Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mumonkan - Case 11: Joshu Sees The Hermits

The Case:

Jõshû went to a hermit's cottage and asked, "Is the master in? Is the master in?" 
The hermit raised his fist.  Jõshû said, "The water is too shallow to anchor here," and he went away.  Coming to another hermit's cottage, he asked again, "Is the master in? Is the master in?"  This hermit, too, raised his fist.  Jõshû said, "Free to give, free to take, free to kill, free to save," and he made a deep bow.

Mumon's Comment:

Both raised their fists; why was the one accepted and the other rejected?  Tell me, what is the difficulty here?  If you can give a turning word to clarify this problem, you will realize that Jõshû's tongue has no bone in it, now helping others up, now knocking them down, with perfect freedom.   

However, I must remind you: the two hermits could also see through Jõshû.  If you say there is anything to choose between the two hermits, you have no eye of realization.  If you say there is no choice between the two, you have no eye of realization.

Mumon's Verse:

The eye like a shooting star,
The spirit like a lighting;
A death-dealing blade,
A life-giving sword.

My Analysis: 

Two hermits, one shared response, and two reactions.  It's a simple, but effective means of getting the reader to ask "why?"  Why do the hermits raise their fists?  Why does Joshu respond dismissively to one, and respectfully to the other?  When you have seemingly identical situations with different outcomes, it presents a problem that the logical brain itches to solve.  "The answer must be unstated in the text," you might think.  "Joshu can see through the hermits and knows that one is enlightened and the other isn't" is a common interpretation of this koan, though that would seem silly and mundane to me.

I've also heard some mention that there is only one hermit that Joshu visits twice.  There is no evidence to support that in the text, though it honestly doesn't matter if you view it that way, and taking that approach might even be helpful.  Assume for a moment that it is the same hermit visited twice, given the dismissive response first, and the respectful response on second visit.  In this case, we can't hide behind a made-up understanding that there is some difference in quality between the two hermits.  You're forced to acknowledge that Joshu gave two different responses to the same greeting for no discernible reason.   

And that, really, is the heart of the matter.  Any context outside of the text is outside the scope of the koan.  All we know is that, presented with the same greeting, Joshu gave different answers.  Luckily, Mumon flat-out gives you the answer to this problem.  Joshu helps others up, and knocks others down, with perfect freedom.  If you find that his differing responses make no sense, you're correct; his freedom is perfect--it is not bound by anything, including the need to make logical sense.  Logic, reaction, words: these are tools to be used, ripe to be manipulated, and Joshu does so without any regard for making sense to those he's speaking to.  If this seems frustrating, then perhaps ask yourself what a logical, reasonable response would be, having greeted a hermit and being responded to silently, with a raised fist.  Ask also what kind of response a raised fist is to a greeting.  If you're accepting that, and questioning the response, I'm afraid you've given yourself no foothold to judge from.  

Mumon goes on to make the point even clearer:  "If you say there is anything to choose between the two hermits, you have no eye of realization.  If you say there is no choice between the two, you have no eye of realization."  These statements appear contradictory, but they aren't.  If you say that there is any reason to choose one over the other, you're not getting it.  If you say that there is no choice, you're still not getting it.  Joshu chooses one and not the other.  Clearly the choice can be made, even when there is no logical reason supporting the choice, again, because Joshu is not bound to logic to make his decisions. 

We see this kind of behavior frequently in Joshu.  While other masters slap, or cut off fingers, or break students' legs, or shout violently, Joshu simply speaks mild-mannered words that shake logical perception to its core.  If you seek to attach meaning to his words instead of viewing them as the expression of perfect freedom, then you yourself are a slave to logic, rather than allowing it to be the tool you manipulate.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mumonkan - Case 10: Seizei is Utterly Destitute

The Case:  

Seizei said to Sõzan, "Seizei is utterly destitude.  Will you give him support?"

Sõzan called out, "Seizei!"  

Seizei responded, "Yes, sir!"

Sõzan said, "You have finished three cups of the finest wine in China, and still you say you have not yet moistened your lips!"

Mumon's Comment:

Seizei pretended to retreat. What was his scheme?  Sõzan had the eye of Buddha and saw through his opponent's motive.  However, I want to ask you, at what point did Seizei drink wine?

Mumon's Verse:

Poverty like Hantan's,
Mind like Kõu's;
With no means of livelihood,
He dares to rival the richest.

My Analysis:  

The starting point for this koan is to understand that both Seizei and Sozan are talking in metaphors.  Seizei says "I am utterly destitute, will you help me?"  He is not speaking in literal terms.  He is not a beggar on the street.  He is a monk, and he is saying "I have nothing; I have no understanding of Zen, please teach me."  This is a tricky request.  Zen is a practice that specifically involves the casting aside of conceptual thoughts, teachings, and understandings, so while "I know nothing; teach me" seems on the surface to be a plea for help, in reality it is an extremely bold claim which Seizei is attempting to use as a trap.  If Sozan teaches Seizei, this is stepping into this trap.  If the master has teachings to share, then he is no master.  If the student has no delusion to cast away, he is no student.  If Sozan were to step into this role of teacher to Seizei's student, the teacher would be engaging in dualistic thinking thinking with a student who would seem not to.  Seizei is boldly attempting establish his own mastery and superiority over his teacher by leading him into this logical trap.

Sozan replies "Seizei!" and Seizei replies immediately, "yes sir!"  The master calls; the student answers.   In this extremely brief exchange, Seizei has betrayed his own cause.  He clearly has not cast aside the dualistic concept of teacher and student.  He is not free of his own discriminating mind, and his claims that he "has nothing" is clearly shown to be false.  All this just in his readily subordinate response.

Sozan follows with "You have finished three cups of the finest wine in China and still you have not moistened your lips!"  By this he means "you've got plenty, and here you are saying you have nothing."  It's easy to say that you have no conceptual thoughts or discriminating mind, but saying it doesn't make it so.  Sozan sees that Seizei is making false claims, and completely disarms those claims without stepping into the trap of playing the part of the teacher.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mumonkan - Case 9: Daitsu Chisho Buddha

The Case: 

A monk asked Kõyõ Seijõ, "Daitsû Chishõ Buddha sat in zazen for ten kalpas and still could not attain Buddhahood.  He did not become a Buddha.  How could this be?"

Seijõ said, "Your question is quite self-explanatory." 

The monk asked, "He meditated so long; why could he not attain Buddhahood?"  

Seijõ said, "Because he did not become a Buddha."

Mumon's Comment:  

I allow the barbarian's realization, but I do not allow his understanding. When an ignorant man realizes it, he is a sage. When a sage understands it, he is ignorant.

Mumon's Verse:  

Better emancipate your mind than your body;
When the mind is emancipated, the body is free,
When both body and mind are emancipated,
Even gods and spirits ignore worldly power.

My Analysis:  

We're presented with a difficulty.  Daitsu Chisho Buddha sat in meditation for an incalculably long time (ten kalpas is a mythical measurement of time), and despite this did not become a Buddha.  However he is identified as a Buddha.  What's more, Seijo says that this is entirely obvious.  He's correct, and it's a fairly simple process of understanding, or rather, eliminating a misunderstanding.

In many schools of thought, there is the belief that through meditation, a person improves him or herself, and becomes an enlightened individual, that they attain Buddhahood.  This is not the teaching of Zen.  Zen teaches that the Buddha essence is present in all things.  An individual cannot attain Buddhahood anymore than you can attain personhood.  You were born that way.  You have always had it.  Daitsu Chisho Buddha didn't become a Buddha; he, like every being, and thing and thought and action, was Buddha to begin with, whether he sat for ten kalpas or not.  

But let's not just leave it as a simple play on words.  There is more here to realize.  I said above that everything, Daitsu Chisho Buddha included, are Buddha, or the absolute.  While this is, in one sense, true, it is a tangentially a product of delusion.  I used the term that way as a means of explaining the wordplay piece of the koan.  However, the greater delusion is the view of a self apart from others, of individual apart from whole.  Daitsu Chisho Buddha is not a Buddha, because "Buddha" is not individualized, or personified.  "Buddha" in Zen is a term for the absolute.  The all-inclusive one totality.  A pebble is not the absolute, but the absolute is manifest in the pebble.  Daitsu Chisho Buddha is not the absolute, but the absolute is manifest in his being.  

Here is what Mumon points to with "Better to emancipate your mind than your body."  If you free yourself from the concept of self, then there is not a "you" to possess your body; thus your mind and body are both free from the burden of the self, and are free to manifest the absolute without the delusion that it is lacking.