Mind. If you have any interest, it along with Chapters 25 & 26 from the Roaring Stream and The Swampland Flowers would be lovely companions to wander the circle of wonder we have entered.

In our past studies together (Genjokoan, Shodoka, ShinJinMei, Denkoroke et al) we have always had at least three translations of the work we were studying. This allowed us to triangulate and lessen the leanings of a single translator. Unfortunately that is not the case with this book. I am very grateful to Daniel Leighton for his work but I think it might be worth a few lines to highlight the possible direction he leans. This might allow us to look under his translation at times giving us a more direct pathway into the zen mind of Hongzhi.

On page 11: “Here Shitou describes the establishment of a meditation practice that enables one to turn within to find the ultimate source and then return to the world…” A few lines earlier, we are told about “being in the world but not of the world.” First off, we do not turn about and bare witness to self nature which is no nature by turning within. We do turn about or around and what we see when we look closely is the same thing whether our eyes are pointed east, west, north, south, up or down. As I have said at other times, what is before our eyes is what is important not what is behind them… it is before eye, before ear, before nose, tongue, body, mind that Hongzhi points at. To emphasize looking within is a practice point of view and allows teachers to give very specific pointers to a student who is moving into a field of mist, rain, mud, or avalanche. That is not Hongzhi’s purpose or viewpoint in this book. I think “being in this world not of it” parallels this concept of turning within. We are in this world and of it always. There is not, for one moment ever, a way out…ever. We can think there is. At times (or no-time), it might feel like there is but there just ain’t, ever. You are in the world and of it just like the frog who swallows the moon and the grey heron utterly forgotten in the mist. 

On page 4: Danxia asked Hongzhi, “What is your self before the empty kalpa?” Hongzhi said, “A frog in a well swallows the moon; at midnight I do not borrow a lantern.” Danxia said, “Not yet.” As Hongzhi was about to respond, Danxia beat him with his whisk, then asked, “You still say you do not borrow?”…  Please take a look at the explanation in the next paragraph. Because I am rather easy in dokusan, while in the 2nd sentence of this mental construct, the bell would have rung…& as the student neared the door, he would have heard, “Please too intellectual, more intimacy”. This dialog and others like them referred to in the preface are not philosophical or dialectical investigations. I am not sure what “borrowing” had to do with the relationship between Danxia and Hongzhi. That is not the point the teacher was making. These dialogs and Hongzhi’s practice instructions are direct expressions of reality. They do not mean anything. It isn’t necessary for us to interpret them, or devise them, or systematize them. The 5 Ranks, at times, may have been used to create an organizational structure to understand states of mind but that is not there true value. If that were all they were our school, the Soto school, would have died centuries ago.

I have a couple other points I’d like to make before we move into Hongzhi’s Circle of Wonder but I head to Seattle for a zazenkai weekend early tomorrow morning and my bed is a-calling.

Enjoy your time together. This is a wonderful book & I am glad for this translation. Gassho to Dan Leighton.


1 comment :

  1. Thank you, Jack, for clarifying that when you say "more intimate" you do not mean turning inward, away from the world, but to look more closely, perhaps more rigorously, at what's just before my eyes--to be more fully and completely in and of this world.

    The thump thump thump of the over-filled dryer, just that;
    The distant cries of children frolicking in snow, just this.


Please comment using an account or a name from the 'Comment as' menu. Your comment will be published after it is approved (anti-spam process), usually within 24 hours.