Saturday, January 31, 2009

Succession of Insights: Book Review: Brad Warner's "Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate"

Succession of Insights: Book Review: Brad Warner's "Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wise counsel on Zen koans from reliable masters

For anyone that is intrigued by “Joshu’s Mu” koan, (A monk asked Joshu, “Does the dog have Buddha nature?” Joshu said, “Mu” [no, does not have, etc]) Dogen’s teacher, Tendo Nyojo, offered some wise counsel on how to work with it. His instruction on how to employ it is similar to that of Mumon’s (the Rinzai master who compiled the Zen classic, Mumonkan), yet its flavor seems, to me anyway, a little more direct somehow. In light of the revelations of recent scholarship on sung China and Medieval Japan, it is not so surprising to find Soto Zen masters giving instruction on koan-introspection. Nevertheless, reading these encouraging words from the teacher that Dogen so reverently referred to as, “The Eternal Buddha” I cannot help but trust their reliability as a worthy guide. I think that Tendo Nyojo’s words guidance here would be useful in any method of practice, even though in this instance he is specifically instructing his listeners on utilizing this koan while actually sitting in zazen. Here is what Tendo Nyojo said:

When thoughts are flying around your mind in confusion, what do you do? “A dog’s Buddha-nature? No.” This word No (Mu) is an iron broom: Where you sweep there is a lot of flying around, and where there is a lot of flying around, you sweep. The more you sweep, the more there is. At this point where it is impossible to sweep, you throw your whole life into sweeping.
Keep your spine straight day and night, and do not let your courage flag. All of a sudden you sweep away the totality of space, and all differentiations are clearly penetrated, so the source and its meanings become evident.
Classics of Buddhism and Zen, Volume Four, Unlocking The Zen Koan, p. 244, Thomas Cleary

Even in this small sample, we get a taste of the reason that Dogen’s writings are so full of reverence for his teacher, Tendo Nyojo. Dogen’s writings also testify to the significance he personally found in “Joshu’s Mu” koan. Throughout his works Dogen utilizes the this classic Zen koan in some extremely creative ways.

Of course Tendo Nyojo, like Dogen, offered wise counsel on a multitude of techniques and methods for enacting the continuous practice and enlightenment on the path of Zen. Scriptural study is one of their more frequently recommended methods for developing the compassion and wisdom of Zen students/practitioners; however, they also offer guidance on working with teachers, mindfulness in everyday activities, ritual, ceremony, and other methods. While most Buddhist traditions use many of these methods; the method of koan-introspection is unique to Zen Buddhism, and therefore, I am always grateful to discover reliable guidance from the great classic masters.

I hope others find these words of Master Tendo Nyojo as helpful as I have.

Ted Biringer

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