Yaoshan drew the character for Buddha and asked Daowu what it was. Daowu said, “It’s Buddha.” Yaoshan said, “You talk too much.”
The disciples Daowu and Yunyan stood in attendance to the master. Master Yaoshan pointed to two trees, one flourishing and one withering, and asked Daowu, “Better to flourish or to wither?” Daowu replied, “To flourish.” The master said, “Shining everywhere, bright and glorious.” Then, he asked Yunyan, “Better to flourish or to wither?” Yunyan replied, “To wither.” The master said, “Shining everywhere, let it wither and fade.” Another disciple, Novice Gao suddenly came, and the master asked him also. Gao replied, “Let the withering one wither, let the flourishing one flourish.” The master looked at both Daowu and Yunyan and said, “wrong, wrong.”
As the old conjugation has it: better, best, bested.
‘Yangshan asked Kueishan, “If a million objects come to you, what do you do?” Kueishan answered, “A green article is not yellow. A long thing is not short. Each object manages its own fate. Why should I interfere with them?”‘ (The Iron Flute)
One of the pleasure of browsing in the Tassajara library is to scan the cards to see who has taken the books out over the years. Mostly I find familiar names going back twenty years. The Iron Flute is a less-well-known collection of koans, translated by Nyogen Senzaki, which I like mostly for his dry comments, and the lovely illustrations in the square editions of which Tassajara has two copies. I was a little surprised, though, to see that no-one had taken out the copy I pulled from the shelf since I had in 2007…
‘A monk asked, “What is the thing toward which an advanced student should pay particular attention?”
Fayan said, “If the student has anything whatsoever which is particular then he can’t be called advanced.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)
‘A monk asked, “What is the ultimate teaching of all buddhas?”
Fayan said, “You have it too.” (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)
This is the fundamental point. Can you believe it for yourself?
‘Yunmen asked,”The unchanging person has come. Will the master receive him or not?”
Caoshan said, “On Mount Cao there’s no spare time for that.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)
I am tempted to add: I wonder what they were all so busy doing?
‘To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.’
This section of the Genjo Koan gets a lot of play on the zen circuit. Most often just the first phrase, or the first two phrases are quoted, which I guess can be called expedient means: they are striking and memorable expressions.
Recently the first pair came to mind during the beginners’ sitting that I lead at Zen Center earlier in the month. A woman asked a question about dealing with trauma: was spending time on recovery and healing a bad idea as it was just reinforcing a sense of self? Using Dogen to frame the answer, I said that the first step is to know what it is you are dealing with. If you have not spent time investigating, and where it is necessary, working to come to terms with, to resolve and heal the wounded parts that we all carry around in our human brokenness, you cannot truly let the self go. And then, since I had earlier mentioned the koan with Joshu and the cypress tree, I also talked about how that story points us towards being actualised by myriad things.
This kind of investigation always seems easier when we are in nature. I think of how I interacted with trees at Tassajara in my later stays there, allowing their stately living presence to energise me as I watched them respond to the seasons and grow towards the light in league with those surrounding them. Recently at Wilbur, having taken a book on Dogen with me – I found myself not agreeing with some of how Francis Cook characterised Dogen’s message – I got to thinking of the last two lines as well as I sat in the plunge with rain falling all around, gazing at the water and the big pine tree.
Through Dogen’s expressions, I have come to trust that everything is manifesting enlightened activity; it seems a shame not to join in. No trace of realisation remains means that when you are not telling any self-bound stories about being actualised, the process is free to continue from moment to moment. When we let go of the self, this body and mind, and the stories it holds onto, we meet it.
The pine tree by the pool, at a moment when it was not raining last weekend.