Death is not a question of if but when. Framed this way, then, there is nothing to fear about death, and one can get on with life and live it to the fullest.
By summer heat,
Drowned out by the jazz
My prayers reach no one.
A loose rendering of Santoka’s poem okyou todokanai jaazu no souon.
Speaking of frogs (which are a favourite topic in Zen) there is an article about a species of frog which listens without ears. But if listening without ears weren’t an actual fact this may well have been a koan which would go something like this:
Who is the man who
Speaks without tongue,
Listens without ears,
Sees without eyes?
Censure yourself, never another. Do not discuss right and wrong.
– Zengetsu (832-912)
My begging bowl
Accepts falling leaves
A rendering of Santoka’s poem teppatsu chirikuru ha o uketa.
Getsuan said to his students: “Keichu, the first wheel-maker of China, made two wheels of fifty spokes each. Now, suppose you removed the nave uniting the spokes. What would become of the wheel? And had Keichu done this, could he be called the master wheel-maker?”
Mumon’s comment: If anyone can answer this question instantly, his eyes will be like a comet and his mind like a flash of lightning.
When the hubless wheel turns,
Master or no master can stop it.
It turns above heaven and below earth,
South, north, east, and west.
Getsuan is Rep and Senzaki’s transliteration. Sekida and Yamada call him Gettan.
The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen says Gatsurin or Getsurin. Whichever way you pronounce it it is as irrelevant as the axle being removed in this koan. Remove the axle and the cart is useless or rather the cart has lost its essence. That is the point of the koan though. What is left is Emptiness. But to see that Emptiness as Emptiness that is another thing. That is called Enlightenment, something which I do not have. And all I have shown here, much to my regret, is the ordinary of kind emptiness called intellect or concept.
From Zen Flesh Zen Bones.
#42 – The Dead Man’s Answer
When Mamiya, who later became a well-known preacher, went to a teacher for personal guidance, he was asked to explain the sound of one hand.
Mamiya concentrated upon what the sound of one hand might be. “You are not working hard enough,” his teacher told him. “You are too attached to food, wealth, things, and that sound. It would be better if you died. That would solve the problem.”
The next time Mamiya appeared before his teacher he was again asked what he had to show regarding the sound of one hand. Mamiya at once fell over as if he were dead.
“You are dead all right,” observed the teacher. “But how about that sound?”
“I haven’t solved that yet,” replied Mamiya, looking up.
“Dead men do not speak,” said the teacher. “Get out!”
#77 – No Attachment to Dust
Zengetsu, a Chinese master of the T’ang dynasty, wrote the following advice for his pupils:
Living in the world yet not forming attachments to the dust of the world is the way of a true Zen student.
When witnessing the good action of another encourage yourself to follow his example. Hearing of the mistaken action of another, advise yourself not to emulate it.
Even though alone in a dark room, be as if you were facing a noble guest. Express your feelings, but become no more expressive than your true nature.
Poverty is your treasure. Never exchange it for an easy life.
A person may appear a fool and yet not be one. He may only be guarding his wisdom carefully.
Virtues are the fruit of self-discipline and do not drop from heaven of themselves as does rain or snow.
Modesty is the foundation of all virtues. Let your neighbours discover you before you make yourself known to them.
A noble heart never forces itself forward. Its words are as rare gems, seldom displayed and of great value.
To a sincere student, every day is a fortunate day. Time passes but he never lags behind. Neither glory nor shame can move him.
Censure yourself, never another. Do not discuss right and wrong.
Some things, though right, were considered wrong for generations. Since the value of righteousness may be recognized after centuries, there is no need to crave immediate appreciation.
Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe. Pass each day in peaceful contemplation.
#98 – Non-Attachment
Kitano Gempo, abbot of Eihei temple, was ninety-two years old when he passed away in the year 1933. He endeavored his whole life not to be attached to anything. As a wandering mendicant when he was twenty he happened to meet a traveler who smoked tobacco. As they walked together down a mountain road, they stopped under a tree to rest. The traveler offered Kitano a smoke, which he accepted, as he was very hungry at the time.
“How pleasant this smoking is,” he commented. The other gave him an extra pipe and tobacco and they parted.
Kitano felt: “Such pleasant things may disturb meditation. Before this goes too far, I will stop now.” So he threw the smoking outfit away.
When he was twenty-three years old he studied I-King, the profoundest doctrine of the universe. It was winter at the time and he needed some heavy clothes. He wrote his teacher, who lived a hundred miles away, telling him of his need, and gave the letter to a traveler to deliver. Almost the whole winter passed and neither answer nor clothes arrived. So Kitano resorted to the prescience of I-King, which also teaches the art of divination, to determine whether or not his letter had miscarried. He found that this had been the case. A letter afterwards from his teacher made no mention of clothes.
“If I perform such accurate determinative work with I-King, I may neglect my meditation,” felt Kitano. So he gave up this marvelous teaching and never resorted to its powers again.
When he was twenty-eight he studied Chinese calligraphy and poetry. He grew so skillful in these arts that his teacher praised him. Kitano mused: “If I don’t stop now, I’ll be a poet, not a Zen teacher.” So he never wrote another poem.
Dogen said, “When one studies Buddhism, one studies oneself; when one studies oneself, one forgets oneself; when one forgets oneself one is enlightened by everything and this very enlightenment breaks the bonds of clinging to both body and mind not only for oneself but for all beings as well.” (From Zen is Eternal Life)
To be honest I haven’t been meditating much if at all lately. And many of you (Buddhists and non-Buddhists) may ask what is so important about meditation. So here is my personal answer:
We train and get our bodies into shape, improve our senses through honing skills but rarely do think of the mind as something which needs exercise, training and perfecting.
Top athletes probably can tell you that mental training is necessary but rarely do they talk about it outside of the sport. Their mental training is on the court or field but beyond the boundaries.
Buddhism on the other hand says there is no separation between practice on the cushion and practice off it. There is nothing special about meditation expect it is a delibrate act to train the mind, to get it as fit and ready as possible for the coming enlightenment.
I do not know if this makes sense but that is what I have come to understand after long years as a Buddhist.
But just remember, I didn’t say I was a good Buddhist.