Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Baizhang's Wild Duck - Discussion

In the previous post, Baizhang's Wild Duck, I proposed a set of questions to turn this Dharma exchange into an exercise that can be used to help people gain some insight.
Once again, here is the story:
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?"
And here are the brand new, first time ever, questions:
  • What was Baizhang's mistake?
  • If you were Baizhang, how could you answer "Where is it going?"
  • When did it ever fly away?

Since the publication of the new questions for this Koan, I have discussed it with Zen Master Wonji. I will share some of that discussion here. In a future post I may provide the answers to this Koan. Since it is new, giving answers to it may provide some insight into Koan practice and what it's function is without interfering in someone's Koan study.

The first question: What was Baizhang's mistake? This question refers directly to the Dharma exchange and is thus inside the story. Two Zen masters were walking and master Mazu saw the duck as a teaching opportunity. First off, is it ok for us to say Baizhang made a mistake? Nowhere in the story does it say a mistake was made. Based on Mazu's reaction - it is OK to say a mistake was made! This is where Koan practice will force a person studying this Koan to be meticulous. Because, already here in the first question, it is tempting to start discussing philosophy. Maybe some dead-word discussion of Sunyata. If someone's answer starts going in that direction that person is already lost. They would be encouraged to go back to reading the story. The answer is in there!

The second question: If you were Baizhang, how could you answer "Where is it going?" This question, too, is referring to the Dharma exchange. It is also asking what you would do if you were walking there with Mazu. So, this question is both inside and outside the Koan. As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, Patriarchal Zen teachers are not looking for discussion, theories, or philosophy - no matter how brilliant. Maybe a demonstration of Sunyata would suffice here. This is where one answering the question could get stuck. If one gets stuck here - wonderful. What is the answer? What will Mazu accept? Keep that thought - Where is it going? Sit with it, drive with it. Keep that don't know mind at all times until the answer becomes clear!

The third question: When did it ever fly away? Although this question is a line from the story, the answer exists outside of the Koan. Like the second question, this, too, is an insight question. What is the "it" being referred to? Is it still the duck? Is it not the duck? Duck, no-duck, same, different? Very easy to get off track here. And that is OK. These questions are meant to help us wake up. To get clear mind, to get one moment beyond conceptual thought. A big hint is that this is the same question asked by Zen masters many times in many different ways throughout history.

Finally, the gatha. A short verse to sum it all up and hopefully help the questioner. Maybe it will trigger some insight, an aha moment, a moment beyond thought where Baizhang's duck becomes clear.
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?