Thursday, December 08, 2011

Suzuki-roshi, somewhat different interpretations, but it's all OK

I finally re-read Barbara's post on Suzuki-roshi & dragons, and added a comment, as you can see there.  To be honest, I'm not entirely satisfied that I captured what I wanted to say in the comment, which I'll get to in a bit, but I wanted to go somewhere else first.

Suzuki-roshi is/was another one of those guys about whom Stuart Lachs has written a "corrective" on saying, basically, a) he was really really human, despite what the posthumously written intro to his most widely known book would imply, and b) he therefore made what we'd refer to as "mistakes" if we were talking about any other Tom, Dick or Harry.  I won't bother to go find Lachs' piece on Suzuki-roshi, just because as a guy who's been involved with such cultural things for a while now, none of it is surprising - while the Japanese Zen school has sent outstanding teachers and exponents to the West, they've also at times sent exponents of their "B Team," which is kind of a common practice at certain international companies - they send the exponents of the A Team when they really want to expand, and they send exponents of the B Team when they want to move a potential (or actual) problem to the "Somebody Else's Problem Field," to use a term from Douglas Adams. But in this context, let me just say a lot of us can learn a lot from the B Team.

I remember getting that book "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" long ago, and when I first picked it up, it was frankly incomprehensible to me, and later on it made a heck of a lot of sense, since I guess I was somewhere that needed the relative sanity expressed there.  Later on, when I started reading Dogen (yeah, I have read Dogen), I realized that some of Suzuki-roshi's extrapolations on bits in Dogen, quite frankly, weren't obvious in the plaintext meaning of Dogen.  But then again, it being Zen and all that, Suzuki's narrative is not all that different, ultimately, than my interpretation.

Back to Barbara's post.  Barbara's relating a story about a guy who was so enamored of dragons that he got to meet a real dragon, and was shot through with stark terror on the encounter. She notes that Dogen commented, "I beseech you, noble friends in learning through experience, do not become so accustomed to images that you are dismayed by the real dragon."  Her explanation that we shouldn't mistake outward forms and images for the "real thing"  is pretty good, and my comment is sort of OK, but I think I'm not going far enough in my comment.  To actually give up one's attachments - to realize that one has  the power to get all beings to transcend suffering is to realize that the "dragon" of our True Nature has unfathomably infinite power compared to the "worm" of our attachment driven little mind that I don't think you can cross that threshold without a bit of fear and trepidation.  It's scary to be able to give up everything, including the desire for enlightenment itself,  just as it is to consider that death means "giving it all up."  So, the idea of the serene Buddha, the images of the thousand armed Regarder of the World's Cries,  so calm and all that, isn't the being that actually has the power to give it all up.  The moon beats the finger pointing to it like a gong.  And it's easy to get dismayed that this bag of decaying flesh, home to more microbes than there are homo sapiens on the planet,  is actually an expression of that True Nature. 

And, it's why folks like Warner constantly rail against "Big Mind," but that's kind of a digression. 

At such a point, when one encounters this fear, there's actually something that can be done, which I'll get to later, but for now, Douglas Adams' advice is pretty good: Don't Panic.


Angulimala said...

When pointing to the moon you will notice, if you look closely, that you actually are seeing two images of the one finger pointing at the moon. It is caused by a combination of the stereoscopic nature of human vision and the phenomenon of parallax. However this is not exactly true. If you cross your eyes enough while pointing at the moon, you will see the single pointing finger but also two moons. Furthermore you will notice that the finger is pointing at only one of the two images of of the moon. I've pondered what the experience of pointing at a single image of the moon reflected in a single bowl of water, surrounded by hundreds of such bowls and images would be like. Perhaps I might perceive my Autonomic Nervous System.

If you've read Dogen, then I am confident you are aware of the fact that he was a political creature of his times.

Mumon K said...

f you've read Dogen, then I am confident you are aware of the fact that he was a political creature of his times.

As are we all.