At some point in this life, I developed a very skeptical nature. When I heard a quote of the Buddha saying "Question everything", that was a right up my alley. Then, in the mid-nineties I found the book Dropping Ashes on the Buddha. In this book, Zen Master Seung Sahn also presented Zen in a no-bullshit way. I have spent years with this great book, often wallowing in confusion. From it I learned to keep the great question, "What am I?" with it's corresponding answer "Don't know."
Anyway, one of my attitudes was, "If Buddha didn't need a teacher, why do I?" Of course, the story of the Buddha may not be exactly what happened, but I kept the attitude anyway. In this vein, one of my favorite entries in Dropping Ashes was when Seung Sahn said people could chant "Coca Cola" and as long as they believed it, it would work. Refreshing honesty in a world where people are always selling something.
When I ran into Zen Master Wonji around 2005, I had a lot of questions for him. Such as, "If chanting leads to enlightenment, why aren't chorus members enlightened?" Another was, "Why do we have to wear these outfits, after all, they have nothing to do with waking up?" He had great, non-attached answers to these questions along with the many other questions I asked.
Many of my attitudes regarding formal Zen practice remain. After all, what does formal practice actually have to do with waking up? Oops! There goes some freedom style questioning seeping into this post. As mentioned before, Buddhism, practice, and Zen centers have their place and can be helpful and rewarding. Just never forget that enlightenment is in this very moment, wherever, whenever, whatever.
These questions are only the tip of the iceberg. Much more of this is covered in the book. To this end, there is great Koan about people's ideas around meditation being special. It is called "Xiangyan's Non-attained Buddha" and it goes like this:
A monk asked Chán Master Xiangyan:, “The Buddha of Supremely Pervading, surpassing Wisdom sat in meditation for ten eons and could not attain Buddhahood. He did not become a Buddha. Why?”
Venerable Xiangyan said, “Your question is quite self–evident.”
The monk persisted, “He meditated so long; why did he not attain Buddhahood?”
Master Xiangyan said, “Because he would not become Buddha.”
The Koan questions are:
- Why did he not attain Buddhahood?
- Dharma appears, and Dharma does not appear in this world; what does this mean?
As a Zen teacher in the Five Mountain Order/Buddhist Studies Institue - LA, I am authorized to teach Koans. If you want to try to answer this Koan or study Koans with us at the College of Zen Buddhism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us at the school via www.beforethought.com/FMO.