Thursday, August 09, 2012

On Zazen and Koans - A Response to Kogen

This post is in response to a comment from Kogen (Farmer monk) on the post Aug. 7 2012

Hello Kogen,
.
Thank you for writing.
.
To me it seems clear that every fascicle of Shobogenzo is as much about koans as zazen - that Dogen's expressions on "zazen" presuppose "koans" and his expressions on "koans" presuppose "zazen."
.
Dogen practice-enlightenment is not divided into "Zen" and "other" activities. Practice-enlightenment is not "this is zazen," "that is koan study," "this is samu," "that is kinhin" - rather, practice-enlightenment is shikantaza (sole sitting); SINGLE-MINDED sitting, ONLY sitting.
.
There is not sitting AND koans, not sitting AND kinhin, not sitting AND eating rice, there is SOLELY sitting.
.
You ask if there are fascicles that treat of "koans"
.
"...like Fukanzazengi does for zazen..."
.
It seems clear to me that Fukanzazengi, speaks of koan practice as much as sitting practice - more accurately, speaks of meditation and koans as part and parcel of the same activity.
.
Notice the koans Dogen refers to in Fukanzazengi. They are of the most frequently mentioned in the Zen records to exemplify the "means" which the "changing of the moment" is realized:
.
Moreover, the changing of the moment, through the means of a finger, a pole, a needle, or a wooden clapper; and the experience of the state, through the manifestation of a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout, can never be understood by thinking and discrimination.
~Fukanzazengi
.
Practitioners familiar with the records will instantly recognize the “means of a finger” from the koan of master Gutei, “a needle” from the koan of Kanadeva meeting Nagarjuna, the “staff” of Teshan, and the “shout” of Rinzai. The specific particularity in which the Buddha is manifest is characteristic of Zen’s universal inclusivity and nondiscrimination –each is an essential person of Buddha-nature, an integral form of Buddha.
.
Dogen’s insistence to "study this" "get inside these words" "penetrate this saying" "take up these words again and again" are so constant it is easy to become desensitized - especially if we have become conditioned to think Dogen "did not teach that koans were part and parcel with zazen."
 .
Yet, Dogen’s explicit instructions to take up and study specific phrases, words, koans, sutras, and so on outnumber his instructions to dedicate ourselves to Zazen by at least 20 to 1. When Dogen urges us to "investigate these words in practice," I am not about to presume he means "some other kind of practice" - he means the same kind of practice he always means, we should take them up in sitting meditation.
.
To get a sense of this, consider these random examples form Dogen’s works:
 .
"The truth expressed now in the founding Patriarch’s words ‘What people are able to hear the non-emotional preaching the Dharma’ should be painstakingly researched through the effort of one life and many lives."
Shobogenzo, Mujo-Seppo, Nishijima & Cross
.
We should quietly investigate the principle of, and learn in practice the realization of words like this.
Shobogenzo, Ganzei, Nishijima & Cross
.
At the same time we should investigate whether the Great Master’s words ‘I call this thing bamboo and wood,’ and Shin-o’s words ‘I also call it bamboo and wood,’ are the same or not the same, and whether they are adequate or not adequate. The Great Master says, ‘If we search the whole Earth for a person who understands the Buddha-Dharma, it is impossible to find one.’ We should also closely scrutinize and decide about this expression.
Shobogenzo, Sangai-Yuishin, Nishijima & Cross
.
Thus the words ‘being without the Buddha-nature’ can be heard coming form the distant room of the fourth patriarch. They are seen and heard in Obai, they are spread throughout Joshu district, and they are exalted on Dai-i [mountain]. We must unfailingly apply ourselves to the words ‘being without the Buddha-nature.’ Do not be hesitant.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Nishijima & Cross
.
Learning these words in practice, we should meet with the ancestral patriarchs of Buddhism and we should see and hear the teachings of Buddhism.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Nishijima & Cross
.
We must investigate these words quietly; we should replace our heart with them and replace our brain with them.
Shobogenzo, Daigo, Nishijima & Cross
.
One of his favorite phrases; "learning in practice." I think it is important to understand exactly what he means. Here is one of his own explanations:
.
’Learning in practice’ means not intending to understand at once but striving painstakingly hundreds of times, or thousands of times, as if working to cut a hard object. We should not think that when a person has something to relate we will be able to understand at once.
Shobogenzo, Mitsugo, Nishijima & Cross
.

Also notice this explicit instruction offered to some lay practitioners - the FIRST thing they should do upon meeting a teacher:
.
Good gentelman, when you meet a teacher, first ask for one case of [koan] story, and just keep it in mind and study it diligently. If you climb to the top of the mountain and dry up the oceans, you will not fail to complete [this study].
Dogen's Extensive Record, Vol.8:14, Leighton & Okumura
.
You wrote: "...my teachers have been very open to my practicing with anything that works-koans, shamatha, mantras..."
 .
Excellent, if they were not you probably would have kept looking for reliable teachers.
.
You wrote: "Can you point to any Soto teachers being opposed to it?"
 .
I have worked with teachers from various lineages - and of the 4 I worked with in the Soto, only 1 recognized the zazen/koan nonduality - the others advocated against the "use of koans" in zazen - I should point out that of the Soto teachers I have spoken to, very few have experience with koan training.
 .
The standard line for teachers of the "Soto sect" is that zazen or shikantaza is distinct from, or independent of koan practice. Koans are commonly regarded as "expediant devices" or worse. Koan study is accepted by most, but is strictly distinguished from zazen - Dogen's exhortations to "study these words in practice" are usually "interpreted" as referring to some "other" practice than zazen.
.
I would rather avoid names - I will say however, it would be easier to name the few Soto teachers that do regard zazen/koans as nondual, than list the ones that don't.
 .
You wrote: "I've personally always thought the distinction between Soto and Rinzai is silly. Dogen was a lineage holder in both and urged his students, like Rujing, that we were Buddhists, just Buddhists."
 .
Yes. It sounds like you have found the one always reliable guide that is always as close as hands and feet.
 .
Thanks again - watch out for the corpses, they are strewn all over.
.
Ted
.
When Students of the Way are looking at sayings, you must exert your power to the utmost and examine them very very closely.
~Dogen, Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary, Vol.4 p.825

15 comments:

jundo cohen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jundo cohen said...

Hi Ted,

If I may, I would say that most modern Soto teachers I know would agree with you that Zazen and Koans and eating and chanting are not apart from Zazen in the least. On the other hand, neither are they the same. One would no more sit in Zazen on the cushion, facing the wall, while practicing Oryoki or chanting or bowing than one would sit in Zazen working with a Koan. When we sit Zazen, we simply sit Shikantaza, and there is nothing more in need of doing or other place to go ... nothing more that need be done but here.

On the other hand (our way is always approaching things from many angles and no angle at all), rising from the cushion there are 1001 things do. At that time, when chanting there is just chanting, when eating there is just eating, bowing bowing ... and all are "Zazen" in its boundless meaning. Likewise, when working with a Koan, whether just thinking about it or studying it or dancing the meaning like Dogen or simply allowing the Koan to be the marrow of the bones, such is "Zazen" too. So, in this modern age (for our "at home" folks") is changing a baby diaper, working in the office, or (in your case) driving you ship. All "Zazen" when approached as such.

But when sitting Zazen, we do not chant, change baby diapers, reflect on Koans, drive ships or anything more. There is Just Sitting, Fulfilled and Whole.

Most modern Soto Teachers I know would say so, although of course, many of the White Plum and other mixed Rinzai-Soto Teachers would not perhaps.

Gassho, Jundo

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Jundo,

Thank you for your comment.

Ted

jundo cohen said...

You too, Ted.

Ted, may I ask you: Can you pilot your ship and sit Zazen at the same time?

Yes, ship piloting and Zazen are one and the same. Nonetheless, piloting is piloting and sitting Zazen is sitting Zazen. It would be perhaps risky to pilot a boat while facing a wall. So, when piloting just pilot ... and keep an eye out for rocks and reefs. When sitting, just sit.

Nonetheless, Zazen is precisely piloting ... and Koans ... and piloting Koans is just Zazen.

Gassho, J

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Jundo,

Thank you for your comment.

I did not realize you were also a master mariner - or, of course, you would not presume to advise other mariners on piloting and seamanship.

I will not ask what the rating of your MML is - when it comes to practical seamanship certificates are utterly meaningless - but I wonder where you have sailed to and who you you sailed under, did s/he have open eyes?

Keep a sharp lookout Swabee, the harbor is awash in corpses.

AAHRRRRR!

Ted

jundo cohen said...

Hi Ted,

I have an MMK, not an MML. :-)

Actually, Dogen did point out how sailing is precisely Zazen, even though I would not think to pilot a boat in the Lotus Posture ... From Shobogenzo Zenki ...

Life can be likened to a time when a person is sailing in a boat.
On this boat, I am operating the sail, I have taken the rudder, I am pushing the pole; at the same time, the boat is carrying me, and there is no "I" beyond the boat. Through my sailing of the boat, this boat is being caused to be a boat -- let us consider, and learn in practice, just this moment of the present. At this very moment, there is nothing other than the world of the boat: the sky, the water, the shore have a11 became the moment of the boat, which is utterly different from moments not on the boat. So life is what I am making it, and I am what life is making me, While I am sailing in the boat, my body and mind and circumstances and self are all essential parts of the boat; and the whole earth and the whole of space are all essential parts of the boat. What has been described like this is that life is the self, and the self is life.
v
(from Master Dogen's Shobogenzo Zenki - translation by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross)

Gassho, J

PS - Ted, you are making me a little nervous with the all the references to corpses, blood and body parts. What's up with that?

Farmer monk said...

Dear Ted,

Thank you very much. I don't disagree at all.

Dear Jundo,

If I may, Zazen is Zazen, but Rinzai is not Rinzai nor Soto, Soto. We are just Buddhists, except when our teachers tell us other wise.

And respectfully, with a will to truth, preaching is preaching, and my teacher has warned me against this. It suprises me to see you do this here. They advise, only offer what is true, timely, benefical, and an improvement on silence. Furthur, Kosho Zenrei says, "There are two parts to wisdom. Having a lot to say, and not saying it."

I understand what Ted is saying here. I don't understand the point you're trying to make, other than ruffle some feathers. Can you clarify your intent?

Gassho,

Kogen

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Jundo,

Thank you for your comment.

Ted

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Kogen,

Thanks for sharing.

We are certainly fortunate to have the kind of access we do to so many of the classic Zen masters.

While my flesh and blood teachers have been and continue to be crucial guiding influences for me, the reliability of the teachings of the classic masters has proven to be second only to the master of seeing and hearing that meets me wherever I go.

Until next time. I will meet you there...

Ted

jundo cohen said...

Farmer Monk said ...

If I may, Zazen is Zazen, but Rinzai is not Rinzai nor Soto, Soto. We are just Buddhists, except when our teachers tell us other wise.

This is precisely so. As well, we are not even "Buddhists" but that some name tells us so ... for we are each other, trees and bees and seas and baby pee ... and not even those names. Zazen is all of that and all just Zazen with no nothing left out.

Yet, in fact, trees do not fly like bees and Shikantaza is not Kanna Zazen, and sailing a sea ship is not changing a wet diaper or buzzing like a bee.

I hope that is clearer. Koans are obvious but tricky.

Gassho, Jundo

Farmer monk said...

Dear Jundo,

But don't mountains still walk? If they do, they I think trees could fly like bees; it might take different eyes.

-Kogen

jundo cohen said...

No, mountains do not walk, fish do not swim and birds do not fly.

Gassho, Jundo

Farmer monk said...

Does this come from a will to truth, or a will to be clever?

Gassho,
Kogen

jundo cohen said...

It comes from where the carrots and tomatoes come from, farmer, and where they don't come from too.

Gassho, J

Farmer monk said...

That's Farmer Monk, as in, my hands are dirty and I won't wash them until practice period; what does a lawyer TWH (teacher with hair) house holder know about either?

Also, if carrots and tomatos come from the same place, then zazen and koan practice must be the same, too.

The difference is as vast and minute as the difference between a bird and fish, but if you put a carrot in the tomato's soil, it will die at once.