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 mind
B: 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 hand
F: Spoke on hierarchies and the lack of intimacies that came from them.
H: 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. Someone 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.
“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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