210.


Blue Cliff Record, Case 63

The Case: at Master Nansen's temple, two groups of monks were arguing about a cat. Nansen held up the cat and said "If you can speak then I will not kill it". The monks were silent. Nansen cut the cat in two.

Commentary:

1. Who is the one person within the temple who carries a sword? Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. He sits on the altar, atop the lion of courage.

1.1. So is it a real sword? Or a real cat? Given that a humble pillow can symbolise dependent origination, what more could a cat signify? What are monks really likely to be arguing about?

2. Dogen, in Zuimonki,  asks his students what they would have said in response to Nansen's demand. And then volunteers that he would have said to Nansen, "Why don't you cut the cat into one?" Wouldn't you be happily cut in two if you could say something this brilliant?

2.1. Isn't Dogen's point that the cat -reality- has already been cut in two? Nansen does not kill it, because it has already been 'killed' by the sword of duality, wielded by the disputatious monks. But Manjusri's sword is different. It cuts into one. How?



 
Shinji Shobogenzo, Book 3, Case 4

The Case (adapted):

 

Master Tozan was asked by a monk, "When we are going along a narrow path, how should be proceed?"

Tozan said, "Poisonous snakes are found even on a broad path, and I advise you not to attack one directly"

The Monk said, "If I do, what will happen?"

Tozan said, "Just at that moment, there will be no room for you to escape"

The Monk said, "Would you tell me about 'just at this moment'?"

Tozan said, "All things are lost"

The Monk said, "Where have they gone?"

Tozan said, "Because of the grasses, we cannot find them"

The Monk said, "Master, if you go to the river bank you can get there at once"

Tozan rubbed his hands and said "The air now is poisonous"



Commentary:

Nagarjuna said that we should approach Emptiness as we would approach a poisonous snake. We cannot avoid it.

But if we attack it, we remain in duality. Likewise if we ignore it. We should pay careful attention to Tozan's "you".

Tozan was one of the founders of our Soto tradition, our narrow path. Unlike other traditions, we don't engage with Emptiness "directly". We don't use koans. We don't intellectually engage with it. We just sit. But isn't that engaging directly? Because no "you" remains?

The Chinese Masters were keen that we didn't misconstrue Emptiness as nothingness, or vacuity. Neither that we reified it. So they reconfigured Emptiness as Suchness, Is-Ness. The world is empty of our concepts and names, so what we choose to demarcate as distinct things 'disappear' and are lost. "Grasses" or "Myriad Grasses" is a way of talking about all beings, all things. In Suchness, we cannot find one thing as it is part of everything, which is whole.

The Monk finally alludes to the last part of the Heart Sutra - the Sutra on Emptiness - but for Tozan, this is exactly the sort of intellectual engagement he has disparaged, and so he dismisses the Monk.

 

 

 
Practice Instructions


If our intention is sincere, it doesn't matter if our mind is busy or quiet. Nonetheless, if we are very distracted, it is often helpful to bring our attention back to our body and breath. But what does this mean?

For myself, I often find it's helpful to focus initially on the head: the lips, the tongue, the musculature of the eyes, the pressure of the forehead, the muscles of the jaw, and so on. The attention then seems to flow quite naturally to the rest of the body. We use the unspoken equivalence of head/brain/mind/self to re-embody.

Likewise with the breath. We can start by feeling it in the nostrils, then the throat, then flowing down into the chest, the stomach, the pelvis, so that the whole body is breathing.

This feeling-being-body is the ground of practice.



 
209.


The most important thing for us to understand is that Zazen is not a practice of the self. It is a practice of the Buddha.

That being so, it is not concerned with purifying or perfecting the self. Or setting the self off on a journey.

It is not concerned with furnishing the house of the self with wisdom and compassion.

But rather, becoming completely intimate with the ground.

My first teacher said, "What is it which stops the Universe from collapsing?"

He didn't answer. Of course, he didn't need to.


 
208.


Master Dogen, in his instructions for meditation, said that when we practice zazen, we have to take 'the backward step'.

That suggests that the world we ordinarily experience is constructed. But also, that what we are searching for is abundantly available to us, and always has been. It isn't somewhere we've not been to yet, but somewhere we've forgotten. It is easy enough for us to say that the ways we demarcate the world is a construction, but harder to say - and to mean - for the self, or, as the Heart Sutra says, 'the five skandas'.

To abandon one but not the other is useless, like collapsing all the props, yet leaving the actor on stage. Which is more essential to the delusion?

In his commentary on the Heart Sutra, Dogen said that the five skandas are five pieces of prajna. Pra-jna. Pre-knowing. So, what is differentiated in the stepping forward into self and world is 'one piece', which is broken when we step forward, unbroken when we fall back, breaking and unbreaking, like space.



 

 
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