This is day four of this Four Day, February 2023 sesshin. On this last day, we're going to take a brief look at a koan from the Hekiganroku, also known as the Blue Cliff Record. It's called "Chimon and the Lotus" case number 21. For the benefit, though, of those who may be unfamiliar, with koan practice, let me first say a little bit about what that entails. koan. The word koan is a Japanese word that translates from Chinese to mean public case or precedent. And in Chinese, the term is gone gone. But I'm going to use the word koan, because it's worked its way into common language and is a lot more recognizable to most. But it's important to recognize the Chinese root koans typically take the form of a short story, verbal exchange between one or more monks, and a master or it could be an interaction between masters and as a method of practice koans date back to 10th century China. So although they've been translated into many different languages, there can still be a distinctly Chinese cultural context to them, especially the ones that involve more elaborate stories. koans are designed to be welder us to get us to go beyond our ordinary way of perceiving the world through our intellectualizing and rationalizing mind. One classic example of a koan is this is the sound of two hands clapping. What is the sound of one hand clapping?
When working on a koan, we need to get intimate with it, just as we do when working on a breath practice, and in the process of working on a koan, we confront the muck of the mind. Especially when working on a first koan such as what is Mu, or what is this.
When I was working on Mu, at times, I felt frustration, confusion, self pity, desperation, and anger. And these kinds of mind states are part of the process of dredging, that muck of the mind. And we do that by continuously letting go of our habits of thought, including our tendency to grasp for something we think is outside of ourselves. But somehow, we turn this process into a deficiency, thinking, we're failing. We're failing under koan practice. But the truth is, even when our deluded mind is operating, we're a Buddha. Just as we are in any condition that we experience
the case we're going to look at is a short exchange between a monk and a master. The Masters name Is Shimon and that's a Japanese translation of his Chinese name, which is G men. So I'll go with the original G men. A monk asked G men. How is it when the lotus flower has not yet emerged from the water? Shimon said a lotus flower then the monk asked again, what about after it has emerged from the water? Jima and answered lotus leaves
there's not much biographical or other background information on master g min Kwang. So according to the book Zen's Chinese heritage by Andy Ferguson Gman lived during the 10th century, and died in the year 1031, and that places him in the Song Dynasty, he lived near modern day Shang, dude, China, and his name Shimon Gman is derived from a mountain, which was a common naming practice back then. So the temple he taught at was called g min temple, and it was located on Jima and mountain. In Ferguson's book, there's a few short dialogues involving Shimon. But I'll just read one.
Zen master Shimon entered the hall and address the monk saying, all of you put your staffs over your shoulder and go traveling, leaving one monastery and traveling to the next. How many different types of monasteries do you say there are? It's either a sandalwood monastery surrounded by sandalwood, or it's a thistle monastery surrounded by thistles. Or it could be a fissile monastery surrounded by sandalwood, or a sandalwood monastery, surrounded by thistles. Of these four types of monasteries, in which type is each of you willing to spend your life if you don't find a place to pass your life securely, then you're just wearing out your sandals for no reason. And eventually, the day will come when the King of Hell will take away all of your sandal money. In Chinese mythology, the King of Hell judges the the feet of the dead. And here's Shimon is referring to a habit that apparently sung monks had of going from one temple to another, touring the country, meeting people checking them out, comparing and contrasting various teachers. You know, of course, pilgrimages are not inherently bad, they can be deeply enriching to one's practice. But if you're just traveling around to see the sights, which is what Jim is talking about, one can see that it's not genuine practice. Perhaps it's an avoidance strategy. It's looking outward, rather than inward. And there are probably some current day Zen practitioners who do the same, they might hop around from Zen Center to Zen Center, checking them out. And a variation of the scenario could be finding ways to distract ourselves and keep busy. With no time to settle down, no time to sit and do the work. always on the go. Filling our lives with stuff to do. Places to be boxes, to check off on one's bucket list. Netflix episodes to watch And we can see this kind of behavior as an escape mechanism.
If it's habitual when we fill up our lives this way, we might even lament that we just don't have time to sit. But we if we take a closer look, we might discover that our perceived lack of time, to some degree or another is a matter of the choices that we're making. And one of the great values of doing Zen with others as we are in such sheen. And for formal sittings, whether in person or online, is that there's a structure in place that helps us to not fall into that trap of negotiating, whether or not to sit or for how long. It's a support system. And we also benefit from the experience of being part of the Sangha. There's so much support and inspiration that can be found by practicing with our Dharma siblings.
We can all feel grateful to not only have taken up this practice, but to have taken advantage of the opportunity to get deeply rooted in it. Just like the process by which a lotus flower comes to be, practice involves getting rooted and working our way through mucky water and opening opening up. It's no, it's no coincidence that Buddha figures are often portrayed, seated upon in an open lotus flower, just like the one we have here in the Chapin Mill Zendo. In Buddhism, the lotus flower is a symbol of our true nature. When it emerges from the mucky water and opens up the pedals, often their pink. The pink petals appear bright and pristine. unstained by the mud that they emerged from spotless.
In the plant world, the lotus is recognized for its ability to adapt and thrive in challenging conditions. Lotus Seeds germinate at the bottom of ponds and other bodies of water as deep as eight feet. And they're resilient in terms of being able to adapt to changing temperatures, and again, rising up through the muddy water. So just like the lotus, we reach you need to work through the muck in the mire. It's part of the process. So if we're sludging through thoughts and judgments, then we're on the way. We're right there. That's the process at work.
Looking at the koan, we see that there is a before and an after dimension to it. As in before and after the Lotus emerges from the mud and opens its magnificent flower. The monk asks, How is it when the lotus flower has not yet emerged from the water? And Shimon responds, a lotus flower
So even before the flower bud rises up through the muddy water, and the petals unfold, it's already a lotus doesn't matter, that it hasn't yet come to the surface and bloomed. It's still a perfect Lotus.
From the very beginning, all beings are Buddha
but until we experience it directly for ourselves through the process of practice, somehow, we think and act in ways that deny it.
Zen master Erdogan once wrote, although the Dharma is abundantly present in each person, it isn't manifested. Without practice. It's not real, until we actualize it. And yet, it's a lotus flower, all the same? Whether we, whether we perceive it or not.
Then the monk asks another question. What about after it has emerged from the water? What about that?
When we do emerge from the muck, we realize that each and every one of us is equally a Buddha equal equally already a lotus flower with no exceptions. So the monks question is like asking what happens when a Buddha becomes a Buddha? Or it's kind of like asking what happens when a human becomes a human?
But G man responds to the monks question by saying, Louis leaves. So before we were a lotus flower, and after, we're just the leaves. No, no magnificent blossom.
There's this famous saying in in Zen, I believe it came from the Soto teacher Kodo Sawaki. He said, Zen is good for nothing. Meaning, we don't gain a thing, through practice. Not a thing.
There's also this old Zen saying that goes like this. In the beginning. Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers later on. Mountains are not mountains and rivers are not rivers. And still later. Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.
What we lose is the notion that there's me over here and you over there
still, even even when we do see through this delusion of self another, there's still more work to do. Practice is unending. What we need to do is to drop our notions of before and After enlightened and not enlightened, these are just thoughts, mental obstructions that keep us stuck in the mud
and about that mud we need to go straight through it. Just like the Lotus does not navigate around it or get out of it go through it
there's a Sufi story that speaks to how how to work with rather than against our afflictions. And it's from the book, stories of the Spirit stories of the heart.
moolah Nasrudin, decided to start a flower garden. He prepared the soil and planted the seeds of many beautiful flowers. But when they came up, his garden was filled not just with his chosen flowers, but also overrun by dandelions. He sought out advice from gardeners all over and tried every method known to get rid of them but to no avail.
Finally, he walked all the way to the Capitol to speak to the royal gardener at the sheiks Palace.
The wise old man had counseled many gardeners before and suggested a variety of remedies to expel the dandelions. But Mullah had tried them all. They sat together in silence for some time and finally the gardener looked at him and said well then I suggest you learn to love them.
Learn to love the practice. Love the question. Love this present moment just as it is.