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Thread: Dokusan

  1. #1

    Dokusan

    I read the previous thread on Dokusan and watched the humorous videos on Dokusan. I loved it when the Zenji hit the student upside the head with an open palm to show him the sound of one hand clapping.

    So I understand that Dokusan for Soto Zen practitioners is more like a chat about how things are going.

    Could somebody elaborate on how this is? I am a psychotherapist by training, and usually see from 6 - 7 people one on one per day.

    I guess I curious to see just how different or similar Dokusan might be to psychotherapists do.



    Kevin


    Sat today

  2. #2
    So I understand that Dokusan for Soto Zen practitioners is more like a chat about how things are going.
    Could somebody elaborate on how this is?
    Hi Kevin

    It is more like a chat about how things are going

    As Jundo said in the previous thread, in Soto Zen and at Treeleaf you are not judged on the basis of your ability to pierce through koans or perform in dharma combat but instead on your overall conduct and contribution to the sangha, how you engage with others and the degree of understanding you demonstrate in relation to questions posed by other members and comments you make about your own practice and how you deal with life when things become difficult.

    Talks with the teacher are, for me, more like a chance to ask questions about aspects of practice which are not clear or to obtain other practice advice. I would say they are generally pretty straightforward and practical rather than the more esoteric dokusan you get with Rinzai teachers and not at all like psychotherapy. This is the case even when us as priests-in-training have our monthly chats with Jundo (although I can only report on my own experience, others may be getting something completely different with whistles, bells and fly whisks!).

    Teacher conversations are helpful and can set you on the right track but the real magic happens on the cushion and in daily life through whole-hearted practice when making tea or taking your kids to school.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    Last edited by Kokuu; 10-30-2019 at 08:57 PM.
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  3. #3
    Thank-you so much, Kokku.

    My next question was going to be about Dharma Combat. Is there a "more down to earth yet at the same time as high as the sky" form of Dharma Combat here as well?

    Gassho

    Kevin

    Sat today.

  4. #4
    Last year we had a Hossen Shiki ceremony for those who had been Shuso (head seat) for previous Angos. This is a traditional dharma combat type ceremony, although usually performed with just one Shuso. In contemporary Japan, Jundo suggested that it is now more of a scripted affair which is played out for show. We knew what the koan would be in advance but not all of the questions.

    This is, I think, the only time we have done anything like dharma combat and it was limited to the ordained folk. There is doubtless a You Tube recording of the event which someone will point you towards.

    Other Soto Zen teachers do incorporate some form of dharma combat and I had a small taste when doing an online course with Dosho Port. It is also a feature at places like Zen Mountain Monastery in NY but that may well be because of their mixed Rinzai/Soto lineage.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  5. #5
    Thanks Kokku. I'd like to see the video if someone can point me in the right direction.

    I watched a You Tube Video this past weekend of a Dharma Combat that did not look scripted. Interestingly, one of the students questioning asked a very long question that incorporated concepts from quantum theory and the relationship with time. The Shosu listened to the whole thing and simply said "I don't know."

    Gassho

    Kevin

    Sat today

  6. #6
    I feel this is Dharma Combat, i.e. what we post here. Constant clarification and expression of practice. I know Jundo calls Treeleaf an experiment but, as far as I'm concerned, he was right on - experiment complete and proven successful. I can't imagine another place where you can constantly have exposure to dharma and live conversation about zen to really articulate, question and test your understanding. It's pretty phenomenal.

    Gassho

    Risho
    -stlah

  7. #7
    Hi Kevin,

    Different teachers and groups have their own styles of Dokusan. Here, it is just a relaxed chat about how practice and things are going, not "Dharma Combat" nor therapy. I like to keep most interaction open in this forum, where everyone can teach, learn and support everyone in the Sangha, and I usually have Dokusan just for private friendly getting to know each other and truly personal/sensitive matters.

    Here is our Shuso Hossenshiki ceremony from last year. I wrote the following there about Dharma Combat. It is generally scripted in Japan, and always had an element of theatre to it even in centuries past. Rinzai monks often work from lists of acceptable poetic responses too. However, some western Soto Sangha (like ours in the below ceremonY) have made room for surprise, humor and spontaneity.

    'Hossenshiki' (法戦式) literally means "Dharma Combat Ceremony," although we prefer to call it "Dharma Inquiry." In this case, "Dharma" means the Teachings expressed in old Zen Koans. In the "Dharma Combat," the Shuso is seen to take away the "Shippei" (竹箆), a kind of baton carried by a Zen teacher, and the Shuso temporarily assumes the role of teacher. The Shuso is presented a traditional Koan case, and is bombarded with some questions about it. The Shuso responds with expressions meant to illuminate the truth of the Koan. The scene within the ceremony is meant to recreate the scene in many of the old Koan stories themselves in which a student spontaneously and unhesitatingly expresses the Wisdom and Compassion of the Koan with words and poetry coming naturally from the monk's heart in response to challenges from his teacher or another monk. Sometimes the monk might respond with some seemingly mysterious words, somehow seeking to express emptiness and transcendence and immanence, or a poem, or a shout or by drawing a circle in the air. I assure you that this is not done without meaning behind it (at least, it should not be so).

    Except, that is not actually how the Hossenshiki is performed in Japan.

    In fact, in Japan, the Soto Zen version is anything but spontaneous. In reality, it is totally pre-scripted and well rehearsed for days, a fact due in part to the ceremony being conducted in an antiquated form of medieval Japanese language that even modern Japanese cannot well understand. The monk's questions and answers are all predetermined and memorized. In that way, the ceremony is more like a piece of theatre than an actual combat. However, that is not seen as a bad thing because, in many aspects of Zen training in Japan, it is believed that by assuming a role ... even if scripted ... one actually can pour oneself into the role and become the role (something like saying that, if an actor plays Hamlet with enough sincerity, the actor can actually come to embody Hamlet. In this case, by acting and speaking the words of a Buddha or Zen Master, one can imbibe their spirit.) The Japanese ceremony is generally very serious and stern. The intricate moves of the ceremony, and the precision, mean that the steps must be mastered much as a classical ballet. However, as in dancing an actual ballet, the dancer can literally pour herself into the dance and become the dance.

    But our Treeleaf Hossenshiki is a bit different from all that .. and just a bit different in other ways too!

    First, portions of our ceremony try to actually bring back some spontaneity to the Q&A, with the participants expected to speak from the heart. (They were informed of the Koan in advance, and the first question, but not the rest after that. The rest was a surprise.) We are not alone in this, as many other Soto Zen Sangha in the west are also trying to have a bit more spontaneity too. In order to do so, we also are willing to walk the fine line of being serious yet light hearted, stern yet smiling or laughing when the time is right. That is actually a good thing because the Koans themselves, when we examine them, are also typically combinations of serious teaching and a good bit of jesting and humor mixed in.
    Treeleaf Shuso Hossenshiki (首座法戦式) Head Seat Dharma Inquiry Ceremony
    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...quiry-Ceremony

    Honestly, from what I have seen, experienced and read as records of "Dharma Combat" in the west, much of it is a mess, eye of the beholder, acting and talking like one thinks Zen people are expected to talk, self-convincing (both the student and the teacher can convince themselves of the profundity of what is not necessarily so profound), bluff and bluster and rarely any proof of anyone's enlightenment. Yet, even then, sometimes something truly inspired will manifest, but even then, it is hit and miss. I sometimes compare it to a urban poetry slam or the like.

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-30-2019 at 11:44 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  8. #8
    Thank-you so much Jundo for sharing the information from the thread. I think the approach sounds balanced and less theatrical.

    I agree with Risho. It hadn't occurred to me that if we were in a brick and mortar sangha there would be a lot less exposure to Dharma teachings, practice, etc. Here it's like we can "walk" through the temple and hear the conversations that have happened in years past. Imagine if THAT were possible in some of the ancient Japanese temples.

    I have been sharing information here with my wife and she has sat zazen with me as well as on her own lately.

    Gassho.

    klb

    sat today.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Risho View Post
    I feel this is Dharma Combat, i.e. what we post here. Constant clarification and expression of practice. I know Jundo calls Treeleaf an experiment but, as far as I'm concerned, he was right on - experiment complete and proven successful. I can't imagine another place where you can constantly have exposure to dharma and live conversation about zen to really articulate, question and test your understanding. It's pretty phenomenal.

    Gassho

    Risho
    -stlah
    I couldn't agree more. I feel you can truly learn a great deal about Zen here, and probably faster than if you were going to a Zen group once per week. Sitting is sitting and must be sat on your own, whether together in a room or with each other online. You will never convince me it's any different, and I have done both. You can get good answers to most questions here, and chances are we have already beat any issue to death someone around these halls.

    And yet questions always come up for me too. There's plenty of dharma combat going on here too, but I think for the most part it's very civil.

    Gassho
    Ishin
    Sat/lah
    Grateful for your practice

  10. #10
    This thread inspired the podcast this week ...

    Episode 11: The Dokusan Room is Kinda Baloney

    Jundo and Kirk pop some overly idealized and mythical images of the Dokusan room, the place where teacher tests students and students test teacher. What goes on can be romanticized and overemphasized, misused and misunderstood (especially by modern westerners), yet boundless wonder happens too.
    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...415#post252415

    Gassho, J

    StLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  11. #11
    I loved the podcast, Jundo. As musician myself I get how the journey never ends but there is improvement over time.

    I agree with your take on the Three Pillars book. In psychotherapy people have epiphanies all the time. It's the behavioral and thinking strategies practiced over time that create lasting change RE anxiety, depression, alcoholism et al in therapy.

    I have to say it is a relief to just sit with no expectations of some sudden experience to make everything "right."

    That said, do you believe there is a legitimate place for Koan introspection?

    Gassho

    Klb

    Sat today

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Benbow View Post

    That said, do you believe there is a legitimate place for Koan introspection?
    In Soto, we also reflect upon and dance with Koans. Master Dogen's writings are chock full of traditional Koans that he riffs on to bring out wisdom. Half of my talks bring in a Koan that connects. The Koans are not riddles, meaningless statements or illogical scenes, but rather, are humorous, poetic or otherwise creative expressions of Zen and Mahayana Teachings (and they have a "logic" of their own, although not necessarily our day to day western logic, e.g., for Zen folks, you are not a mountain, and a mountain is not you, yet you are thoroughly as well, in most intimate sense). So, we Soto folks treasure the classic Koans too.

    As to "Koan Introspection Zazen," it may be good for some people. I do not say no. Sometimes I think that people with very strong ego need some dynamite to blast through, although I also caution about the dangers of playing with dynamite. Also, as I mentioned, sometimes maybe there is too much emphasis in American (particularly) Zen on Koan Introspection, and a lot of exaggeration, myth and romanticization surrounding it, because of the history of how Zen came to the USA via D.T. Suzuki, Three Pillars of Zen and the like which tended to paint a certain picture of Zen Practice.

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  13. #13
    Thank you Jundo.

    If we could travel back in time we could present
    a koan to Dogen about Treeleaf.

    "A sangha of thousands covering the earth,
    The students hear the teaching with their eyes,
    And hold the whole sangha in their hands."


    Gassho

    Klb

    Sat today

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Benbow View Post

    "A sangha of thousands covering the earth,
    The students hear the teaching with their eyes,
    And hold the whole sangha in their hands."
    清 道 寂田
    SEIDO JAKUDEN
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

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