November 16, 2007

Omori Sogen


Omori Sogen Roshi

Here is a brief but fascinating biography of Omori Sogen Roshi, who transmitted to the West the line of Rinzai Zen to which we belong: Institute of Zen Studies site.

November 2, 2007

Obaku, Teacher of Rinzai: 2


Rinzai: painting by Hakuin Ekaku

The acount of Rinzai's enlightenment, from the Rinzairoku (Record of Rinzai):

When the master [Rinzai] was a new monk in Obaku's community, his behavior was simple and direct. The head monk recommended him, saying: "Though he is a new monk, yet he differs from all the others." He asked him: "How long have you been here?" The master replied: "For three years." The head monk asked: "Have you been for an interview yet?" The master said: "Never. I do not know what to ask." The head monk said: "Why don't you go and ask the reverend head of the monastery what is the essence of Buddhism?"

The master accordingly did so. But even before he had finished speaking, Obaku hit him. The master withdrew. When the head monk asked him how the interview had gone, he said: "Even before I had finished speaking, the Osho [venerable monk, i.e. Obaku] hit me. I do not understand." The head monk said: "Simply go and ask again." The master did so. Obaku hit him again. Like this it happened for still a third time, the questioning and the hitting. The master went to the head monk and said: "You had the kindness to send me to question the Osho. Three times I asked, and three times I was beaten. I am afraid I am obstructed by my previous circumstances [i.e. karmic hindrances], and could not understand his deep intention. So for the time being, I am resigning and am leaving." The head monk said: "Before you go, you should take leave of the Osho." The master bowed his acceptance and left.

The head monk went at once to Obaku and said: "That young monk who earlier came and questioned you is really suited for the Dharma. When he comes to take leave of you, find a way for him to continue. Planting a seed for the future, he will grow into a big tree that will give shade to all men."

The master came to take leave. Obaku said to him: "You must not go anywhere else but to Daigu who lives near the shoals of Koan [a place]. He will explain it to you."

The master went to Daigu, who asked where he came from. The master replied that he came from Obaku. Daigu asked: "And what did Obaku have to say?" The master replied: "I asked him three times what was the essence of Buddhism, and three times he beat me. I do not know whether I was at fault or not." Daigu said : "When Obaku, like a kindly old grandmother, has taken all this trouble over you, you still come here asking me whether you were at fault or not."

At these words, the master had the great awakening, and exclaimed: "After all, there is nothing much to Obaku's Buddha-Dharma!" Daigu grabbed him and said: "You little devil still wetting your bed! You come here saying you do not know whether you were at fault or not, and now you say that after all there is nothing much to Obaku's Buddha-Dharma. What have you seen? Speak quickly, speak quickly!" The master, while Daigu was still grabbing him, gave him three punches into the ribs. Daigu released him and said: "Your master is Obaku. That has nothing to do with me.

The master left Daigu and returned to Obaku who, seeing him come, remarked: "When will there be an end to the comings and goings of this fellow?" The master said: "It is only because of your grandmotherly kindness." Then, after the usual courtesies, he stood to attend on Obaku. The latter asked where he had come from. The master replied: "The other day you were kind enough to send me to Daigu for an interview." Obaku asked: "What did Daigu have to say?" The master then related what had happened. Obaku said: "How do I have this fellow coming here? Just wait, I'll beat you up." The master said: "What do you mean about waiting? Get it right now!" and accordingly punched Obaku who said: "This madman, coming here to stroke the tiger's whiskers!" The master gave a Katsu [a shout]. Obaku called: "Attendant, bring this madman into the monks' quarters."

Later, Issan mentioned this story to Gyosan and asked him: "At that time, was it with Daigu or with Obaku that Rinzai found his strength?" Gyosan said: "He not only knew how to ride the tiger, he also knew how to grab its tail."