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.

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