The true teaching always makes us feel uncomfortable, if it doesn't make us feel uncomfortable, it is not the true teaching. (This is a slightly different wording, which I take all the blame for, of a quote from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind.)
“Objectively this teaching is simply the basic truth that everything changes. Dogen-zenji said, “Teaching which does not sound as if it is forcing something on you is not true teaching.” The teaching itself is true, and in itself does not force anything upon us, but because of our human tendency we receive the teaching as if something was being forced on us. But whether we feel good or bad about it, this truth exists. If nothing exists, this truth does not exist. Buddhism exists because of each particular existence.
We should find perfect existence through imperfect existence. We should find perfection in imperfection. For us, complete perfection is not different from imperfection. The eternal exists because of non-eternal existence. In Buddhism it is a heretical view to expect something outside this world.”
Essentially, the things in life that don't make us feel comfortable are there to show us something, those things we can breeze by are the items we don't need to focus on. So, if we read a precept about stealing and we feel ambivalent about it then perhaps that isn't a problem in our lives, if we read it and start thinking well this doesn't apply to such and such or so and so, then perhaps we should examine it a bit deeper.
Many of us come to Zen practice and believe we have found ‘the way’, we espouse it and sing songs of praise to ‘the way’ we have found. We go out and teach ‘the way’ to others thinking that we have it. I have heard it said this is like carrying a big plank of wood on our shoulder that prevents us from seeing the ‘other’ side of anything we are looking at. This was a common metaphor that first appeared in Chàn Buddhism around the late 6th or early 7th Century ACE and it is something I’d like to explore with you.
We all become excited that we have discovered a path this is meaningful in our hearts, and because of the great transformation that we personally undergo, we start to believe we have the answer for the world. We become steadfast in our zeal and march headstrong into the lion’s den to confront whatever issue we believe we have tamed in our own lives. This lion’s den, which is made solely by our thinking, is of course the worldly phenomenon that is out of synch with our own view. Additionally, if we run headlong into our self-made lion’s lair, our demon lion along with the world will devour us quickly if we don’t learn to bend and adapt and to listen to others’ views.
The lion is a metaphor we use in Zen to represent ‘an unmoving mind.’ This doesn’t mean a mind stuck in its own ideas, it means a mind that is open to what is occurring around it. There is a catch phrase we use about keeping our center and not chasing random ideas. “The dog runs after the bone, the lion claws and devours the thrower.” So, this is not a normal lion with insatiable appetite, it is only one who sits patiently awaiting the truth to show up, and when it does, even if the truth is in the form of a lamb, it welcomes this hapless animal into its den. On the other hand, if the incorrect should appear, it will be shredded and devoured.
It is often taught that there is neither good nor bad in the world of the absolute, and yet good and bad do manifest in the relative world. When we begin to mistake the relative world for the absolute world we confuse ourselves and others around us, however, if we take the plank of ‘the way’ off our shoulder we may begin to realize that all of the ways are ‘the way.’ This is what we call ‘truth world.’ In the truth world we realize correct situation, correction function and correct relationship. We adapt constantly to a changing world, and we can truly believe that ‘it is all good.’
If others are acting in a way we do not like, it doesn’t mean to condemn them; however, we also have a commitment to doing no harm in this world if we are to consider ourselves followers of the Buddha. The great Korean Buddhist Monk Wonhyo taught about knowing when precepts were open and closed. This can be understood in the context of, sometimes doing no harm means causing disruption in the world around us. Mohandas Gandhi who was a proponent of Jain non-violence was quoted as saying, "Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good. Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up."
The ideas of right and wrong and good and evil are seemingly a pit of vipers we don’t want to walk into. I love that Seung Sahn Dae Jong Sa usually avoided using the words good or bad, he mostly chose to say correct and incorrect when dealing with those types of situations. This is a subtle use of language and an important one. So we don’t weigh things on the scale of good and bad, we view it from whether an act is causing harm to something or someone. If we choose to oppose something in our lives we must weigh the options carefully and aspire to do no violence or to give rise to anger in our opposition. It is not a normal way of acting and with fortitude and diligence we can discover a loving heart doesn’t merely mean an inactive or passive one.
The issue with espousing a single way of belief is that it becomes a totalitarian path, there is only one way to the mountain top and that just happens to be the one I follow. We sometimes refer to this in Zen as being stuck in the ‘absolute,’ The old masters called this ‘the stink of zen.’ The absolute actually refers to śūnyatā which is beyond words and speech, so by making ‘our way’ and offering it to the world as ‘the way’ we actually are offending the teachings of the Buddha. We want to do good in our lives, we aspire to be moral upright followers of the Buddha. So we form ideas about what to do and how to do, these constructs and ideas are what block us from our own Buddha Nature.
There is a kongàn in the Jingde Chuan Deng Lu, which was compiled by Jingak Hyesim, and this case speaks to this very point we are examining today.
Case 639. Mùzhōu’s Plank Carrier 睦州擔板
“Chàn Master Mùzhōu Dàomíng called out to a monk, ‘Great Virtuoso!’
The monk turned his head and the master said, ‘You plank carrier.’
Soen Master Seolhwa’s Commentary: A board-carrier is this monk turning his head in response to the sound. This is plank-carrying. Even if he did not turn his head, he still could not escape being a plank-carrier.”
擔板漢者, 這僧隨聲回首, 是擔板也. 直饒不回首, 亦未免擔板漢也.
Mùzhōu Dàomíng ([Ch:] 睦州道明) (780-877) Dharma Heir of Huángbò Xīyùn and dharma brother to Línjì Yìxuán.
A different version of this gōng’àn can be found in the Jingde chuandeng lu: “When he (Mùzhōu) saw a lecturer monk, he would call his chief seat. If the (lecturer) monk responded, the master would say, ‘Narrow-minded fellow.’” Here, “narrow-minded” (dānbǎn擔板) can be more literally translated as “carrying a wooden board or plank on one’s shoulders,” which functions as a metaphor for someone who can only see in one direction, hence the translation “narrow-minded.”
Some authors have translated dānbǎn as meaning blinkered; literally, “to shoulder a plank.” This is to say someone who is carrying this plank is to examine them as narrow. The board or plank carried on the shoulder obstructs one’s field of vision to the right or the left.
Suzuki Roshi once gave a talk, “When you sit, you are independent from various beings, and also you are related to various beings. When you have perfect composure in your practice, it means that you include everything. You are not just you. You are the whole world or the whole cosmos, and you are a Buddha.”
“You may say that it is not possible to be ordinary and at the same time holy. When you think this way, your understanding is one-sided. We call someone who understands things from one side a tambancan, ‘someone who carries a board on his shoulder.’ Because you carry a big board on your shoulder, you cannot see the other side.”
Cast away your planks, and board my sisters and brothers and walk freely in this world unhindered by constructs and thoughts. Trust in the Buddha’s teaching and make sure that in your life it causes you and others no harm. If you must act, then do it with kindness and charity keeping ‘moment mind’ and adapting to the changing landscape around you. We are not perfect beings and sometimes we………? Keep close to your kesa, hold your huàtóu constantly, act in kindness, compassion and love.