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Thread: Grass Hut - 31 - "Meeting Our Teachers"

  1. #1

    Grass Hut - 31 - "Meeting Our Teachers"

    Howdy,

    Today, we are with Chapter 25 "Meeting Our Teachers / Meet the Ancestral Teachers ... "

    The following are just some suggestions for reflection:

    Do you find that Zen Practice and Buddhist Teachings take on different facets of meaning or import for you on different days? Any examples?

    Do the old Koan stories resonate with you or leave you cold and confused? Both at different times?


    By the way, we will be coming to the endless end of this book in a few weeks. I am planning to return to reflections on the "BOOK OF EQUANIMITY" for awhile, and the 100 Koans there (we left at Koan No. 50, although can such things truly be numbered?) If you do not have the book, I believe the entire book is available online for free at Google Books.

    I hope that you are not so cold and confused with Koans that you won't join us.

    Gassho, J

    SatToday
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    Thank you Jundo ... wrapped up in my blanket with the glasses on engaging in this koan. =)

    Gassho
    Shingen

    #sattoday
    RINDO SHINGEN
    倫道 真現

  3. #3
    Thank you.

    I often do not feel as if I am meeting the teachings moreso receiving them. At Other times, the opposite. Sometimes I hear an old koan, or story and it feels very relatable to my current experience.. Other times I have no idea at all.

    Most of the time, speaking about a koan, weather I have met it or not...gives me great trouble. I may understand but can't find the words for it. Speaking (or typing) about it leaves me with a feeling of being judged. I do feel quite passive and not engaged in relation to ancestral texts and koans.

    Koans, texts or stories both loved and revered and then laughed off and critiqued....by the same person. Hard to wrap my head around that.

    Gassho, Kyotai
    Sat today
    I am a student at Treeleaf. Please take what I say with a grain of salt. Gassho

  4. #4
    I'm going to answer these in reverse order. lol I want to comment on what Kyotai said, and that relates to how I feel about koans as well:

    1. Kyotai, I know how you feel. Precisely. Sometimes the koans just bam! Others I don't "get" them. But I eventually do, or sometimes I don't for years; that's sort of the pattern of practice. When I first started, well before I even sat, I would read a lot. One of the books I read was Mountain Record of Zen Talks by John Daido Loori. In it (now I had no clue who Dogen was at that time), he discusses the Mountains and Rivers Sutra, specifically the part about the "Stone Woman giving birth in the night" (that is paraphrased, but I think that's it). At the time, I was like what the hell? But it spoke to me; it resonated. I read that book like 5 times; and then I realized that Zen was a doing practice, a transformative practice, that there is actually sitting involved. I really had no idea. So I started sitting and then a few months later found Treeleaf, thank goodness!

    So (I'm wordy today geesh. lol), I never really got this, then a couple weeks ago, thanks to Lisa bringing out the older talks, I listened to Jundo's talk titled "Stone Woman Dancing" (http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...-Woman-Dancing).

    So he talks about this topic, but of course I didn't get it; theres this line:

    When the wooden man begins to sing,
    The stone woman gets up to dance.
    There it was again, and I still didn't get it after Jundo's talk. But I think something was planted, or the seed that was planted earlier was watered. And right when I was about to email Jundo, I thought about it deeply, and bam I started to get a better understanding. That's another thing that's odd. I can't tell you how many times I'm going to send Jundo a Private Message about a teaching and bam, I read something in the forum, or by virtue of engaging in the question and really making sure I ask what I mean to ask so I don't waste Jundo's time, BAM! There it is.

    Sometimes, with these teachings, like in this example, it literally takes me years of just practicing, and (not really consciously worrying about a question) that it pops up. Maybe it's just that I've only been practicing for a few years, so I just haven't experienced certain perspectives on practice yet. Maybe after time studying, discussing here, learning from everyone here and sitting that things that were so "weird" just start to make sense.

    They are like these seeds that are planted and sprout with the fertilizer of practice -- ok I'm pretty bad at metaphors. lol The point is, sometimes, a lot of times, I don't get a koan, but the commentary or Jundo's questions or the Sangha's discussion all add invaluable insight to it, and then I see. That's happened quite a few times. There are so many wonderful perspectives shared here, that that is really a huge advantage studying koans in a truly global group. Where else can you find something as special as this?

    Or sometimes, everyone is posting something, and I feel something else, or vice versa, we all post in some manner and a few have a different take, but both are just as valid. I think we have really great discussions here -- really invaluable to this koan study.

    I think we have a special family, to steal the author's words; I think when something is dear to you, it can be liberating and frightening to share an insight; you are laying yourself on the line; what you say may not resonate at all, but it's so necessary to practice because it may be helpful to others, or someone else may clarify something. Treeleaf is that big, open family where we encourage, share tears, joys, celebrate and mutual trust -- there's no better field for growing in the dharma (ok, I'm really into the planting metaphors today). hahah

    2. Do zen teachings take on different meanings on different days? Oh yes, but this is so hard to think of something. I can think of work -- being diligent and leaving no trace, no ego. Just do your work wholeheartedly, leave it all on the table. But sometimes, because we do live in the world of form as well, diligence does mean taking credit so that the value of you and your team is communicated to the rest of the company. That's a work example, but it's sort of like charity - of course, no one likes a gloater. Do charitable acts like "groping for a pillow in the dark" as Dogen would say. But sometimes, a little advertisement of good is not a bad thing, IF it is done in the spirit of inspiring others (never if it's meant as a means to inflate an ego).

    Gassho,

    Risho
    -sattoday

  5. #5
    Thank you Risho,

    Gassho, Kyotai
    Sat today
    I am a student at Treeleaf. Please take what I say with a grain of salt. Gassho

  6. #6
    Funny, I have been thinking recently about koans and how much certain ones bother me. Thinking because of my resistance to them, I should probably work more with them . Then this thread pops up and already some great comments that make me want to join you all when you start back up with them. Can koans be discussed though, really? I always thought they were kind of beyond words.. "dark to the mind, light to the heart" (who said that?)

    Gassho,
    Sierra
    SatToday

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Sierra529 View Post
    Can koans be discussed though, really? I always thought they were kind of beyond words.. "dark to the mind, light to the heart" (who said that?)
    Koans can be discussed, if with insight and good turning words, which means not with the usual kind of divisive "up vs. down, yes no, this that" thinking and analysis of the deluded mind. Sometimes in our Zen Koany ways, this is that is neither and oh so much more.

    For example, Dogen's writings are wall to wall discussion and expression of Koans in words.

    Some Koans are to be met in silence ... some with well spoken words filled with silence in the words ... (see Koan No. 1 from the book on a wordless talk) ...

    CASE 1 - The World-Honored One [Buddha] Ascends the Platform [to give a talk]

    preface to the assembly

    Close the gate and snooze—that’s how to treat a superior person. Reflection,
    abbreviation, and elaboration are used for middling and inferior ones.
    How can you stand for someone to ascend the high seat and scowl? If anyone
    around here doesn’t agree, step forward. I have no doubts about him.

    main case
    Attention! One day the World-Honored One ascended the platform and
    took his seat. Manjushri struck the sounding post and said: “When you realize
    the Dharma-King’s Dharma, the Dharma-King’s Dharma is just as is.” At
    that, the World-Honored One descended from the platform.

    appreciatory verse
    Do you see the true manner of the primal stage?
    Mother Nature goes on weaving warp and woof;
    the woven old brocade contains the images of spring—
    nothing can be done about the Spring God’s (Manjushri) outflowing

    http://www.wisdompubs.org/sites/defa...%20Preview.pdf
    Note how the story of the Buddha silently teaching is written in words!

    Gassho, J

    SatToday
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-12-2015 at 05:39 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  8. #8


    Gassho,
    Sierra
    SatToday

  9. #9
    Member FaithMoon's Avatar
    Join Date
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    For those who are on the fence about koans, I highly recommend the writings of John Tarrant (Bring Me the Rhinoceros and other zen koans that will save your life) and one of his successors Joan Sutherland (http://joansutherlanddharmaworks.org...D=67;view=PDF1) She is a genius who has really opened up koans in ways that will surprise you.

    Faith-Moon
    sat today

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by FaithMoon View Post
    For those who are on the fence about koans, I highly recommend the writings of John Tarrant (Bring Me the Rhinoceros and other zen koans that will save your life) and one of his successors Joan Sutherland (http://joansutherlanddharmaworks.org...D=67;view=PDF1) She is a genius who has really opened up koans in ways that will surprise you.

    Faith-Moon
    sat today

    Thank you. Downloaded and in my queue. I appreciate interpretations by wise and insightful people.

    SAT today
    _/_
    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

    I may be wrong and not knowing is acceptable

  11. #11
    Thanks Faith-Moon, this is a very interesting read!

    Gassho,
    Sierra
    SatToday

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by FaithMoon View Post
    For those who are on the fence about koans, I highly recommend the writings of John Tarrant (Bring Me the Rhinoceros and other zen koans that will save your life) and one of his successors Joan Sutherland (http://joansutherlanddharmaworks.org...D=67;view=PDF1) She is a genius who has really opened up koans in ways that will surprise you.

    Faith-Moon
    sat today
    Just a little note, if I may.

    The writers of the article, Joan Sutherland, Bodjin Kjolhede and Judy Roitman, are all from Koan Introspection Zazen traditions, so their approach and handling of the Koans would tend to be a bit different (just the same but sometimes very different) from the handling in the Soto traditions. So, much there in the article that is not quite how we would approach and dance with the Koans.

    So, there is much talk of having a "first breakthrough/Kensho" with the koan and having a Koan curriculum to work through, which is generally not our approach. Taigen Dan Leighton discusses a little about the "Soto Approach to Koans" here (please read from page 27 here, "Dogen's Use of Koans") ... and especially the few comments from page 30 ...


    Although Dogen claimed in Dharma hall discourse 48 that he returned
    from China to Japan “with empty hands,” he brought with him an
    extraordinary mastery of the extensive Chinese Chan koan literature. A
    popular stereotype is that Japanese Rinzai Zen emphasizes koan practice
    whereas Soto Zen emphasizes just sitting meditation, or zazen, and even
    disdains koans. However, even a cursory reading of Dogen demonstrates
    his frequent use of a very wide range of koans. Contrary to the stereotype,
    as amply proved in Eihei Koroku along with his other writings, Dogen is
    clearly responsible for introducing the koan literature to Japan, and in his
    teaching he demonstrates how to bring this material alive.

    ...

    One difference between Dogen’s use of koan study and a stereotypical
    modern view of koan practice can be found in his critique of kensho as a
    goal. This term, which means “seeing the nature,” has been understood
    at times to refer to an opening experience of attainment of realization,
    going beyond conceptual thinking. Dogen believes that this is a dualistic
    misunderstanding and such experiences are not to be emphasized. For
    Dogen, Buddha nature is not an object to merely see or acquire, but a
    mode of being that must be actually lived and expressed. All realizations
    or understandings, even those from Dogen’s own comments, must be let
    go, as he stresses to a student in Dharma word 4: “If you hold on to a single
    word or half a phrase of the buddha ancestors’ sayings or of the koans
    from the ancestral gate, they will become dangerous poisons. If you want
    to understand this mountain monk’s activity, do not remember these
    comments. Truly avoid being caught up in thinking.”

    Unlike in the formal Rinzai curriculum, or the koan study of Dahui,
    Dogen does not explicitly recommend the koan stories as objects of formal
    meditation, but offers them for general contemplation and intent
    study. For example, in the last Dharma word, 14, Dogen says: “When
    you meet a teacher, first ask for one case of a [koan] story, and just keep
    it in mind and study it diligently…. Now I see worldly people who visit
    and practice with teachers, and before clarifying one question, assertively
    enjoy bringing up other stories. They withdraw from the discussion as if
    they understand, but are close-mouthed and cannot speak. They have not
    yet explained one third of the story, so how will we see a complete saying?”

    In addition to study of the traditional koan stories, in Eihei Koroku
    Dogen also emphasizes the approach of genjokoan, “full manifestation of
    ultimate reality,” or attention to the koans manifesting in everyday activity.
    In this approach, each everyday phenomenon or challenge arising
    before us can be intently engaged, to be realized and fully expressed. “Genjokoan”
    is the name of one of Dogen’s most famous essays, now thought
    of as part of Shobogenzo. But he uses this term and expresses this
    approach elsewhere in his writings, including in Eihei Koroku. For example,
    in Dharma hall discourse 60 Dogen says: “Everybody should just
    wholeheartedly engage in this genjokoan. What is this genjokoan? It is just
    all buddhas in the ten directions and all ancestors, ancient and present,
    and it is fully manifesting right now. Do you all see it? It is just
    our…getting up and getting down from the sitting platform.”
    http://www.wisdompubs.org/sites/defa...view/Dogen.pdf

    Gassho, J

    SatToday
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-13-2015 at 02:12 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  13. #13
    This is an area where a beginner ideally needs to have both guidance and some faith in a chosen path. You can stumble around among all the "truths" out there and glean a little of this and that, but even in the above link, it is admitted that without a teacher-student relationship, koan study would be difficult if not impossible. I would like to have the opportunity to study koans, but I already have faith in Zazen, because on its own it has yielded so much... so much peace, insight, joy, acceptance, growth, equanimity.

    Gassho,
    Sierra
    satToday

  14. #14
    For a long time I was averse to koans. It seemed... and still does seem, that turns-of-phrase and references that were ordinary in the context of their time and place, became exotic and mysterious centuries later in a new place. I believe there is a veil of mystery about them that is not so helpful. It did not exist for students in China or Japan back in the day. Or did it? Maybe by the time the old Chinese koans got to Japan they were already once removed?

    In any case i value them now and have favorites that come and go, rolling around the head. It would be wonderful for some hotshot who is seen to have most deeply penetrated them, to reformulate them so they are just as native to us to today as the originals were to someone who had a thousand different turns-of-phrase in days of old.

    Sorry for the wordy response typing on ipod brings that out.

    Gassho
    Daizan
    Sat today

  15. #15
    I often say that koans are old dialogues which express the non-logical logic of Zen and Mahayana teachings. It is not that they are puzzles or illogical, but simply that Mahayana logic is a bit different from common sense sometime (for example, Sierra is Sierra, but she is also the tree and the stars ... except she is not). They are particularly hard to understand sometimes because filled with 1000 year old Chinese slang and inside jokes.

    One practical point always worth mentioning when endeavoring anything like this is that Chinese "Chan/Zen speak" of certain historical periods (in trying to convey both time and the timeless) developed its own styles, inner puns and jokes, standard allusions (like "upright and inclined" or "host and guest" were code words for the "absolute and relative") and symbols (e.g., white cranes in the snow). Although also beyond all thought of "time or place", 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 stories of Ho, Xiangru and the Jade 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.
    More here for folks interested ...

    SIT-A-LONG with Jundo: Koan Misunderstandings, Koan Dogma
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...ngs-Koan-Dogma

    Gassho, J

    SatToday
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  16. #16
    Member FaithMoon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2015
    Location
    Southern California
    The writers of the article, Joan Sutherland, Bodjin Kjolhede and Judy Roitman, are all from Koan Introspection Zazen traditions, so their approach and handling of the Koans would tend to be a bit different (just the same but sometimes very different) from the handling in the Soto traditions. So, much there in the article that is not quite how we would approach and dance with the Koans.
    I look forward to learning more about this approach!

    I was not a fan of the Three Pillars of Zen approach to koans (Yasutani?), so that is why I was excited when I first read Tarrant's Bring Me the Rhinoceros, which seems to be a fresh, modern day, artistic dive into the koans, without watering them down. The article I linked above may not illustrate just how different Sutherland's approach is, but her book and other materials are available at her website. Maybe this piece by Tarrant gives a taste of how they have departed from traditional forms of koan study http://tarrantworks.com/2013/03/01/e...e-do-together/ .

    Faith-Moon
    sat today
    Last edited by FaithMoon; 10-14-2015 at 04:00 PM.

  17. #17
    I found the "Book of Equanimity" really too much, like when my friend asked me to correct his diploma work on history and I had never heard of all these events. That, only in a secret language additionally.

    But hitting our head on a wall shakes things, and some may fall in the right place, so why not.

    I feel that this chapter of the Grass Hut is a chapter of encouragement:
    Learn to know each other with the openness you would give a relative or close friend.
    Be aware that someone who has wonderful traits of character may also have peculiar ones.

    And be thankful for those where you can really be fully yourself, and whom you can accept as themselves, without hiding.

    I appreciate the quote of Dogen treating koans. Only someone very experienced could do so, but it shows that nothing has one side only.
    The scriptures are not either saint or flawed. They simply are.

    Gassho,
    Danny
    #sattoday

  18. #18
    If I may add one title to the list of books menioned here, "The Cave of Tigers" ( I forgot the name of the writer sorry) is also a usefull and interesting read. Intetesting because it gives a chance to compare answers and reactions during dokusan. The answer or insight to a koan is often not single or absolute, it seems. There often are no absolute and defenite 1 +1 = 2 answers. It depends on who and how someone answers or talks. It was very intetesting to see how that works.

    Also, I think what Jundo said about age old slang and a thousand year old "oneliners" is very important. It sure helps me to keep that in mind during koan study. What would one of the great ancestors have answered when asked " Show me Mu at Grand Central (train)station!" Facinating.

    Oh well, working and discussing these curious questions together as a Sangha, in the endless end, maybe the greatest reward after all.

    Gassho

    Peter





    Maybe that is also the reason why koans often seem so complicated and well... stupid at times? Observing ourselves and investigating this confusion or even the wish itself to give an answer while frustrated and confused, just may be of the same value as giving a great answer or explanation.


    Verstuurd vanaf mijn GT-I9300 met Tapatalk
    stitch by stitch....

  19. #19
    Hello,

    Do you find that Zen Practice and Buddhist Teachings take on different facets of meaning or import for you on different days? Any examples?

    Teachings are not teachings apart from us; teachings are us.

    Do the old Koan stories resonate with you or leave you cold and confused?

    Koans are useful for checking the practice.


    Gassho
    Myosha sat today



    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  20. #20
    Very interesting thread, everyone. Both the Song of the Grass Hut and koans have a similar effect on me. After hanging out with them for several years, they just keep revealing more and more layers of meaning. I can correlate more and more meanings to my life experience. In this way, they are kind of like a mirror, showing me where I'm stuck or confused or blind. Their mysteriousness is like a goad: "What state of mind would I be in to say this saying as my deepest truth?" Setting aside all the old cultural encrustations, what's really going on here? And by good fortune, I am still clueless about many of these old teacher's sayings, poems etc. Plenty more ancient teachers to meet........

    _/st\_ Shinzan
    Last edited by Shinzan; 10-18-2015 at 03:49 PM.

  21. #21
    It depends honestly, Koans might seem completely nonsensical without background on buddhism, this one always eluded me when I thought that you can read koans with no background, some you can I guess but others leave out context.

    This one deals with letting go of a pail of water that broke after a long time of trying to save it and there was no accompanying extensive frustration at the situation. The student Chiyono had his/her first experience in letting go after a lot of lack of progress in letting go through meditation in the form of this bucket breaking that they apparently responded to with equanimity and no "second arrow" hitting to compound the problem with the frustration. It's as if in that moment they were fully present in the moment and had enough actual insight into impermanence to not expect less but for the bucket to give at some point, it did, and a glimpse of freedom from clinging and wrong perception of permanence was displayed. It's my understanding of this koan at least that would not be there without my own practice, just a strange story with no context making it "mystical".

    No Water, No Moon
    When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.
    At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!
    In commemoration, she wrote a poem:
    In this way and that I tried to save the old pail
    Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about
    to break
    Until at last the bottom fell out.
    No more water in the pail!
    No more moon in the water!

    A fine line separates the weary recluse from the fearful hermit. Finer still is the line between hermit and bitter misanthrope. - Dean Koontz

  22. #22
    One of the things I love most about Zen is how we meet the teachings and personalize them and argue them and it's all okay. At the end of the chapter Connelly writes how this means using the teachings to be free: No more water in the pail / No more moon in the water. The opposite of that can be found in stuff like a FaceBook post I just read that blamed Hurricane Patricia on all the horrors going on in the world. That sort of rigid, fatalistic teaching does not engage me or meet me because it is not useful to me. Instead, it makes me want to run away or shrink instead of grow and be involved. So, yeah, I love the koans and look forward to getting back to them, although this grass hut has been a very nice rest area along that journey.

    Okay, what were the questions?

    Do the old Koan stories resonate with you or leave you cold and confused? Both at different times?
    I love the koan study the way we do it here. I enjoy the challenge of them. I don't like being spoon fed my spiritual understanding and its impact on my personal and moral growth; I like doing it on my own with guidance, and that's how our koan study is structured. Some resonate and some fall flat, and that's okay. Just turn the page and read/do/be another koan.

    My only complaint is that in reading through the responses (here and the koans, as I recall those threads) I feel that sometimes it becomes a contest on who can sound most "zenny" rather than the personal engagement and meeting the teachings, and then sharing that experience, like we are talking about here as we rest in the grass hut. But maybe all those folks are deeply moved and sharing what's in their hearts and it just comes out that way. I don't know.

    Do you find that Zen Practice and Buddhist Teachings take on different facets of meaning or import for you on different days? Any examples?
    Zen is different every day, and that is another beauty of it. I do all the vows every day, and they are different every day. I apply them to my life as it is every day, so they change constantly. They are not dogma. Rather, they are teachings in the greatest sense of the word. How can I learn from these vows today? That is the spirit in which I do them. By "do" I mean recite and reflect upon, to the extent that I can "be" them at least for a moment, and then let that moment plant a seed in my head and heart as i go through that day and all days.
    AL (Jigen) in:
    Faith/Trust
    Courage/Love
    Awareness/Action!

    I sat today

  23. #23
    I love that post Jigen!

    Gassho,

    Risho
    -sattoday

  24. #24
    Thank you, Risho. I enjoy your personal descriptions of struggles. What each of us do in our lives is extremely different, yet we approach it in very much the same way. I find myself always nodding my head every time I read your posts.

    I have been working my way through the collected works of Robert Frost (as I spent some time today before writing this) and I can easily understand his poetry as a modern day expression of koans; some open my mind to the immensity of human experience while others are completely baffling.

    Moving on....
    AL (Jigen) in:
    Faith/Trust
    Courage/Love
    Awareness/Action!

    I sat today

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