Saturday, April 5, 2014

Baizhang's Wild Duck - Answers

In the previous two posts, 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?"
The first question is: "What was Baizhang's mistake?"
This could also be asking, why did Mazu twist Baizhang's nose? The answer is in the story. Cutting right to the heart of the matter, the answer is - "It is flying away." Why is this the answer instead of something like:
  • If form is emptiness and emptiness is form how could there even be away?
  • He made a difference between himself and the bird
  • Away from what, is Baizhang is the center of the universe?
So my question to you would be - How can you be sure that is the reason Mazu twisted Baizhang's nose? If the story was recounted correctly, his mistake was "It is flying away!"

This is useful because we spend much of our time adding a layer to reality. In Zen, we are working to get clear mind, to cut through the illusory world that we make up. Here we practice putting down our ideas, our concepts. We don't just think of it as good in theory, we practice it.
The second question is: If you were Baizhang, how could you answer "Where is it going?"
A little role playing. We try to put ourselves in this situation, walking with a Zen teacher who is asking us about the duck. Even if we think this is a silly question, we cut through that thought and try to answer the teacher. Answers to try might include:
  • North for summer
  • Point in the direction of the bird
  • Birds fly, it is just flying
A Zen teacher wouldn't accept any of these answers. All these answers are filled with concepts. We are Zen students, how do we get beyond thinking? The answer I would accept for this is for the student to flap their arms like a flying duck.

This is useful because we spend much of our time lost in concepts, which we often substitute for reality. We put them all down and answer without words.

The third question is: When did it ever fly away?
The answer to this one is a little more difficult. In fact it is tempting to give the same answer as above - this time the question is not about the duck! What is it that is referred to? In the idea of Sunyata, form is emptiness, emptiness is form - how could anything fly away? It turns out, this is similar to questions such as "Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?" So we put down all concepts, like when, fly, away, and return to this very moment. Any truth answer will suffice. Just seeing, hearing, what ever is going on this very moment. Or anything that is truth: Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.

This is helpful because we spend much of our time lost in concepts. We want to explain Buddhism, or reality, or what we've discovered. But again, Zen is beyond words, so how can we express truth? Koan practice actually helps us to realize this through practice. It is amazing that during Koan study, someone will pass several Koans, only to jump right back into philosophy and concepts on the next Koan. Not good, not bad. Practice, practice, practice.