Sunday, May 15, 2005

Blue Cliff Record, Case 6

Zen Master Yun Men addressed the Sangha thus:

"I don't ask you about before the fifteenth day; try to say something about after the fifteenth."

Yun Men himself answered for everybody:

"Every day is a good day."

The Poem:

He throws away one and takes up seven.

Above, below and in the four directions there is no comparison.

Passively walking along he stops the sound of a flowing stream.

Freely he watches the track of flying birds.

The grasses grow thick; the mists overhang.

Around Sabuti's cliff the flowers make a mess.

I snap my fingers. How lamentable is shunyata.

Don't make a move. If you move -- thirty blows!


Hmmm. So what does it all mean? Last week I mentioned I might dwell a bit on things Zen in these pages, and today I couldn't resist. Seems like the perfect koan for May 15th, don't you think?

When our teacher discussed this koan this morning at the temple, he explained that in olden times, it was not uncommon for the master to gather his monks, address them with a question, answer it himself, and then leave! In reality, he probably stuck around for a while to help through the difficulties, but that isn't recorded.

How can every day be a good day? Especially a Sunday when there is a very noisy street fair in front of my house, my car is acting weird (the money pit), and tomorrow promises to be a hellish day in the diamond mines?

The koan is not to be attacked with logic or reason. It is quite counterintuitive. This makes the philosopher in me nuts. The poem is commentary on the koan added later by some enterprising monk. "Thickly growing grasses" often symbolize desires or worldly distractions in Zen literature. Sabuti was a disciple of the Buddha reknowned for his penetrating insight. The story goes that the gods showered him with flowers to honor him -- but ornamenting oneself was against the rules of the Sangha (fellowship of monks), and Subati was annoyed with the gods as the flowers stuck to him.

Sometimes the gods aren't very smart.

In China and Japan, fingers are snapped to dispel evil spirits.

"shunyata" (or Sunyata) is Sanskrit for "emptiness."

Zen masters are known for beating their pupils. More likely this is metaphorical. The truth one seeks cannot be found outside, on the road or in the garden. Don't go looking for it there!

And this is what I learned today.

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