Last night we sat at Wind-in-Grass. I was so heartened that even the day before one of the biggest holidays of the year, WiG had a house full of people wanting to give thanks together and sit.
We sat with the koan:
Once upon a time there was a young man who was deeply unhappy. He had many good things in his life but they didn’t help. When he was at the end of his tether he heard about a teacher who was supposed to be good with hopeless cases and he made the journey to see her.
“I am very unhappy,” he said. “I’m too restless to sit still and do a spiritual practice and I’m too selfish to practice compassion and service. I reach for what I want but when I get it, I’m not happy, and I’m always looking out for the next thing. I don’t have a clue where to turn. But I’m told that you deal with hopeless cases so perhaps you can help me. You are my last resort.”
“I’m glad you came,” she said. “I might be able to help but you will have to agree to do what I ask.”
“Why don’t you tell me?” he said “and I’ll decide if it will work for me.”
“Oh no,” she said, “The deal is that you agree to do what I say and then I tell you what you must do. There is no other way.”
He hemmed and hawed and went back and forth and finally surrendered and said, “OK I’ll do it, but I won’t do it forever.”
So she said, “Try it for a year and let me know.”
She said nothing.
“OK,” he said, “Give it to me.”
“I’ll give you the practice I do myself. Whenever anything appears in my mind or appears in the world, I say ‘Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever.”
“That’s all? That’s it? That’ll never work for me!”
“You agreed. For a year. Off you go now. Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever.”
So he left and she more or less forgot about him.
Then a year passed and he asked for an interview and arrived in her room.
“It’s as I suspected, I knew it would never work for me, I’m still just as unhappy and selfish as I ever was.”
Immediately she said, “Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever.”
With her words, he felt an eruption in his chest and began to laugh and immediately understood what she meant and laughed and laughed and laughed and his happiness didn’t subside though it did become quieter after some months. “Thank you very much,” he told people, “I have no complaints whatsoever.”
After sitting, we walked, then enjoyed the cornbread, fruit, green beans, tea and nuts. Then we played a game.
We went around the room. Each person was asked to give thanks for something for which they did not traditionally feel thankful. Then the person next to them was to tell them "thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever"...and give their own thanks
In the end, it went like this
I am thankful for...
7 years of migraines,
A class of children that make me cry everyday
a marriage that requires hard work everyday
noticing that I carry classist and racist presumptions
being far away from friends and family
having my best friend move far away
a forgetful mind that constantly strains my work relationships
not enough time with my daughter
illnesses and a pain in the shoulder that will not allow me to sleep...
Thank you. I have no complaints, whatsoever.
What did people notice? They noticed that the thanking felt sarcastic, but freeing as they were so used to having to paint a silver lining on everything. People mentioned that hearing it from other people, the thankfulness, was opening and allowed them to see their disappointments in new light and without the stories that it was miserable. They noticed saying thank you to the other person felt trite, but that it felt good to hear it. Someone mentioned how when she went looking for things that she did not feel thankful for, it allowed her to realize that she did, in fact, in some small way, feel thankful for it all.
Then we read the koan again, and opened the discussion to the entire group.
People loved the koan. They noted how they liked the man was not given a choice and had to commit without knowing the practice. How kind it was the the teacher shared her own practice. That it was wonderful that he did not feel happier or less selfish after a year- and then that he did, all at once. We noted how we liked how he was like us, and we noted how we liked that the teacher was a woman. We noted how good it felt just to hear the words:
I have no complaints, whatsoever.
And that just by hearing them, sometimes, we didn't.
Wind-in-Grass sat last night with Fumon's Hand koan. It is a koan about how the important things don't perish:When Enkakuji temple was destroyed by fire in 1374, the library was completely consumed, and the Buddhist and Confucian texts which its founder had brought from China were reduced to ashes. Priests of a nearby shrine came to Enkakuji, concerned about the tragic loss of these Tang and Sung dynasty texts. Fumon, the master of Enkakuji, said to them, “None of the texts has been burned.” “Then where are they?” asked a priest doubtfully. The teacher drew a circle and said, “They are in here.” The priests did not understand, and one of them asked, “Would you show us the Tang edition of the Mahavairochana sutra?” Fumon held up one hand. The priests did not know what to make of this. Another of them asked, “Will you show us the later translations of the Lotus Sutra?” Fumon held up one hand. A Confucian scholar asked to see a copy of the Four Confucian Classics, and Fumon again held up one hand. Then a teacher of the Shingon school asked, “What is this supposed to mean?” Fumon said, “The covers got burned, but you can still hold the texts in your hand.” (Translated by Legget, Sutherland)
As we sat, the koan was spoken once into the room. We moved to walking meditation, but the koan was not repeated. After we had again taken our cushion, each member of the sangha was asked to state, briefly, what part of the koan had risen up and greeted them, as well as what that brought up. The inspiration for this game was my own experiences beginning Zen. I was fortunate to work with a teacher who was particularly well spoken and deeply learned in the history of zen. He would give a dharma talk, and I found myself frustrated, unable to recall the very points that had touched me so deeply. I was unable to hold onto them, though I tried mightely, and I feared my practice was the weaker for it. Mercifully, that same teacher, in answering a question about the meaning of the Sho Sai Myo Kichijo Dharani
, answered "Its an English transliteration, of a Japanese transliteration, of a Chinese transliteration, of a Sanskrit sutra whose meaning has been lost in time". Then why do it, someone braver than me asked. Because, he answered, its not important that your mind understands it. Its important that you are exposed to it, and that your body and heart will be transformed by the exposure on a deeper level. After I heard this, I spoke to him about my fear of forgetting the important features of his talks and he consoled me similarly, that it was what stuck that was important, and that I could be confident that parts of the dharma, or koans, were working with me, even though my thinking mind could not longer recall them. What I hoped the experiment would foster, was a freedom to trust that what you remembered was enough, and that it worked with you in subtle, unpredictable ways. That all that we needed to know, we knew. We went around the room:A:
Not an native English speaker, though graciously joining us on her trip out to visit her brother, A had a hard time following the koan. What she noticed was the events of the day, replaying in her mindB:
Shining out in her mind was the burned cover of the book. She said that she identified with that part of the koan, having felt the pain of having her cover burned, only to later discovery that the text was still underneath. C: Noticed the hand, and had a moment with an infinite regression or her hand holding her holding out her hand, holding her....D:
Noticed the hand and let his mind wander around it, wondering what it held and what it did not hold. E:
Held up a handF:
Spoke on hierarchies and the lack of intimacies that came from them. G:
Noticed the burning and wondered what it would be like to see a school burn with the loss of knowledge within.I:
Noticed the burning and how liberating that might be. J:
Noticed the texts and the loss and the freedom to find the knowledge. K: [I don't think we have made it to K before] Noticed the circle drawn and how it appeared to hold something, but on investigation held nothing, which, on investigation, held everything because it was not holding it. After each person had put something into the room, we went around again. This time, each person was asked to ask one question of a person regarding the
content of their koan experience. Then that person could answer and ask a question of anyone of their choice. The conversation ping ponged around the room. Someone was asked how they would teach this koan to a classroom of 16 year olds, someone was asked to say more, and responded without works. Someone asked if the transformation had hurt, and if it did still. Some
one asked about how someone else worked through koans and if it was regular or predictable. Someon asked where the tea had gone [my fault, I ran from work later than hoped]. Someone asked how compassion grew. It was really a lovely night. I thank you all bodhisattvas.
Here is an old koan story about the persistence of good things.
When Enkakuji temple was destroyed by fire in 1374, the library was completely consumed, and the Buddhist and Confucian texts which its founder had brought from China were reduced to ashes. Priests of a nearby shrine came to Enkakuji, concerned about the tragic loss of these Tang and Sung dynasty texts.
Fumon, the master of Enkakuji, said to them, “None of the texts has been burned.”
“Then where are they?” asked a priest doubtfully.
The teacher drew a circle and said, “They are in here.”
The priests did not understand, and one of them asked, “Would you show us the Tang edition of the Mahavairochana sutra?”
Fumon held up one hand. The priests did not know what to make of this.
Another of them asked, “Will you show us the later translations of the Lotus Sutra?” Fumon held up one hand.
A Confucian scholar asked to see a copy of the Four Confucian Classics, and Fumon again held up one hand.
Then a teacher of the Shingon school asked, “What is this supposed to mean?”
Fumon said, “The covers got burned, but you can still hold the texts in your hand.” (Translated by Legget, Sutherland)
Wind-in-Grass is now over a year old. For a year, Wind-in-Grass has opened its doors, rang its bells and provided its sangha a place to meet and practice with the support and encouragement of each other. I could not be happier with the community that we have created and the group that gathers to practice together each week. But now Wind-in-Grass needs help. As we begin our second year, I want to ask anyone who sits with us regularly to volunteer with WiG. We have increased in size and scope and there are opportunities to deepen your practice through helping Wind-in-Grass.
Wind-in-Grass has a particular way in which it strives to meet the vows were recite each week. Our sangha is organized around these aims, and I have below listed them and given some examples of things we need done in each area. Please scan over these and think about what here might appeal to you to do and how you would like to help. Everyone will be asked to do something, no task will be too small. No one will be asked to do more than their life, interest or schedule can handle:
I vow to Wake all beings in the world;
Set endless heartache to rest;
- Administer and update website/FB/Twitter
- Position and plan seminars and other events
- Help with community night
- Do other advertisements on line or in areas
- Welcome new guests/Collect email addresses and maintain email list
Walk through every wisdom gate;
- Keep time, ring bells, lead walking meditation, etc
- Set up/take down meditation hall
- Select practice pieces
- Put together announcements
Live the great Buddha Way; [
- Identify members ready to take next step, and smooth the way
- Help members join PZI, begin formal relationship with a teacher, begin koan study, explore sesshin
- Select koans
- Bringing our lives into our practice and practice into our lives
Make SF a kinder and more compassionate place]
- Identify philanthropic projects
- Organize our participation in the project
Give it a thought. I think one or more of these will appeal to you and your practice. You can email me directly, or speak up at the next meeting.