Tonight we played a game. A Zen game. There were eleven of us, and it went like this.
While we sat, the koan was spoken into the room. I am actually not at all certain this is a koan. I am certain I mangled it. I am certain because I did it intentionally.
"Two men walked down a road. A portion of it was washed out by a river. A child was standing at the edge the waters to deep for her to cross. Without thinking one man scooped her up, and waded across. On the other side, he deposited the child and the two men resumed their walk. Miles later, the second man turned to the first and complained, 'why did you just pick that child up? Who gave you the right? What if you had slipped or fallen? Who asked you?' to which the other man replied 'I put her down miles ago, why haven't you?'"
Here is another telling:
"Two monks, going to a neighbouring monastery, walked side by side in silence. They arrived at a river they had to cross. That season, waters were higher than usual. On the bank, a young woman was hesitating and asked the younger of the two monks for help. He exclaimed, 'Don't you see that I am a monk, that I took a vow of chastity?'
'I require nothing from you that could impede your vow, but simply to help me to cross the river,' replied the young woman with a little smile.
'I...not...I can...do nothing for you,' said the embarrassed young monk.
'It doesn't matter,' said the elderly monk. 'Climb on my back and we will cross together.'
Having reached the other bank, the old monk put down the young woman who, in return, thanked him with a broad smile. She left her side and both monks continued their route in silence. Close to the monastery, the young monk could not stand it anymore and said, 'You shouldn't have carried that person on your back. It's against our rules.'
'This young woman needed help and I put her down on the other bank. You didn't carry her at all, but she is still on your back,' replied the older monk."
I thought the notion of a helpless woman was a bit offensively outdated as well as monks with vows of chastity being unnecessarily distant. So I changed it. Revisionism- the benefit of leading the group for the night. But I digress.
We played a game. It went like this.
There was a short introduction. Zen foreplay. I described how this notion was fresh and interesting to me today, and how I noted that while Zen practice often led one to greater freedom and happiness, initially most people experienced greater clutter and misery as they became more intimate with their experiences. And one of the things I had noticed was a hording of thoughts and problems and things, without surfeit. The interesting thing was how Zen helps us create space by putting some of those stories down, so that we could hear our hearts and receive nourishment. tonight we would look at that.
We took a minute to find a burden we were carrying. A thought, a worry a decision, expectations a pain, a hope. The bell was rung and people were asked to put their attention on WHY we picked that burden up in the first place.
Answers were varied- a sense of duty, a sense of rightness, a lack of trust that we knew what to do, a need for inspiration and motivation. Some people were sad, some we giddy. Someone mentioned how carrying burdens was in their nature.
Next, we rang the bell and asked, "how does it feel to carry that burden and how does the idea of putting it down feel, right now?"
People noted how the burden was mixed up in identity. Acknowledged fear that by putting it down they would be lost, or that other problems would just take its place. Others noted it was heavy and hard and sad and painful. Someone described realizing that they carried a burden of expectation and once they did, they realized their motives were not as pure as they had thought. Many people mentioned that the idea of putting it down was exhilarating but frightening. exciting, but unknown.
It was a great night and I have severely truncated my recollections because its waaay past my bedtime. But thanks to all who came and dove in the deep end.
“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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