(Above image is of Keizan Jokin who authored the Transmission of Light Koan collection and is considered the second great founder (with Dogen) of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan)
Tesshin used his talk this week to discuss a Koan from the “Transmission of Light” collection translated by Thomas Cleary. We focused on case #7 where the Buddhist master Denkoroku speaks to Micchaka.
Our story opens where the two are speaking and comparing spiritual practices. Micchaka was known as a leader of a “sorcerer sect” based in central India. We can interpret this as a group of ‘holy men’ who are focused on esoteric practices. Micchaka was not especially impressed my meditation as it seemed rather plain and quite a bit of work. The “sorcerer way” is exciting and grants its users great powers such as predicting the future!! Denkoroku responds that “real practice” is not goal oriented. Any practice which tries to achieve some “super power” or goal is based on delusion and will lead nowhere in the long term!
The story then states that the two teachers part ways for six eons (understood to be billions of years!!) When they meet up again the two compare their level of achievement and it quickly becomes apparent that Micchaka has gone “round and round” and chased many ideas and practices, but has not really reached any deep level of understanding. Upon seeing the deep realization of Denkorokuk, he asks for the teachings which will finally liberate his mind. Denkorokuk states that any practice which works with the body, mind, or things in the physical world is bound to fail because it is still bound to a world of “this and that.” One must practice with no separations where the mind and body do not exist independently from everything else. With great compassion, Denkorokuk takes Micchaka on as a student. One day Denkorokuk states that all practices are really like rivulets and ripples on the Ocean. What we need to do is to give up the little streams and return to the great Ocean of the Dharma. At this Micchaka was instantly enlightened.
So what does this story mean for us? Tesshin stated that everything is a fad today. Our society is always chasing the new thing. He mentioned that bookstore shelves groan with new interpretations and “remixes” of ancient wisdom. We believe that there needs to be continuous innovation and repackaging of well proven ideas. “Dogen 2.0” is even better than the original Dogen because we have added some new repackaged ideas from other traditions and created a new “fusion.” Tesshin compared this new “faddism” to the Micchaka’s Sorcerer’s path. We spend year after year chasing the latest thinking and idea from a new guru in the hopes that this will finally liberate us. We always seem to end up disappointed, however. Tesshin reminded us that we have everything we need right here and right now. All we need to do is STOP and SIT. He asked the group if we were really willing to stop, let all the excitement and thinking go and do the necessary work of sitting with our minds?
To illustrate how we make things complicated for ourselves, he related the process of writing a grant for a community garden with other clergy in the area. Tesshin stated that the point of the garden is to grow vegetables and give them away to hungry people. Others in the group wanted to discuss the ecological impact of the garden, how it fostered economic and social justice, and how the garden could be a focus point for activism in the community against injustices in the community. Tesshin again stated that the garden’s purpose is to grow vegetables to feed hungry people!! Accreting other ideas and exciting agendas to the garden distracts us from the core purpose FEEDING people! It is the same thing with our practice – there will be great side effects of training the mind, but if we get stuck on these, we will never gain the true benefit of Zazen. The great masters throughout time have been clear. Stop the chaos. Find a cushion. (or chair) … and SIT! If we do this, everything else will fall into place.