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#1612 - Monday, November 10, 2003 - Editor: Jerry

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  • Jerry Katz
    #1612 - Monday, November 10, 2003 - Editor: Jerry This edition of the highlights consists of excerpts typed from Zen Poems, Prayers, Sermons, Anecdotes,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 12, 2004

      #1612 - Monday, November 10, 2003 - Editor: Jerry

      This edition of the highlights consists of excerpts typed from Zen Poems, Prayers, Sermons, Anecdotes, Interviews. Selected and translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto. It was originally published in 1963 and has remained in print. Click here to find out more about this book or to order it: http://tinyurl.com/uj6y

      For the listener, who listens in the snow,
      And, nothing himself, beholds
      Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
      Wallace Stevens, "The Snow Man"

      My first encounter with an enlightened Zennist took place twenty-five years ago at his temple in the mountains south of Niigata in Japan. I knew little of Zen, but found myself responding with increasing warmth to its arts. I had gone to an exhibit of the priest's ceramics in Niigata, where I lectured on literature at the university, and was greatly taken by their purity and vigor. Asking about him, I was informed that his temple was in the mountains some fifteen miles from the city. Soon I was able to arrange a visit.
      On a bright Saturday morning in autumn, accompanied by two of my students -- Yoshki, whom I often think of, wondering where life has taken him, and Hiroshi, now a teacher and lifelong friend -- I took a bus to the nearest stop, some miles from the temple. We went on foot up a path two hours deep into forests flaming with pine and maple, occasionally passing a farmer or woodsman, startled at the sight of a foreigner (I was told later that I was probably the first ever to walk that path.) Finally we reached the temple, before which was a garden thick with vegetables piled up in the sun. The priest, bent over a spade, shouted a greeting, bowed, said he would join us before long.
      To the right of the old tile-roofed temple was a small kiln, a dozen recently fired pots, and to its side some farmers, crouching besides the baskets who, we later learned, had come to mull over plans for a coming festival with the priest and his wife, bringing gifts of rice and mushrooms. We joined them, amused a their good-natured laughter at the sight of such a stranger, exclaiming over the brightly packaged sweet beancakes we had brought. Finally the priest approached and, brushing earth from his hands, called to his wife to bring out tea for all. He chatted with his visitors -- clearly a joyous occasion.
      Soon he turned his attention to us, warmly insisting that we stay at the temple overnight. We gladly accepted, then followed to the kiln where he replaced new-fired pots. Every work and gesture flowed unhurried, as if he had known us always, genuinely pleased that we had come. We spent the day walking in all directions, gathering fallen nuts, and in the evening, after the chanted service and the sounding bell, we feasted on sweet pickles, rice, and vegetables served by his wife, so clearly proud strangers had come from far Niigata to meet her husband. Then came our chance to really talk with him.
      For one seeming so cut off from worldly matters, he was exceptionally informed in the arts, speaking easily, with much enthusiasm of ceramics, painting and, when he became aware of my interest, poetry. He spoke of great Zen poets, of whom I knew next to nothing, and -- to my surprise -- of certain foreign writers in whom he had a strong interest, among them Whitman and Thoreau. He asked what was felt about them these days, whether I was teaching their works at the university. Impressed with the acuteness and boldness of his judgment, I began asking about Zen, his life as priest and artist. What he told me, his very manner, convinced me I would have to set about learning as much as possible about a philosophy which could inspire such a life, make a man content with his place, however obscure, and his work among people for whom he obviously cared deeply.
      The visit left an extraordinary impression. Home again, sipping tea from the superb bowl he made for me (I still count it among my prized possessions), I began making plans. Soon I was inquiring seriously into Zen, reading everything available, and for my own pleasure and enlightenment making very tentative translations of some of its literature, particularly poetry. I visited temples and monasteries, meeting masters and priests, throughout the country, and, most important of all, began to meditate. I sensed most strongly that I had found something which could make a difference to my future. The intuition proved right for that encounter in the mountains was among the most important of my life.

      from POEMS
      When you're both alive and dead,
      Thoroughly dead to yourself
      How superb
      The smallest pleasure!
      ~ ~ ~
      I moved across the Dharma-nature,
      The earth was buoyant, marvelous.
      That very night, whipping its iron horse,
      The void galloped into Cloud street.
      -- Getsudo
      ~ ~ ~
      Refreshing, the wind against the waterfall
      As the moon hangs, a lantern, on the peak
      And the bamboo window glows. In old age mountains
      Are more beautiful than ever. My resolve:
      That these bones be purified by rocks.
      -- Jakushitsu
      ~ ~ ~
      How to heal the phantom body of its phantom ill,
      Which started in the womb?
      Unless you pluck a medicine from the Bodhi-tree,
      The sense of karma will destroy you.
      -- Tesshu

      The only thing I tell my people is to stay in the Buddha-mind. There are not regulations, no formal discipline. Nevertheless they have agreed among themselves to sit in Zen for a period of two incense sticks daily. All right, let them. But they should understand that the birthless Buddha-mind has absolutely nothing to do with sitting with an incense stick burning in front of you. If one keeps in the Buddha-mind without straying, there's no further satori to seek. Whether asleep or awake, one is a living Buddha. Zazen means only one thing -- sitting tranquilly in the Buddha-mind. But really, you know, one's everyday life, in its entirety, should be thought of as a kind of sitting in Zen.
      Even during one's formal sitting, one may leave one's seat to attend to something. In my temple, at least, such things are allowed. Indeed it's sometimes advisable to walk in Zen for one incense stick's burning, and sit in Zen for the other. A natural thing, after all. One can't sleep all day, so one rises. One can't talk all day, so one engages in Zazen. There are no binding rules here.
      Most masters these days use devices (koans, etc.) to teach, and they seem to value these devices above all else -- they can't get to the truth directly. They're little more than blind fools! Another bit of their stupidity is to hold that, according to Zen, unless one has a doubt he proceeds to smash, he's good for nothing. Of course, all this forces people to have doubts. No, they never teach the importance of staying in the birthless Buddha-mind. They would make of it a lump of doubt. A very serious mistake.
      --Bankei-Eitaku (1622-1693)
      On Life and Death
      "Since there is Buddhahood in both life and death," says Kassan, "neither exists." Jozan says, "Since there is no Buddhahood in life or death, one is not led astray by either." So go the sayings of the enlightened masters, and he who wishes to free himself of the life-and-death bondage must grasp their seemingly contradictory sense.
      To seek Buddhahood outside of life and death is to ride north to reach Southern Etsu or face south to glimpse the North Star. Not only are you traveling the wrong way on the road to emancipation, you are increasing the links in your karma-chain. To find release you must begin to regard life and death as identical to nirvana, neither loathing the former nor coveting the latter.
      It is fallacious to think that you simply move from birth to death. Birth, from the Buddhist point of view, is a temporary point between the preceding and the succeeding; hence it can be called birthlessness. The same holds for death and deathlessness. In life there is nothing more than life, in death nothing more than death: we are being born and are dying at every moment.
      Now, to conduct: in life identify yourself with life, at death with death. Abstain from yielding and craving. Life and death constitute the very being of Buddha. Thus, should you renounce life and death, you will lose; and you can expect no more if you cling to either. You must neither loathe, then, nor covet, neither think nor speak of these things. Forgetting body and mind, by placing them together in Buddha's hands and letting him lead you on, you will without design or effort gain freedom, attain Buddhahood.
      There is an easy road to Buddhahood: avoid evil, do nothing about life-and-death, be merciful to all sentient things, respect superiors and sympathize with inferiors, have neither likes nor dislikes, and dismiss idle thoughts and worries. Only then will you become a Buddha.
      --Dogen (1200-1253)

      from ANECDOTES
      Tanzan (1819-1892), a rare master, once officiated as indoshi at a funeral. Facing the coffin, he formally made a great circle in the air with a firebrand. And now all the attendants awaited the customary splendid phrases. But the master's mouth was clamped shut.
      Then while the attendants stared in amazement the rays of the setting sun fell directly on the master's bald head, seeming to scorch it. "Hot!" Tanzan said. "Hot! Oh hot!" He then made a slight bow to the coffin and returned to his place.
      Needless to say, the attendants remained puzzled long after the coffin had been settled in the earth.
      ~ ~ ~
      One day Tesshu, the famous swordsman and Zen devotee, went to Dokuon and told him triumphantly he believed all that exists is empty, there is no you or me, etc. The master who had listened in silence suddenly snatched up his long tobacco pipe and struck Tesshu's head.
      The infuriated swordsman would have killed the master there and then, but Dokuon said calmly, "Emptiness is quick to show anger, isn't it?"
      Forcing a smile, Tesshu left the room.
      ~ ~ ~
      A heretic approached the Buddha and said, "Please tell me, O Masterful One, what is above both speech and silence?"
      The Buddha made no reply.
      Filled with admiration, the heretic said, "I understand, World-most-Honored. Stripped of illusion, I see at last!"
      When the heretic had gone, the disciple Ananda said to the Buddha, "Hmm -- I wonder what it was he saw."
      "He's like a good horse," said the Buddha with a smile. "Just the shadow of the whip, and off he gallops."

      (The introduction to the chapter, which seems more Zen-like than the actual interviews --editor)
      Yamaguchi, the "Kyoto of the West," is one of the best preserved of the castle towns of Japan, and is well known for its superb Zen temples, among them Toshun, one of the most beautiful in spite of its age (or because of it), which the billowy green of the young bamboo trees planted on the slope of the mountain against which it was built tends to belie. As has so often been the case in this crowded land, the mountain has served to protect the temple from the encroachment of those seeking breathing space on the outskirts of town. In this respect it most clearly resembles Kyoto: to its ring of mountains might be attributed the fine state of its shrines and temples, if not their very survival.
      If the reader has seen Kurosawa's Rashomon, he will remember the opening scene: the rain, the old gate, the wasted grandeur of the temple. well, it was raining when Takashi Ikemoto and I bicycled up from the national university where we teach, and I was strongly reminded of that scene. We parked our bicycles and entered the temple. A few minutes later we were met by Taigan Takayama, master of the Toshun, and led to his reception hall, which overlooks a lovely garden. Takayama is young (thirty-four), intellectual (a graduate in Chinese Philosophy of Kyoto University) and, Ikemoto has informed me, he journeys to Kyoto a few times a year to undergo more discipline.
      Though we have had about a week to mentally prepare for the exchange, we did not think it in the spirit of Zen to prepare a list of questions. Perhaps this will turn out to be a mistake. It was agreed that we take turns asking questions and that Ikemoto would record what was said and translate the difficult parts.
      Before we begin, a few words from Takayama: "I know very well that Zen is above explanation, and that the Westerner may find expository remarks in a Zen interview inadequate. Nonetheless, an exchange between a Westerner and a Japanese master might very well serve as a stimulant toward the reader's further efforts for a better appreciation of Zen. Indeed the remark that Zen is above explanation applies only to those destined to remain ignorant of it. As for those, on the other hand, possessed of insight keen enough, they will be able to intuit a Zen meaning in a master's words, spoken or written. It is my hope that the reader will read the following exchange in the proper way and, thus, see into the spirit of Zen."
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