Last night we celebrated the first year anniversary of Wind-in-Grass. I was pleased that even with sesshin going on, and many of our sangha up at retreat, there were still 9 of us. A year ago, on our inaugural sit, there were three. Those three are still strong members today.
I am really proud of our little sangha. Its a great and strong community, diverse and sincere. We placed a birthday card and a number 1 candle on the altar and wore Birthday cone hats. We lo
On to the game.
With the group in sesshin, I was interested in the role of intensity in practice. What effect has urgency in koan practice? There was a story I read recently, frankly the kind of story that used to inspire me but now offends me slightly with its machismo, about a monk taking a stick on incense and a knife, sitting down with the resolution that he would realize enlightenment by the time the incense bit his fingers or plunge the knife into his gut taking his life.
Like I said, not my cup of tea, but still, I wanted to know what would happen if I, or we, worked on a koan with the sort of rapid intensity as the legend depicts.
Everyone was given a stick of incense (in addition to the birthday party hats), Which was lighted on a candle. No knives were distributed as that is a rotten way to build a sangha, and the cushions are a loaner and blood so hard to remove. We sat with the instruction that with the extinguishing of the incense, so too would our lives end if we had not realized our koan. Not a pleasant message to get on a Wednesday evening, but none the less, and experiment is an experiment.
Many people let the incense burn their fingers before dropping it. We walked, we distributed party snacks (thanks Marika and Toby), drank tea and discussed.
A: Noted that she didn't much care for the urgency, and in fact, was unable to connect with the sense of urgency
B: Also noted that she came for not thinking, and that the note of urgency in the game made her feel like she should be thinking.
C: Was new to koans and mentioned that he gazed at the red line of the burning ember and let it fill him.
D: Noted how the urgency of the moment, as the ember burned close to his fingers, expanded his heart and made his koan feel close to him.
E: Noted that at first, she reacted to the note of urgency, but that later, after having sat urgently, it melted away and she was clear and aware only of her breath and chest rising and falling
F: Noted that she was unable to connect with the sense of urgency until the incense was close, then she felt nothing but her koan filling her and her mind surrendering.
G: Noticed that while his rational mind usually set to work trying to crack a koan, in this exercise, with only 25 minutes until the end of everything, his mind just gave up, and he was aware of the sky turning dark and the lights of the city and just that
F: Noticed recrimination from his mind when it got to thinking, but also a sense of community deeper than usual. Also, as the incense started warming his fingers, just silence and koan and a complete calm and spaciousness.
We talked for a while, about the role, if any, of enlightenment, and whether we cared if we found it, and what we did after we found it. It was a warm night, and we sat outside. We sang, and sat and celebrated.
Happy Birthday Wind-in-Grass.
“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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