Friday, 21 April 2017

108. ZEN REMARKS

108. With the world facing so many problems we might wonder about Zen's capacity to help. By way of an initial response let us note that a discipline that works to lessen the grip of greed, hatred and ignorance on individuals and communities is no small contribution.

Monday, 17 April 2017

107. ZEN REMARKS

107. The personal realization that is confirmed and authenticated in the relationship of master and disciple may bear fruit in a variety of ways. In the case of Mahakashyapa, he was entrusted with a formal teaching role and was commissioned to continue the Buddha's work in that capacity. Teaching, then, was the special service that he was called to perform for the Buddha's sangha. But there are other important ways of rendering service to the sangha. For example, organizing and running a sesshin requires the co-operation of a number of sangha members. We bring our individual gifts and talents to the sangha. None of these gifts are to be looked down on just because they are exercised behind the scenes. Moreover, in the history of Zen there are those who, once they have been confirmed and authenticated by their master, disappear into the mountains, never to be heard of again.

Monday, 10 April 2017

106. ZEN REMARKS

106. The Dharma transmitted by the Buddha is vast and fathomless. It is lovely in the beginning, lovely in the middle, lovely in the ending. Entering this lovely Dharma we enter the realm of mystery, and becoming intimate with this mystery we find that it is graciousness. 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

105. ZEN REMARKS

105. Abiding beyond words, one is able to embrace words, use words, and not be caught by words.Hence the power of the Buddha's every word and gesture.

Friday, 7 April 2017

104. ZEN REMARKS

104. Our attachment to words, concepts and doctrines is tenacious. We seize upon the Buddha's words and phrases and demand definitions and explanations. We demand rational accounts of what is meant by such terms as 'Dharma', 'Dharma Eye', Dharma Gate', etc. We assume that we can grasp the Dharma in the logical formulations of doctrine. We want it all spelt out in doctrinal statements. We want to get our heads around what the Buddha says while we remain puzzled by what he shows and his disciple Mahakashyapa sees. We cling to words like Dharma and Nirvana but avert our eyes from such expressions as 'independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine'. We become fascinated by the possibilities that a commentator like Mumon Ekai raises when he says: 'If, however, everyone in the audience had laughed, how could he have transmitted his True Eye? And again, if Mahakashyapa had not smiled, how could the Buddha have transmitted it?' And so we run off at a tangent to the Buddha's teaching and lose ourselves in a labyrinth of 'what ifs'. Here we would do well to call to mind Wittgenstein's remark (a scandalous remark in that it was made in the context of a philosophy class): 'Don't think, look!' 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

103. ZEN REMARKS

103. The contrast between the Buddha's silent and spoken teaching is stark. It might put us in mind of the philosopher Wittgenstein's distinction between 'showing' and 'saying'. He remarks: 'What can be shown, cannot be said'. In spelling out for the assembly what had just transpired between himself and Mahakashyapa, the Buddha utilises words that conjure up concepts, concepts that cry out for formulation in doctrinal statements. But having spoken of the True Dharma Eye, the Subtle Dharma Gate, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana, and the True Form of the Formless, the Buddha suddenly kicks away this ladder of abstract terms with his declaration that the Dharma is 'independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine'. Thus he points us back to what was shown in the silent presentation of the flower and Mahakashyapa's responsive smile. 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

102. ZEN REMARKS

102. The koan story of the Buddha's transmission of his Dharma to Mahakashyapa has two parts. The first part presents us with the picture of a silent heart-mind to heart-mind transmission. In the second part the Buddha speaks to the assembled monks and tells them what has just transpired. In doing this he reminds them that as the Buddha he possesses 'the True Dharma Eye, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana, the True Form of the Formless, and the Subtle Dharma Gate'. He then adds that what he has as the Buddha is 'independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine'. And just so that they don't miss the point of what took place in the in-between of the held-up-flower and Mahakashyapa's broad smile, he says explicitly that 'this [my Dharma] I have entrusted to Mahakashyapa'.
     The Buddha's words are for the benefit of all those who remained (and remain) in dumb, uncomprehending silence at his presentation of the flower. The Buddha's grandmotherly approach here has earned for him a sarcastic comment from the 13th century master Mumon Ekai, who writes: 'Golden-faced Gautama really disregarded his listeners. He made the good look bad and sold dog's meat labeled as mutton'.