Last night, David Weinstein came out from Oakland to teach (aside- for some reason nearly every time I type David's last name, I type it "WeinStein", like he is some internet product. I have no explanation for this). (another aside- yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. Being every so slightly Irish and Catholic, I felt it my duty to liven up SF. If my typing suffers, or improves, because of it, blame the Guinness. Or R). David's Dharma talk can be found on the Dharma talks page.
The koan was "Who is hearing this sound". It started off an uncharacteristically warm night in SF, our first Wednesday meeting since daylight savings ended. The zendo was light and warm and we left the door open. While we sat, there was the noise of the distant freeway, motorists racing home or out to bars,sirens, the sound of birds in the trees trying to find a feathery someone, people coming home from the day, putting out the trash, and a strange sound that was either a cat, or a harmonica, or something else entirely more interesting. IN between the beats, there was the sound of silence, or breathing, sometimes C's heavy exhales, or D's deep low slow inhales.
David told of visiting a teacher on a river, and in the great cocophany, where he could not even hear his own voice, found silence. He talked about a month long silent retreat, about keeping company with the monkeys and upon returning to the town finding that his voice was an instrument of hearing. He was surprised to hear his own voice, and to hear what it had to say. There was an immediacy in the speaking that brought forth its own pure movement and surprised the mind.
He challenged us to see with our ears, hear with our eyes, and in doing so, let go of how we know things to be and allow for the possibility that they are more complex and rich and spontaneous that we expect. Be free to let things be what they are. He reminded us that Helen Keller, asked which sense she would want restored, said "hearing", so she could hear people laugh.
Hearing is such a powerful sense. So different from listening. You can listen to, or listen for, or listen up. Hearing is just as it is.
Later, when Chris Wilson led the small group, he told us of a dying zen master who took this koan with him to the grave, as his last place of contemplation. That speaks to the power of this koan. I wonder: What did he hear on dying? I wonder what he hears now. What will death sound like? I guess I will find out.
Chris set up an experiment, a practice from the Tibetans if I recall. He talked of their thre buddhas, a primordial buddha, a buddha of communication and the physical buddha. Then we chose a mantra, "ah", and chanted, for 5 minutes. We kept it spinning like a plate.
I noticed how humanizing this Koan is. David pointed out how human a thing hearing is. This is one of the hardest koans I have found to overthink. How can you think about hearing? You just hear right?
But there is more than that. What is doing the hearing? David kept bringing the group around to that awareness, that as you are hearing the car door, the car door is hearing you.
David reminded us that hearing the suffering of the world was the gift voted by some buddha caucus as the most powerful to saving all beings. And that hearing is that last sense to pass. And in my recent research I have learned that it is the first sense to open up. Children in the womb hear before they see, feel, or smell. Cellists have years later played pieces that they heard their mother practicing in the womb.
As a friend of mine said "everyone loves vibrations". And the whole universe is
“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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