Monday, June 12, 2017


Remember my saying that Zen dialogues are often intended to be puzzling, even cryptic. This is because such talks are aimed at bringing about intuitive awakening.

          Most of the stories I’ll be relating in this talk are not my invention. Most of them come from China, and they date back to the so-called golden age of Zen during the T’ang dynasty (620-900 A.D.) and the Sung dynasty (930-1278 A.D.).  A few tales come from Japan and are younger in age.

          The first story is known as Opening Speech.

          A prosperous lord built a monastery for a noted Zen master and asked the master to give the first talk in the monastery’s lecture hall.

          An audience gathered and settled itself.

          The master entered the hall, put on his robe, and sat down.

          All the people leaned forward, anticipating what they were sure would be a fine, learned speech.

          The master sat silently for several minutes. Then he removed his robe, stood up, said “Goodbye,” and left the hall.

          Most of the people were startled, and a few of them muttered their disappointment.

          The monastery’s patron approached the master and said, “The Buddha’s teaching must have been the same as yours.”

          The master said, “I thought you were a stranger to the teaching. However, you know something of Zen.”

          What’s going on here? How vague can a story be? Is there any sort of meaning to grab hold of?

          Well, to flog a dead horse, the meaning lies in the Zen master refusing to play a ritualistic role of a master or teacher. That would have been like setting up a statue of the Buddha in a room and thus establishing a so-called ivory tower.

An ivory tower is defined as a preoccupation with intellectual considerations rather than with practical everyday life.

          The master—being a true Zen person—did away with such a non-realistic attitude even before it could be established.

          Zen is Zen. It is in and of the person. It is not an icon or a robe or place of honor or a ritual

          The essence of Zen lies not only in saying “Goodbye” to synthetic trappings, but also in saying “Farewell” to you.

          Think about it.

          This story is similar in its significance to an apocryphal tale of the Buddha himself, The Flower.

          One day the Buddha sat on the ground to give a talk to a group of his disciples. They clustered around and waited silently so they wouldn’t miss a word.

          The Buddha said nothing, but simply held up a small flower. Most of the people stared at one another, wondering what that was all about. But one of them looked at the Buddha and smiled.

Now I’ll talk about Stone Buddha.

A lay person said to a Zen master, “I have a stone in my garden that I intend to carve in the likeness of the Buddha. Can I do it?”

The master said, “Yes, you can.”

The lay person then asked, “Can I not do it?”

The master answered, “No, you can not do it.”

Before you go batty trying to work out the double and triple negatives, think for a moment without trying to analyze.

The citizen assumed the teacher would praise the good intention of sculpting a statue of the Buddha. But all the teacher said was “Yes, you can.”

When the citizen asked, “Can I not do it?” he wanted to be sure, and he expected the master to affirm him.

When the master answered “No, you can not do it,” the fellow was probably confused all to hell and gone.

The point is if one wants to carve a statue of the Buddha, they should do it whether or not others approve. If there the slightest doubt enters in, the act will never take place.

The fellow probably had a good, solid stone, but his resolve was brittle.


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