Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"You have misspoken"

I was going to comment on this piece by Dennis Prager, in a more reflective manner than the somewhat amusing send-up on Sadly No, but the computer decided otherwise.

So instead, I'll write a bit on the following:

A monk once wanted to ask Yunmen a question and started to say, "The light serenely shines over the whole universe." Before he’d even finished the first line, Yunmen suddenly interrupted, "Isn’t that the poem of Zangzhuo Xiucai?"
The monk answered, "Yes, it is."
Yunmen said, "You’ve missed it."
Later Master Sixin took up this koan and said "Now tell me, why has this monk missed it?"

The Commentary

In this koan if you can grasp how lofty and unapproachable Yunmen’s Zen working is and why the monk missed it, then you can be a teacher in heaven and on earth. In case you’re not yet clear about it, you will be unable to save yourself.

The Capping Verse

A line is dropped in a swift stream;
Greedy for the bait, he’s caught.
If you open your mouth only a little,
Your life is lost!

Yunmen was one of the most amazing people in literature almost nobody knows, but that's not the point to be made here. Rather:

What was Yunmen trying to get the monk to see? Was this monk simply seeking Yunmen’s authority or wisdom? Is there anything wrong with that? Where is authority ultimately? We think being the authority means having all the answers, being in control. The fact is that none of us is in control. Ever. Think about it. Try to find a single thing that you can control. You’ll never find it. So what does it mean to be the master? What does it mean to be the authority? How is it to realize that who we are is one great body, the whole universe? There is nothing outside.

Once we realize this Buddha body, then when we chant "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form," we’re not repeating the words of Avalokiteshvara. "The light serenely shines over the whole universe" is not someone else’s reality. We’re simply speaking of our own experience. It all comes down to this — all the Buddhist teachings and Zen practice — to help us recognize that which we already are. This is our Buddha-nature. This is the vow we take when we receive the precepts: to live the life of a bodhisattva. Not to model ourselves after a bodhisattva, not to aspire to be a bodhisattva, but to be a bodhisattva.

Before the Buddha died, his students wanted to know: Who’s going to be our teacher now? Who’s going to help us? The Buddha said, "Be a lamp unto yourself."

Rather than going abstractly trying to voice what a "culture of life" should be, or whose religious tradition is right (Prager rails against about "opponents of Judeo-Christian values" including "those in the non Judeo-Christian West who lack a moral problem with abortion for whatever reason...and the secular culture's contempt for those who call themselves 'pro-life' or believe that Terri Schiavo had a right to live [who are] examples of the contemporary attempt to undo the life wish of Judeo-Christian values and affirm the natural death wish that resides in the human soul."), it might be useful to authentically live one's own life, in a Buddhist's case, to help others transcend suffering.

Prager, to me, has misspoken: Is this really his experience of life and death?

The Buddha once was met by a woman who had a child die; rather than bring her back to life as Jesus reputedly did, the Buddha asked the woman to get some seeds from homes where members had never known anyone who died. Needless to say, after a while the woman figured it out: death is our lot in life, and until we personally come to terms with that, all the railing against immoral secularists yadayadayada and their "culture of death" will only reek of narcissism.

Here's another great commentary on this number 39 from the Mumonkan...

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