August 2, 2016

If your own heart asks

Some students recently expressed frustration that they have not yet been able to attain some insight using the first koan. They have been practicing with it for a few months.

Regarding advanced training in Zen (i.e. the all-important training of integration for many years AFTER the completion of koan practice), Hosokawa Roshi once said that if a person cannot accomplish this, it is basically because their motivation/aspiration is too weak. How much more so this is the case, I think, when discussing the beginning gate of practice which is that first hosshin (dharmakaya) koan.

To contrast, Reigen Eto (1721-1785), one of Hakuin's students, described his own experience of koan practice this way (from http://rakudo.jp/en/contents/9_koan.htm):
 
A long time ago, when I was in the middle of training at the Shoin Temple in the Suruga district, under the supervision of Master Hakuin, I began concentrating on a difficult koan on New Year's Day in 1740. In the Fall, four years later, was able to pass through it for the first time. 

In those four years, I did not have one word of useless conversation with other people, and as there were no funny or interesting things, I didn't smile at all. When I saw other people laughing, I didn't understand. Once I entered a twilight period, with only tears, I fasted both summer and winter, ate soybean powder, drank water, and every five to seven days hid myself from people and went on retreat in places like Shinto shrines in the mountains.

In winter of that year, I was given another difficult koan by Master Hakuin. Because my doubts had not cleared up, from the beginning of December I locked myself in an inn. I cured my empty stomach by asking for food from a neighboring house once every three days, and by the end of February the following year, I still had not left the inn. I didn't go to the Master's temple for the New Year's celebration or the autumn Festival of the Dead.

So at the end of February that year, I experienced the great joy of passing through that difficult koan. This was so wonderful that it is impossible to describe. In the beginning of March, when I humbly went to the Master's temple, he was extremely happy for me.
 
It seems more common lately than I recall from 10-20 years ago for Zen students with many obscurations to blame the practice methods, rather than themselves, if there is not much progress. If we examine whether or not our individual daily practice and effort is sufficient, though, a line from a poem quoted in Hagakure is useful:

‘How will you reply when your own heart asks?’

6 comments:

Dan Dexter said...

"Regarding advanced training in Zen (i.e. the all-important training of integration for many years AFTER the completion of koan practice), Hosokawa Roshi once said that if a person cannot accomplish this, it is basically because their motivation/aspiration is too weak. How much more so this is the case, I think, when discussing the beginning gate of practice which is that first hosshin (dharmakaya) koan."

Hi Roshi,
I think this is a way to see the predatory and territorial characteristics that so many teachers in our tradition have not only succumbed to, but developed and transmitted consistently. It seems that some justification for the ego is always imbedded or literally expressed with the assumtion that students aren't mature enough to discriminate and criticize. It all flows downhill. What is truly curious though, Is how a powerful kiai and samadhi are actually transmitted in spite of this antithetical and ridiculous display of arrogance.??? So I would consider it a lack of integration which has happily abandoned ego. Eknath Easwaran called it "the ripe ego", which falls off the branch at the slightest movement. Thanks from inside the woodwork, Genshin

Meido said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Genshin.

I do feel fortunate that neither predatory nor territorial describes what I experienced with my teachers, and that they have always taken great pains to fulfill the activity of teaching without presenting themselves as Teachers.

As an example, Hosokawa Roshi (mentioned above) always sat nearly the entire sesshin with us in the zendo, training himself and sharing most of our schedule...even though the usual custom is for the teacher to be off in his/her quarters most of the time. He did this even when suffering from chronic back pain. Miller Roshi does the same, and it's really become the norm in our community; folks just expect they'll sit quite a bit with the roshi in the zendo during sesshin, not knowing that in many places that's not the case. I know another American Rinzai teacher (not in our line) who does the same actually; his students are lucky to have someone like that.

Simple customs like this can be the important things worth transmitting.

Dan Dexter said...

It just seems like ordinary common sense that whatever we do is what we are transmitting, and that uplifting,helping,and cooperating with all the students is the intelligent direction for everyone. The shadow version of exploiting others for petty self-absorbed power trips doesn't have much appeal or make sense. One Osho said to me, with no overt context or reference point, as if pointing out an insight I was overlooking:"Sometimes you have to do the ridiculous to prove it's not true". This is why we can't invalidate the Dharma in any of these cases because it's inevitable either way. But seriously, doesn't it really make more sense to love and respect each other?

Meido said...

It certainly does make sense.

Sometimes you have to do what's true to prove it's not ridiculous :)

Dan Dexter said...

Maybe, at this point "common sense" is entirely closer to "enlightenment" than the clusterfuck of a worldview we are all contending with. We always sum up the ancient Indian traditions in terms of Love. Real love. Hridaya, Hsin. The orginal "mind" of form? Desire? What is that? Whose desire is it? The other thing that Easwaran said, that I have never heard anywhere else, is the concept of the "unification of desire". We have "lower" and "higher" desires, so to speak. The lower "personal" desires finally merge with the "higher" desire of universal, selfless consciousness. Even our mundane habits and preferences are utterly transformed into the experimental display of what has always been thought of as an "evolutionary" consciousness. &)

Dan Dexter said...

Just to be clear... Are we talking about inconceivable ridiculousness on the grandest possible scale as being the truth/not-truth? %)