BOOK OF EQUANIMITY - Case 44
Case 43 never ends, yet now comes ...
Case 44: Koyo's Garuda Bird
One practical point when reading anything like today's Koan is that Chinese "Chan/Zen speak" of certain historical periods (in trying to convey some things hard to convey in ordinary words) developed its own literary styles, inner puns and jokes, standard allusions (like "dragon and garuda" "king and general" or "host and guest" as code words for the "absolute and relative") and other symbols. Although the central lessons must not be lost, the great distance of time and cultures, and the resulting gap in shared cultural references and language may actually make some phrases more "mystical and mysterious" than they were at the time to readers who recognized the references, "got the puns" and the shared code. Often Zen phrases seem "cryptic", mysterious and profound simply because many old Zen stories were written in 1000 year old "slang", citing forgotten Chinese legends (like the references to dragons fighting garudas in the lines below) or poetic references, all of which was sometimes then poorly translated or remembered over the years! It is as if I were to create a Koan now using such 'Americanism' terms as "bling-bling", "shake your booty", "here goes nothing", "Thomas the Tank Engine" (Britishism) and "Casey at the bat" and expect folks 1000 years from now in Lithuania to "get the reference". They might take "Bling Bling" to be a mysterious Mantra thought to have fantastic magical powers. :p
Side Note: Much of the "weird, poetic language" we use around Treeleaf sometimes is an attempt to update, modernize and simplify some of the old ways of putting things for modern, Western people. Rather than talk about some ancient Chinese Kingdoms and Dragons, I talk about "Paris and Boeing Jets" or the like.
However ... it will always need to be a bit weird and poetic BECAUSE IT IS ZEN!!!! and still needs to get beyond and through-and-through language.:encouragement:
So, let us turn to today's Koan, and try to distinguish the "profound point" from the "poetic puff and puns" ...
A young monk goes to test an older master, a traditional challenge called "Dharma Combat". As Shishin Wick points out, "the dragon-king [is] the complete ruler of all the oceans ... all-powerful and invulnerable" in that realm. Thus, when the young fellows says "the dragon-king leaves the ocean and heaven and earth are calm" he probably means that he has had some kind of great breakthrough which he feels has everything in life resolved and under control, king of the world. But the garuda bird likes to make lunch of dragons! So, the master is probably saying, "Oh yeah? Well, take it off the cushion buddy, and see if life doesn't make lunch of your little insight!" (In my eyes, one only knows the value of this Zen Way and all learned "on the cushion" by seeing how it plays in life, where the runner meets the road. You want to test your "insight"? See how you do the next time the doctor hands you an unpleasant diagnosis, your company downsizes, or the car just gets a flat!)
I take the reference to "a falcon seizing a dove" and "check in front of the balcony" (according to Shishin, the place where prisoner's heads are put on display on a pike [scared]) to mean something like, "It is a dog eat dog world out there, and life takes no prisoners. If you truly are the "ruler" who has resolved all, then you have to learn the great power and peace of dancing with life's tough birds of prey. As Shishin says so powerfully ...
After the young monk says something about humbly surrendering and backing down (retreating three steps with his hands on his chest), the master says something like "learn from this and don't be so blind and naive next time" (the blind turtle stuck under Mt. Sumeru etc.).
When you rise from the zafu, what is the one thing (or are there many?) that spoils your tranquility and invincibility? Is it the girlfriend Garuda, the boss Garuda, the baby Garuda, the ex-spouse Garuda ... ?
You see, this is another Koan about the dance and interplay of nirvana and samsara, the lotus emerging from the mud, the absolute and relative: Most of the other references in the Preface and Appreciative Verse are to this, such as "host and guest". In old Zen lingo, host is generally "Emptiness/Absolute" and guest "form/separate phenomena"
And such is the dragon and garuda, soaring and crawling, king and minister, emperor and general and the like.
These two might also be described as the real and apparent, upright and inclined, universal and particular, ultimate and phenomenal, oneness and many, or absolute and relative, and are frequently suggested in Chan discourse by the metaphors of host and guest or lord and vassal.
So QUESTION: What are your Garuda birds, and do they dance with the dragon ... or eat the dragon ... these days?
One final note:
I find the first part of Shishin Wick's commentary clear and insightful. However, I must also note that Shishin is in the Lineage of Yasutani Roshi, and they Practice a Soto-Rinzai hybrid that is heavily influenced by the "hard charge" to Kensho of that particular Teacher. For this reason, Yasutani emphasized an incredibly intense version of Shikantaza that is not so common outside that Lineage, but comes through in some of Shishin's description of Yasutani Roshi here. Maybe the most striking example of Yasutani Roshi's Shikantaza is this famous talk by him in which he speaks of Shikantaza as a means of intense concentration leading to an explosive Kensho ...
When you thoroughly practice shikantaza you will sweat-even in the winter. Such intensely heightened alertness of mind cannot be maintained for long periods of time. ... Sit with such intensely heightened concentration, patience, and alertness that if someone were to touch you while you are sitting, there would be an electrical spark! Sitting thus, you return naturally to the original Buddha, the very nature of your being.
Then, almost anything can plunge you into the sudden realization that all beings are originally buddhas and all existence is perfect from the beginning. Experiencing this is called enlightenment. Personally experiencing this is as vivid as an explosion; regardless of how well you know the theory of explosions, only an actual explosion will do anything. In the same manner, no matter how much you know about enlightenment, until you actually experience it, you will not be intimately aware of yourself as Buddha.
In short, shikantaza is the actual practice of buddhahood itself from the very beginning-and, in diligently practicing shikantaza, when the time comes, one will realize that very fact.
However, to practice in this manner can require a long time to attain enlightenment, and such practice should never be discontinued until one fully realizes enlightenment. Even after attaining great enlightenment and even if one becomes a roshi, one must continue to do shikantaza forever, simply because shikantaza is the actualization of enlightenment itself.
It is a very instrumental and goal oriented view of Shikantaza. In fact, many or most of the Western Teachers in that Lineages seem to have softened a bit in their approach from Yasutani's fire and brimstone, but they still tend to present Shikantaza in a rather instrumental way that is found in some of what Shishin says here.