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Thread: DR. HEINE'S (and my) TRANSLATIONS of RUJING ZENJI's "MU" GUIDANCE

  1. #1

    DR. HEINE'S (and my) TRANSLATIONS of RUJING ZENJI's "MU" GUIDANCE




    A somewhat puzzling section of Master Tiantong Rujing's Goroku (Record of Collected Sayings; 如淨禪師語錄序) is a section in which Master Rujing very clearly recommends work with the famous "Mu" Koan in Zazen (the "Mu" of the classic question put to Joshu, "Does a dog have Buddha Nature?") The advice is puzzling simply because Rujing happens to be Master Dogen's teacher in China, the Soto abbot of Tiantong Monastery, and thus not someone one might expect to be advising Koan work during Zazen. Absorption in the phrase "Mu" is most well known as a common entry practice in Rinzai style Wato Koan Introspection Zazen, not something that one would expect a Soto teacher to herald, given our legendary leanings toward Silent Illumination and Shikantaza.

    I long suspected that Rujing's advice to engage this Koan might, in fact, have been intended in a similar way to like advice which Soto founder in Japan, Master Keizan, gave in his own Zazen Yojinki (Points to be Aware of in Zazen; https://antaiji.org/en/classics/english-zazen-yojinki/). In that writing, after offering detailed instructions on "Just Sitting" Shikantaza in language tracking and expanding on Dogen's keystone Fukanzazengi, Keizan does recommend Koan work. However, Keizan does so simply as one of many possible special practices to try at those difficult times when one is especially tired, cloudy in mind, or when the monkey mind is running unusually wild. For example, Keizan writes:

    If dullness or sleepiness overcome your sitting, move to the body and open the eyes wider, or place attention above the hairline or between your eyebrows. If you are still not fresh, rub the eyes or the body. If that still doesn’t wake you, stand up and walk, always clockwise. .... If you still don’t feel fresh after doing kinhin, wash your eyes and forehead with cold water. Or chant the “Three Pure Precepts of the Bodhisattvas”. Do something; don’t just fall asleep. ...

    If the mind wanders, place attention at the tip of the nose and tanden and count the inhalations and exhalations. If that doesn’t stop the scattering, bring up a phrase and keep it in awareness – for example: “What is it that comes thus?” or “When no thought arises, where is affliction? – Mount Sumeru!” or “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West? – The cypress in the garden.” Sayings like this that you can’t draw any flavour out of are suitable.
    Now it is a gross misunderstanding to assert, as some people do, that "Soto folks don't do Koans," or (even more of a mischaracterization) that "Soto folks only approach Koans in an intellectual fashion." Nothing(ness) could be farther from the Truth! (Pun intended!) Master Dogen's writings like Shobogenzo are wall-to-wall dances with classic Koan stories and other traditional Zen lore, and the same is true for Keizan and in Rujing's Goroku. Rujing's Record, in fact, largely consists of Rujing riffing on Koans and in Koan like style in pretty much the typical wild and rollicking way associated with Zen Masters of old. Far from an intellectual presentation, Dogen, Keizan and Rujing play, pounce and poeticize the Koans in their traditional yet creative expounding. We Soto folks DIG KOANS! However, that is a separate question from whether Soto progenitors like Rujing, Dogen and Keizan would recommend Introspection on a phrase from a Koan as their standard instruction for how to sit Zazen. Was Rujing's advice just a helpful measure for those particularly tired, confused or mind-running-away days, as it was in Keizan's instructions?

    A clue that such is the case [pun intended!] is, first off, found in the fact that the passage in question is not located particularly prominently in Rujing's Record, but among a miscellaneous collection of sayings, coming right before a short talk to commemorate lighting the monastery furnace for the winter. More important, however, is the wording of Rujing's advice itself:

    上堂。心念分飛。如何措手。趙州狗子佛性無。只箇無字鐵掃帚。掃處紛飛多。紛飛多處掃。轉掃轉多。掃不得處 拼命掃。晝夜豎起脊梁。勇猛切莫放倒。忽然掃破太虛空。萬別千差盡豁通。

    I submitted the following translation by me to the great Dogenologist, historian and translator, Prof. Steven Heine, commenting that Rujing's words seem to present an expedient measure when the mind is particularly clouded:

    Dharma Hall Discourse: When the mind is divided with thoughts flying away, what measures can we take (措手)? There’s Zhŕozhōu’s little dog buddhanature mu. This one word mu [can be like] a broom made of iron. Sweep [with it] where so many confused (thoughts) are swirling around, so much confusion swirling so you sweep. Turn and sweep and turn repeatedly. Do your utmost to sweep even places one cannot reach. Day and night (sit) with your backbone always vertical and straight, boldly, don’t give up for any reason. [Then] all of a sudden, one will sweep right through to the great empty and open sky, as the 10,000 distinctions and 1,000 differences become thoroughly free flowing.
    Dr. Steve was kind enough to send me his version, which he said I can share here:

    上堂. Dharma Hall Sermon
    心念分飛. 如何措手. When the mind is distracted, what can be done?
    趙州狗子佛性無. Consider Zhaozhou's "mu" in response to the question of whether a dog has Buddha-nature.
    只箇無字鐵掃帚. Just sweep with the word mu used as an iron broom.
    掃處紛飛多. 紛飛多處掃. Sweep away distracted thoughts everywhere, so that distracted thoughts are no longer anywhere.
    轉掃轉多. Sweeping again and again causes many transformations.
    掃不得處拼命掃. Sweep with all your might, even in places that are hard to reach.
    晝夜豎起脊梁. Keep doing this while being upright day and night.
    勇猛切莫放倒. Sweep relentlessly without letting up.
    忽然掃破太虛空. 萬別千差盡豁通. All of a sudden, sweeping breaks through to empty space, and myriad differences and distinctions are fully revealed.
    Lovely. The final line (which I render as "the 10,000 distinctions and 1,000 differences become thoroughly free flowing" and Dr. Heine has as "myriad differences and distinctions are fully revealed") is particularly telling. Upon encountering the open sky of boundless clarity, the differences and distinctions of this world need not vanish, but rather, become freely flowing, or clear and fully revealed. As Heine describes this in his wonderful book, "Like Cats and Dogs: Contesting the Mu Koan in Zen Buddhism" (p. 65), the final line suggests "that discursive thought is an avenue rather than an obstacle to realization." (https://books.google.co.jp/books?id=...%80%9A&f=false)

    It is not so common these days for Soto teachers to recommend taking up a Koan at those especially hard times when the mind is particularly stormy. It is much more common to hear recommendations to return to following or counting the breath, or to focus on the posture. I have sometimes recommended some calming and centering mantra to students who were particularly upset and confused after a tremendously tragic personal loss. Keizan, as quoted above, recommended all such measures. It is sometimes a needed expedient means until the mind settles, and one can return to simply Just Sitting. Of course, Shikantaza is a powerful practicing of simply allowing in equanimity. However, it seems clear that teachers, both old and modern, have known that, sometimes, some days, we all might need a little extra device to help sweep the mind clear of its swirling storms of dusts.

    Gassho, J

    STLah







    tsuku.jpg
    Last edited by Jundo; 05-22-2022 at 11:31 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    That is lovely and surely revealing of what the advice actually was. Thank you for the effort you always put into teachings, Jundo!

    Sat Today
    Bion
    美音

    -------------------------
    Please consider whatever I might say as my own ideas, experiences and understanding, and not zen doctrine.
    Join me on Insight Timer
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  3. #3
    Thank you, Jundo.

    Gassho,
    Kotei sat/lah today.

    義道 冴庭 / Gidō Kotei.
    Being a novice priest doesn't mean that my writing about the Dharma is more substantial than yours. Actually, it might well be the other way round.

  4. #4
    Thank you Jundo!

    Gassho,
    SatToday

    -Kelly

  5. #5
    Thank you, Jundo.
    Gassho,
    Naiko
    st lah

  6. #6
    So beautifully and clearly explained. Thank you, Jundo.

    Gassho
    Washin
    stlah
    Kaidō (皆道) Every Way
    Washin (和信) Harmony Trust
    ----
    I am a novice priest-in-training. Anything that I say must not be considered as teaching
    and should be taken with a 'grain of salt'.

  7. #7
    Thank you Jundo for another excellent work.

    Gassho, Shinshi

    SaT-LaH
    空道 心志 Kudo Shinshi
    I am just a priest-in-training, any resemblance between what I post and actual teachings is purely coincidental.
    E84I - JAJ

  8. #8
    Thank you for this text. I have a few questions for a discussion if I may:

    1. How are koans Embodied in Soto Zen? So far the approach to koans from Soto perspective that I came across is indeed very intellectual. It uses language to dig into koans, whether it is an analytical discourse, poetic go at expressing the meaning, or philosophical search for application to daily life. Aren't koans, in their meaninglessness meant to cut through the conceptual thinking, through the language to point directly to our True Nature?

    2. Aren't koans supposed to be applied in a state of samadhi free of discoursive thinking, when one can become the inquiry and not merely ponder about it?

    3. Why would Dogen spent the whole night to copy the Blue Cliff record if Rujing considered koans to be merely a tool to get rid of discursive thoughts?

    4. If koans were only the means to quite the mind, would Zen be filled with so many stories relating to koans and Awakening?

    Gassho
    Sat

  9. #9
    Thank you for both the translation and perspective, Jundo. That is really helpful.

    If I may have a go at answering three of your questions, Inshin...

    2. Aren't koans supposed to be applied in a state of samadhi free of discoursive thinking, when one can become the inquiry and not merely ponder about it?
    They are in koan contemplation. This suggests a different approach.


    3. Why would Dogen spent the whole night to copy the Blue Cliff record if Rujing considered koans to be merely a tool to get rid of discursive thoughts?
    It has been noted that, with Zen speaking about being transmission outside of scripture, koans have become the foundation scriptures of how this happens. Like the Denkōroku (Record of the Transmission of the Lamp), they are used to illustrate the mindset of awakening and going beyond thinking. So, koans are not just tools to get rid of discursive thoughts, and Dogen's copying of the Blue Cliff Record does not indicate he wanted to regularly use koans for contemplation or have his students do so.


    4. If koans were only the means to quite the mind, would Zen be filled with so many stories relating to koans and Awakening?
    They are not only used to quiet the mind. But this is how Rujing is suggesting they be used. I don't think that Jundo is suggesting that koans are not useful as an approach to awakening. They are just not used in the same way in Soto Zen as they are in Rinzai Zen.

    Our primary practice is clearly Shikantaza. Reading koans can help point to understanding but koan contemplation is not a central part of Soto practice, and their usage as ways to still a busy mind show they are seen as more of a support to Shikantaza rather than key practice in their own right. That does not mean that they cannot be a central practice in other forms of Zen, but they are not in Soto Zen.


    Apologies for length.

    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.

  10. #10
    Hi Inshin,

    Quote Originally Posted by Inshin View Post
    Thank you for this text. I have a few questions for a discussion if I may:

    1. How are koans Embodied in Soto Zen? So far the approach to koans from Soto perspective that I came across is indeed very intellectual. It uses language to dig into koans, whether it is an analytical discourse, poetic go at expressing the meaning, or philosophical search for application to daily life. Aren't koans, in their meaninglessness meant to cut through the conceptual thinking, through the language to point directly to our True Nature?
    The Koan are often logical and can be explained in words, yet it is not our ordinary common sense logic, and sometimes ordinary grammar structure will not do. For example, usually a cup of tea is not a mountain is not Buddha in our ordinary way of encountering the world as separate things yet, in in our "Zen logic" (which is more to be experienced than merely explained) they certainly is/are, and Buddha is the tea mountaining as tea, and the mountain teaing as the mountain. You, Inshin, are the teamountainBuddha teamountainBuddhaing as Inshin, and you them. Our "true nature" is each and all of this! The Koans are far from "meaningless," but need to be expressed (much as I just did) in ways, with creative expressions and symbols, to convey this "not our ordinary" manner of experiencing the profound interidentity and wholeness of this world. Our usual subject/object sentence structure with its judgmental adjectives and adverbs and tenses of time cannot well convey that which leaps through subject/object, judgements and time (yet is simultaneously present as subject/object, judgements and time).

    2. Aren't koans supposed to be applied in a state of samadhi free of discoursive thinking, when one can become the inquiry and not merely ponder about it?
    Yes and no. It need not be a deep deep samadhi in which all the "things" of the world fully drop away and vanish. Rather, it is a dropping of tangled thoughts, judgements and time measure such that a certain light of wisdom appears, and the "absolute is just the relative, form is precisely emptiness" nature of the world (including us) becomes clear. Then, the Koans start to make sense.

    3. Why would Dogen spent the whole night to copy the Blue Cliff record if Rujing considered koans to be merely a tool to get rid of discursive thoughts?
    Well, the "one night Blue Cliff" story is just a legend. However, Koans were important to Dogen, who bent them in his wordplay to capture the "straight is bent and bent is precisely straight" nature of reality that the Koans seek to convey.

    4. If koans were only the means to quite the mind, would Zen be filled with so many stories relating to koans and Awakening?
    As I said about, the Koans are far more than just some tool to "quiet the mind." As Kokuu noted, in Rujings guidance, above, he is just using a Koan phrase in this special case, like the breath or a mantra, as an expedient tool for someone who is really having trouble to get the mind to settle down, and become untangled, at all. Koans are far more than a quieting tool.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 05-23-2022 at 12:03 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  11. #11
    PS - By the way, many of the Koans are also weirder than they need to be, and hard to fathom, but they are written in old Chinese puns, cultural references, obscure poetic references and the like. It is as if I wrote a Koan referencing "Thomas the Tank Engine," "Bling" and "Jersey Shore" and expected someone 1000 years in the future, in Lithuania, to get the references. That is also some factor in why they are hard to get.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  12. #12
    Thank you Jundo. Personally I like reading and working with koans. Not while sitting but as a more general test of my understanding and a way to break free of some of my rigid thinking patterns. I have a few favourites that never fail to reveal some insights.


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  13. #13
    Thank you Kokuu and Jundo!

    Gassho
    Sat

  14. #14
    Thank you, Jundo.

    Gassho
    Anchi
    生と死をください

    STLah
    安知 Anchi

  15. #15
    Wonderful sharing, thank you Jundo.

    Gassho, Tomás
    Sat&LaH

  16. #16

  17. #17

  18. #18
    Thank you for that explanation.
    I don't know if it is appropriate but I have taken to using 'what is this'
    as a means of not being overwhelmed by thoughts and events.
    It does not change anything and yet somehow finds a still centre
    while thoughts and events swirl about.

    Gassho
    M
    sattoday

  19. #19

  20. #20
    Thank you, Jundo, that's really interesting.

    Gassho,

    Heiso

    StLah

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