Last night's koan work became a game. First of all, we sat with a very full house. 13 people in the end, though the attendance had a sad note too as Marika and James are leaving the Sangha. Hopefully for only a while.
Marika begins adventures around the US, leading kids through national forests and parks. James is working an archeological site in Athens. He will be back in September, but we will miss them both- their practice, their sincerity, and their spirit.
The koan we worked with went, with some embellishment, like this:
A student served his Master as attendant since before he could remember. The master often called for him. Sometimes it meant a break from work: "Attendant?" "Yes?" But more often, it came in the morning, before the sun had risen "Attendant" "Yes?", during meditation "Attendant?" "Yes?" or in the night "Attendant?" "Yes?"
One day, after calling his attendant, the Master said "I was about to say that I was ungrateful to you. But the fact is that you are ungrateful to me.”
This was, to me, a puzzling koan at first. So the group was asked to name a master that they served without fail, in their life. Oh, the responses were lovely, and many heads bobbed up and down in agreement and many hands went into gasho to thank people for sharing their stories.
Practice and the feeling that we need to be mindful, Clients for an entrepreneur, Work, a wife calling out from upstairs, a child crying out in the night. Habits, that internal monologue stating we are not doing it right. Fear. Freedom- the siren call of the road. A cat who needed and got attention. Our elderly parents making demands. A belief that their is a purpose in life and the quest for it. Food, and the endless fascination with it, eating it or not to eat it. Desires.
We realized we all served masters, and that their call, while sometimes it felt impossible, was always answered and we could in the end, rise to it.
We opened up the discussion and people's comments poured in. C gave historical background on the koan and put it in a context.
Then, in closing, we were asked- and who is YOUR attendant? Who answers your call:
Technology- cell phones, computers, spreadsheets called to do our bidding. Hope- ever alive and serving us. Serendipity, which arose unfailingly to bridge the gap between desire and current position. God, that soft ever pervading force looking out for us. Being needed by social inequity. Our bodies, always true and honest and supporting. Music, the muse that serves and orients. A pet that is always present and lavishing affection.
At the close I asked people to remain aware of those relationships throughout the week and notice how waves of gratitude rise and fall.
Ironically, nearly as many people as attended had to cancel due to work...
That said, there was a great turn out this Saturday for Zen at Work, a discussion of the sometimes seeming contradiction between our meditative practice on the cushion and our practice at work.
David Weinstein led the conversation which was spirited, wholehearted and vigorous the whole afternoon. It seemed everyone wanted to talk about what happens 9-5.
So we sat with the koan "Master, I am new to this monastery, what can you tell me about my practice that will help me?''. "have you had your breakfast?" "yes." "then wash your bowls".
So we discussed how we wash our work bowls. How we know when its time to get up, when its time to scratch our noses when when gets painful or dull, or flat for us.
Kate and Andy were the cooks this Saturday. As you can see, we didn't much care for the lunch.
After lunch, David introduced the koan:
"Work and getting things done correlate to one another. The entire world is work, what is the self?"
It was a great afternoon, and my gratitude to those who came and contributed so much of themselves to the discussion.
I feel like I am getting an amicable divorce from my mind. We still have our issues, and our lives will be forever intertwined, but we are seeing less of one another and we are getting on with our lives.
As I told someone lately, I feel like my broke is broken. No matter how I look at me these days, I don't really have a problem with it. Its more interesting than shameful, or any other story. I guess that is what koans do, if you are wondering, or at least what they did with me.
And recently, when I work with a koan, I feel endless outpouring of gratitude. Strangely, the most acute this appreciation gets is right when the koan is as stuck as it gets. I go "Oh boy!". I mean, seriously, what is wrong with me?
I wonder how to communicate this to people. I give away free little koans. Its like crack dealers- the first hit is free. Its been a successful business model for drug dealers. Maybe I should hang around school yards. Tell kids "Hey kid, wanna try a koan? It'll set you free..." Can I serve time for this?
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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