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.
“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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