Last night we worked on the koan, "save a ghost".
To limber up, I asked that people, while sitting, notice if there was not a ghost somewhere in their own practice. That nagging voice that tells you that you are not still enough, that your back is not straight enough, that your mind is not still enough, that you should be watching your breath, not thinking of the girl you see on the train, the part that says "not good enough".
We opened up discussion, passing around the Zen locust (if you have no idea what that is, you really need to visit.), and speaking something into the room. J noticed that when looking for a ghost, that her mind quieted and there were no thoughts. T noticed that looking for a ghost, became a ghost. N noticed music permeating his haunting. T noticed that there was a kindly ghost, a motherly figure, with endless compassion, and C noticed brought our attention to the power of ghosts. I noticed a ghost zen master, somwhere inside me, ticking and tacking back and forth commenting and correcting my practice. There more I tried to measure up to his example, the more my practice became haunted. Later, I tried turning it around and giving that image of perfect practice some peace, and I felt gratitude to be able to let down a little and let the back ache.
The conversation traveled and we sat again. The second sit, several people who did not connect with the first period, felt really strong emotions well up from seemingly nowhere. Everyone who came to practice, stayed for small groups. Our resident M'see n Telefu, Chris Wilson, opened the discussion with a historical discussion of ghosts in Buddhism. After briefly touching on demons, he described the hungry ghosts, those beings huge of belly and head, but small of throat, forever hungry, forever frustrated. They appeared frightening and pathetic. He opened discussion and people really connected, talking about spooks and vapors, apparitions and internal ghosts, floating, comforting scaring us.
Save a ghost? Why should we? How can we? Perhaps, not by running or staying, but being honest with our fear or trepidation. Maybe our ghosts are our tension, or apprehension of what should be or could be. Chris told us of ghost, clinging to the grasses waiting to hold onto those who walked by. Are they to be feared or pitied? Can we save a ghost? Can a ghost save us?
“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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