Tonight, we played a game. It was a game about one of the sources of suffering - seperatness.
As we sat, there was a koan:
The high official Wang visited Zhaoqing Temple and was offered tea. The young monk Lang served him, with Mingzhao. When Lang took up the kettle, he let it fall over the tea hearth. Seeing this, the official asked Lang, “What is there, under the hearth?”
“The hearth deities,” replied Lang.
“They are deities holding up the hearth,” said the official. “Why did they upset the kettle?”
Lang said, “Even a high official may make a mistake in a thousand days of official service.” The high official flourished his sleeve and went out.
Mingzhao said, “Lang, you get your livelihood as a monk in this temple, but you only chatter idly.”
Lang said, “What would you have said?”
Mingzhao said, “The non-human beings created a vigorous action.”
(Xuedou: If I were there, I would have upset the tea hearth!)
Except we didn't just do it like that, we did it like this:
There was once a rural monastary which has the honor of hosting both a local visiting official looking for respite and retreat, and a visiting teacher. A young monk named Lang was selected to serve the august gentlemen tea as they spoke.
Reaching for the pot, it tumbled from the hearth where it was stepping and poured over the ground. The official teased Lang- "What was under that pot?". "A tripod" answered Lang. "Tripods are the most stable thing in the world, what disrupted the pot?"
Lang snapped back- "You know even high officials make mistakes from time to time!" The offical got up and excused himself.
The teacher commented to Lang "Well now, here you are living at a monastary and you miss a chance to practice?" "what would you have said?" asked Lang"
"I would have said 'that tripod has gotten unruly'".
What a kind thing to say to Lang. To invite in the possibilty that it wasn't a disaster. That the cause of Lang's embarrasement was just an attachement to the belief that tes service was going to go one way. And I get it. I mean, Lang was a Zen monk, and tea seervice and attention to detail is supposed to be in his wheel house. So I have been Lang, over and over, clutching some assumptions about how everything was supposed to go and letting that certainty prevent the possibility that they went perfectly. Certainly the official sisn't seem steamed.
But there is also this thing that this koan elicits from me about the notion of other. Because as we walked after the meditation, the question was asked, "The tea pot spilled from the hearth, whose fault is it?". And there is this thing for me that if you allow, even for a moment, that the tea pot, the hearth and Lang are not seperate, that they are one being, then where is fault? Where is cause? Isn't it just this? Just spilled? Just on the ground?
So we played a game. We sat and a bell was rung (note the careful use of the passive voice? Note also the distant sound of my high school english teacher screaming). As the group sat, they were asked to find the cetner of them self. That place of stability from which "I"originated. Was it in our heads? Behind our eyes? In our belly? And once we had that, to move our attention outward. To our face. to our chest and shoulders. To out hands an feet. Could we find our selves there? Was that also "us"?
And now move your attention still further. Your clothes. Your socks. Your hair. Is this still you? And what about your cushion? Your pillow? The floor your feet rest on? Can you notice your self there?
Continue onwards until you find that boundary between your sefl and other. And let your attention rest there. How do you know its other? What do you know about what lies on the other side? How does it feel to have an end? Calming? Anxious?
And then come back in, rolling your awareness into the room, onto the floor, onto the cushion, into your body, back to that center of self...and now go deeper. Trace the roots back to the very kernal of self.
The bell was rung and we discussed. Because that is what we do.
A: noticed how at first, even extended, there didn't seem to be a place where he wanted to believe he was feeling seperate. until he got to another meditator. And wondering what he was thinking, he noticed the feeling of seperation. And running it back in, there was not center, no origin of "self" except when he noticed quick flashes of reactive stories about whether he was doing it right, there in that split second of shame and doubt, he wondered it that felt more like self that other things.
B: Had a visual experience, almost feeling she was at the end of a long long hallway when expanding out her awrenss and self. And there were mirrors all down the row, reflecting her back. And when she was asked to find the self, the mirrors went blank.
C: Hadn's sat much previously and noticed how rich the terrain was.
D: His awarenss caught on his hands, and he spent the time wondering if those could be him? Or were they not him? And if not, did self stop at the wrists?...
E: noticed how his attmpts to find an other made him think of a co-worker, a older gentleman who he did not know well. But then he recalled about how he had recently had the occasion to work more iwth him, and the more he got to know him, the less sure he felt that this man was other.
F: Noticed how she was consumed with what was in front of her. That she wanted to feel connected further, but didn't. And how that felt small, and tight.
G: Noticed a blankness inside.
H: Enjoyed the excersize and really was moved by the lack of self at the core of what he had identified as "him". that the center was somehow empty, or at least centerless.
We talked for a while. Lots of good questions. What role is responsibility? If one is forgiving of one's mistakes, will one be more prone to make them? Is there another way to motvate performance? What happens if you give into your desiers instead of being accountable to other's expectations? Isn't it a long way down? If the pot and the monk and the hearth are one, is anyone at fault? Is their causation?
It was a wonderful session. thanks everyone.
“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.
Get posts as they are published:
What We Read