Tonight, as we sat, I spoke into the room the koan
You are buried in a crypt deep underground. The walls are stone and there are not windows. The door is locked from the outside. How do you escape?
We sat for about 15 minutes, after which I asked people to actively turn back to the koan. When they found their minds wandering, return it to their koan. Focus on the koan and hold it before them.
At the 20 minute mark, I asked people to spend time with the koan, and when they noticed their mind doing something else, just let that happen, but not to give it any energy. Just let it run, but don't fuel it. Let it be, and see what happens.
I rang the bell and we compared our experiences with "doing" meditation vs. "not doing" meditation, with the understanding that they are both right.
A: Noticed that for him, the focus of the active meditations was easier, that his he could not find his center when he did not direct his attention.
B: Noticed that for her, neither worked well, that her mind did what it did.
C: Noticed for him, that when he stopped focusing, things opened up.
D: Noticed that he kept coming to the border between inside and out.
E: Noticed that her mind started really wandering when she stopped actively staying with the koan
F: Noticed that her mind was fine either way
G: Noticed that the passive meditation was calm and that his mind settled in on important things and stilled. That they were both good, but one took more energy.
Then we opened it up to an open koan discussion. I really thank everyone for the lively talk. Great ideas and amamazing images. I will not be as disciplined in recounting them.
A: noticed that he started wondering, what was in and out of the crypt. that maybe it was in his heart and maybe to escape it, he had to let people in, not him out. And he remembered days where the commute home was a tomb, never moving fast enough, but how some days the same commute was too short and he just enjoyed the rushing.
B: Wonderful images. She said she settled into the inevitability of her own confinement. Maybe someone comes for her, but until then, she is consigned to just wait and be comfortable. Interestingly she said it was somewhat comforting to be in a crypt. She talked about giving in, opening the walls of confinement. She talked about her boy as the crypt, confining her in her mind and self. About opening up to the possibility of being more than that.
C: Was sure she could escape. She thought about lying in wait. Maybe finding a loose stone. She said even if she was in there indefinitely, she would keep trying to escape. And never stop calling for help.
D: brought up an amazing questions: Why is it that bodhidharma sits in a cave for 8 years and awakens, but put someone in solitary confinement and they go insane with the isolation? Is it a matter of intention?
We set on that like a pack of zen jackals. (How many times does one get to write that?). Maybe its a matter of intention. Maybe its giving in versus fighting it. B pointed out that Gs inside outside was a similar observation---what is outside the crypt and in? Does it matter? And what is the crypt? Is it really "not us"? And people long gone...are they gone? Do they visit us? how is it that they can be more dear to us then in our memory than the person before us?
E: pointed out that this crypt is a nightmare for him. He wants to get comfortable in it, but the boredom presses on him like claustrophobia. When asks how he deals with sesshin, he says that he notices that no one moment is boring...its only the contemplation of moments. Any particular moment is fascinating if he pays attention, to pain in legs, to hunger, to calm, to breath, to dreams. And the crypt...in truth, he never stops thinking that if he is a good buddhist, the door will open.
F: noted that for him this koan was bridge traffic, a person torture for him. He thought, maybe if he could relax, he could think of ways out if he needed to escape. Or maybe it wouldn't be so bad. But sometimes it is. Stuck on the bridge. Home getting no closer.
And what of it? Isn't the crypt our life, from which we cannot ever escape? Are we alone, or are there millions of crypts next to each other, each of us believing themselves alone?
Thank you bodhisattvas. What a great evening and discussion.
At the conclusion of the evening, we rolled up our sleeves and started work practice- making seiza benches. Thanks to everyone who stuck around to help with the sawing, sanding and staining.
See you all next week.
“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