Sunday, January 26, 2014

Baizhang's Wild Duck - now with Questions!

How do/did Koans come about? If you are new to the idea of Koans, the link is a great post on Koans and Koan practice, by Zen Master Wonji of the Five Mountain Zen Order.

Here is an attempt at creating a Koan based on a historical exchange. The exchange goes like this:
Zen master Baizhang was walking with Mazu and saw a wild duck fly by.
Mazu said "What is that?"
Baizhang repiled "A wild duck."
To which Mazu asked "Where is it going?"
Baizhang said "It is flying away."
Mazu twisted Baizhang's nose and said "When did it ever fly away?"
This is a good story to work with, as there is a valuable point here. In the Zen lineage, we don't really want to discuss it. We want to help people to get some insight. So the question becomes: How can we use this story to help people wake up? Although this story is already part of some existing Koan collections, it can be improved with the addition of some questions and a verse.

The proposed questions are:
  1. What was Baizhang's mistake?
  2. If you were Baizhang, how could you answer "Where is it going?"
  3. When did it ever fly away?
And a new verse:

  Baizhang, Mazu, and a wild duck
  Together where?
  A forest, a swamp, a lakefront?
  So many concepts
  Put them all down,
  How could it ever fly away?

As mentioned, there is a very important point here. It has to do with Sunyata. As Zen practitioners, we don't practice by discussing things endlessly. Instead, we work with each other to help attain and cultivate that which is within us (what Buddhists call Buddha Nature).

So, my question to you is "When did it ever fly away?"

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wanting Something is Already a Mistake

If you have read much of this blog you know that I am a teacher at Buddha Dharma University. I am also a teacher in the Five Mountain Zen Order. What does that mean?

As a teacher for BDU, I try to help people with their Buddhist studies. In this case, the classes I am involved with are: Creating these classes involved preparing and recording video lectures along with writing quiz questions, forum posts, and final exam topics. Additionally, each quarter I still proctor each class. This involves grading quizzes and finals, answering questions and participating on the class forums. More information on each of these courses can be found on this blog or at the university web site. Why do I do this?

When I started researching meditation, around 1990, I found whole array of books with all kinds of ideas. Of all this research, the Zen books were the most interesting. Even narrowing it down to Zen books, I still spent a lot of time going down blind alleys, reading books that were less useful, or getting hung up on author's descriptions of enlightenment. Of course, I am happy to have done all of that as it has been a worthwhile quest. Although I did a lot of this research on my own, I also found some very necessary Zen friends along the way to help me. At this point, I am able to help others with their search.

As a teacher in the Five Mountain Zen Order, I have been granted authority to teach Zen students. I have worked as a novice teacher and have received Inka, meaning I can now teach without requiring a supervising teacher. For the most part, it means I help students with their Koan practice, usually on-line using Skype or ooVoo. It also means I have the responsibility of helping people wake up - not by explaining it to them, but by helping them to find it in themselves. It also means, if I wanted, I could break from Five Mountain and create my own Sangha. I am happy being part of Five Mountain. It is a very high class organization, and the teachers there really are in the world with helping hands.

So what is the point of this post? Zen Master Wonji, the leader of Five Mountain, told me that none of the teachers in FMZO ever asked him to be a teacher! I was no exception, Master Wonji asked me if I wanted to be a teacher multiple times over a period of years before I finally agreed. The funny thing is, I really didn't feel like I had anything to offer. Zen really is like selling water by the river.

On the flip side, we have had students who want to be teachers or monks. They ask about it. What do they need to do to become teachers? Why can't they be teachers, now? Historically, there are some Zen Masters who authorize many to teach and some who authorize few, or even none. Why would someone want to be made a teacher? Is there an ego boost? Waking up is not about ego. Is there a title boost? Waking up is not about titles. The reason we let people know that we are authorized to teach Zen is because we want to help others to wake up. Otherwise, what is the value?

Wanting to be a teacher is a big mistake. Wanting enlightenment is a big mistake.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Swampland Flowers

Swampland Flowers is a collection of letters written by Zen Master Ta Hui. It will also be the basis for a new class that will be available at Buddha Dharma University.

When Ta Hui received transmission from his teacher, he did not leave to start his own temple. He stayed with Zen Master Yuan Wu and the two of them split up their teaching duties. Yuan Wu worked with the monks and Ta Hui worked with the lay students. This book contains a selection of those letters along with one of his talks. We do not see the letters that were sent, instead we see Ta Hui's responses. In these responses, we see the true mastery of Ta Hui in action. It is a real treat to see him adapt his teachings for each student. The real art of teaching. We can learn a lot from these missives. We do have to pay attention as some of the teachings are quite subtle.

The road to enlightenment was not easy for Ta Hui. This is detailed in the introduction. There were steps along the way where he had attained levels of "enlightenment", but there were still things in the way. There is a story about Ta Hui's state just before his final breakthrough. In the story, Ta Hui though he had finally understood. His teacher, however, gave him one more guidepost along the way:
It is indeed not easy to arrive at your present state of mind. But unfortunately, you have only died but are not yet reborn. Your greatest problem is that you do not doubt words enough. Don't you remember this saying? 'When you let go your hold on the precipice, you become the master of your own fate; to die and afterward come to life again, no one can then deceive you.
"You simply do not doubt words enough." What a saying! It is something for all of us on the Buddhist path to remember, to realize, to attain.

One of the teachings that has been passed along to us throughout the years is Don't Know Mind. Why do we need a teaching like don't know? Why did Ta Hui need a teaching like "You simply do not doubt words enough?" We need great doubt, we need to realize enlightenment is beyond words. These are all ways to teach the same point. Hopefully, one of them will resonate.