I gotta say…
Between ‘stump’, ‘radical’, and now ‘perplexed‘…it’s like the Daily Prompt people wanted me to finish this series on Zen Koan.
I’m certainly not one to question the infinite wisdom of the prompt-givers so I must conclude this series with my own reflections on the very koan I proposed to you all.
Now before I write my own reflections, there are four very important things I want you to remember.
- I hope you all had a chance to at least sit with one of these koan for some time, or if not, I continue to implore you to experience what it is like to simply sit with a question and not worry about the answer. It will be a revelatory experience on what is important to your self at this moment and it will be great exercise for you when you are posed with serious, substantial questions that require careful thought and consideration.
- These are only my own reflections of these koan. These are only my own reflections at this time. Remember that since there is no real answer, the koan is like water. It flows without cease. The direction may be apparent, and there may be some direction that these questions are meant to flow us towards, but rivers branch off all the time, tides rise and fall, and currents always change. I do not claim to have the right answers. I only know I have the answers for myself.
- Beware anyone who tries to convince you of a finite point in your koan study. Do not be tempted by the promise of totality and finality. It can become frustrating to work at something with seemingly no end or logical conclusion. Enjoy the process. Walk through the forest for the sound of leaves crunching and sun peering through branches, not for the end of the trail.
- When you come to a conclusion that suits you and satisfies you, pass no judgement on yourself. Pass no judgement on yourself during the process either. If you are frustrated, that’s just your foot getting caught on a tree root. You don’t question your ability to walk when you trip. Do not question your ability to answer when you stumble.
Dizang asked Xiushan, “Where do you come from?”
Xiushan said, “From the South.”
Dizang said, “How is Buddhism in the South these days?”
Xiushan said, “There is extensive discussion””
Dizang said, “How can that compare to me here planting the fields and making rice to eat?”
Xiushan said, “What can you do about the world?”
Dizang said, “What do you call the world?”
We don’t care who Dizang or Xiushan is in this koan. I could have written Larry, Moe, and Curly for argument’s sake. What we have are two students, two Buddhist monks, who are spending their day working in the fields. One (Dizang) concerns himself with where the other is from and what they are discussing back home. The other (Xiushan) questions why he concerns himself with the world. Dizang responds by asking Xiushan to define what he thinks is the world.
There are often times in our lives where we feel insignificant compared to the rest of the world. We question the efficacy of our efforts when we are just one drop in a vast ocean. We feel like blowing our breath in one direction does nothing compared to the tornado that wants to whisk us off our feet. I feel like sometimes I have not done enough to make my mark on the world. I feel disconnected and it can discourage me from continuing on my path because the magnitude of the world is overbearing and I’d much rather surrender to obscurity than to beat down at the door. But as Dizang says, ‘what do you call the world’. Perhaps I have missed my aim, or at the very least lacked focus. If my world were my friends and family, I could certainly say I’ve made my mark. But I could then succumb to ego and sit back, feeling accomplished. So I open it up just a tiny bit. How do I affect the people I work with. How can I affect the people who read my writing. How can I affect the man next to me. And then perhaps the man next to him. I can always define my world, and therefore define the scope of my actions. My world is never too small that I can touch the borders, but it is never too large that I cannot see the horizon. Right now, what I can do is live an honest and open life of reflection and sharing and inspiration. My world is those I care about, friends and family, and those who I can reach through my writing. I do not have to feel insignificant and my efforts can be effective in scope.
“What are you doing,” asked the professor.
“Programming a computer to play randomly,” said the student.
The professor said, “what does it mean to program the computer randomly?”
The student said, “I do not want it to have preconceived notions of how to play.”
The teacher then closed his eyes.
“Why do you close your eyes?’ asked the student.
The teacher replied, “So that the room will be empty.”
What is the student’s goal? To create a computer with no preconceived notions. Why does the teacher close his eyes? So that the room will be empty. How is this related? Just because the teacher does not see what is in the room does not mean there is nothing in it. The room exists independent of the teacher and therefore the things in it are independent of his sight. So we extend this to the computer. The computer has preconceived notions. It has programs and algorithms and, to the extent of ‘does a dog have Buddha nature’, perhaps we can even say the computer has its own awareness. So just because the student programs his perception of ‘randomness’, the computer will have its own patterns. This for me is a perfect metaphor for my relationships. Perhaps the reason why none have succeeded so far is that we approached each other with our own expectations and we closed our eyes to pretend that the other person didn’t have any outside of what we wanted. I must realize that no matter how I feel or what I convince myself of, I have no control or power over the other person. So therefor the pressure to ‘make someone love me’ is also relieved. Because the best I can do is to be me openly and honestly and to love them openly and honestly. I can’t force anything of the other person. That’s a big burden off my shoulders. I used to think I had to find the girl, then convince her of my worth, then make her love me. The truth it, I have to do things of worth, do things that someone would love, and let that person come. I cannot change the room, I can only choose to perceive it.
When you meet the Buddha, kill him.
Ooh this is a big one. Why would such a peaceful philosophy promote such violence? And why against such a revered figure? So one thing you might not know about Buddhism is that Buddha is not a god. Buddha is a state of being, total enlightenment that removes the soul from the cycle of reincarnation and suffering. It is complete enlightenment and universality. So literally, if you meet anything that claims to be Buddha, it is a lie. But I take this to mean something internally. That if I ever feel to be that way, I need to kill dangerous thoughts and dangerous ego. If I try to assign ‘Buddha’-hood to something, I am perceiving and judging. I need to let go. I need to let go of thoughts of ego and of loss and of fear and of insecurity. Enlightenment, confidence, awareness perhaps more applicably, is delicate and light. It is like trying to catch dandelion pollen in the air. You have to remain still, no anticipation, no judgement, and let it land on your hand. Judgements, like your fingers, are slow and heavy. They crash into the air with such force that the pollen will always be blown away. You don’t ‘catch’ these things, much like you can’t ‘catch’ the attention or affections of others or ‘catch’ true self-confidence. It comes naturally. The Buddha is supposed to come from within. You can’t meet your confidence. You can’t meet the one who claims to give it to you or have the secret to unlock it. It’s yours only. Be wary of anything else you meet.
Well, those are the thoughts that came to me after all this time. This is what the koan have given me after serious reflection and thinking about the circumstances of my life right now. I hope this helps and I hope what I have learned I will be able to carry into my life. And if it helps you along the way too, then that’s just a little ray of sunshine!