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Dairyu Michael Wenger (1947-)

禅遠大竜 Zenen Dairyū
Buddhist Name: Zen Deep Great Dragon

Born in Brooklyn in the heart of modernity (1947), Michael was a loner who kept his own counsel. He was drawn to athletics, psychology, artistic [writing painting,and music] expression, and finally meditation unlimited by concepts. He has practiced Zen for 46 years, 38 of them at San Francisco Zen Center. In 1999 he received dharma transmission from Sojun Mel Weitsman. At the age of 63 he took a big leap and started his own temple emphasizing Zazen, brush painting and classes. Courage, compassion and creativity are his touchstones.

Dairyu is a Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi and a Dharma heir of Sojun Mel Weitsman. A practitioner of Zen Buddhism since 1972, Michael currently is the guiding teacher at Dragons Leap Meditation Center in California and is the author of the book 49 Fingers: A Collection of Modern American Koans. He was the editor of San Francisco Zen Center's book Wind Bell: Teachings from the San Francisco Zen Center – 1968-2001 and was a contributor to the book Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai, a book of lectures by Shunryu Suzuki. He has previously served as President of the San Francisco Zen Center and was also Dean of Buddhist Studies there.

Wenger has given Dharma transmission to Bernd Bender, Darlene Su Rei Cohen, Inryu Bobbi Ponce-Barger, Mark Lancaster, Mark Lesser, and Rosalie Curtis. He has also given lay entrustment to Jamie Howell and Marsha Angus.

http://www.cuke.com/people/wenger.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Wenger
https://www.dragonsleap.com/teacher

 

49 Fingers: A Collection of Modern American Koans
Book review by Catherine Seigen Spaeth

Just as he gears up to leave the San Francisco Zen Center to begin his own, Dairyu Michael Wenger has republished his first book of contemporary American koans in 49 Fingers. With the addition of 16 new koans and 22 paintings 49 Fingers is a continuation of his earlier 33 Fingers (Clear Glass Publishing, San Francisco, 1974). These are gentle koans, discrete and spacious. It is a characteristic that also takes the form of the book – there was a bracketing narrative tidiness to what was once 33 Fingers, beginning as it did with understanding practice as a vending machine and ending with the statement that “Candy is the most important food.” This bracketing provided no small notion to hold for each of the koans between. Here is the last case of 33 Fingers:

Candy is the Most Important Food

Someone asked, “Do you have to give candy to your students so that they will practice Zen?” Shunryu Suzuki said, “Everything that we do is candy. Candy is the most important food actually.” The questioner said, “I don't understand.” Suzuki Roshi replied, “Without any actual activity the first principle in Zen doesn't mean anything. We should help people and what helps is candy.”

What comes across in Michael Wenger's koans is a diligent care – affection – that usually doesn't come across as immediately in earlier koan collections. Meeting the questions that arise between teacher and student is a celebration of who we are in that meeting/expression.

The hot iron ball of the traditional koan may indeed have a bit of gentle sugar coating in Michael Wenger's humor and kindness, but even in a casual reading these koans can also invite a pointed self-criticism at the same moment that they are opening the Dharma Gates. What is the taste of your own arrogance, or does vengeance have a place in your aim? What are the effects of your caring? Occasionally, what might have been marked by 30 blows elsewhere is here more simply the smallness of our own delusions when brought into our view.

In the Lotus Sutra, Avalokitsvara has 33 different manifest appearances in the world, and there is a confidence in the readiness to hand of all the Bodhisattvas that spring from the ground. In the shift from 33 Fingers to 49 Fingers the number 49 measures out a period of mourning, an honoring of a past that has been extinguished and a sense of protecting it as it regenerates elsewhere. In this new appearance the first of the additional koans argues for the place of women in Zen; others are of national anthems and the Statue of Liberty. What is American in American Zen, and who are we meeting there?

A book gathers meaning from the narrative and poetics of a beginning and an end, and the context for these koans has subtly changed. 49 Fingers is published at a time when ethical questions and the passing of many of our elders here in America is deeply felt, and the new koans seem to appeal to the Bodhisattvas of a nation with a sense of responsibility that has itself been opened out into the space of the koan. It is on this note that rather than a bowl of candy, Dairyu Michael Wenger leaves us here with the skill of an archer and his bow:

Bull's Eye

Kobun Chino Roshi was at Esalen with Shibata Sensei, his kyudo (archery) teacher. Shibata Sensei shot at a target and then handed the bow and arrow to Kobun inviting him to demonstrate his skill. Kobun took the arrow and bow, turned and with complete attention and care, shot the arrow into the ocean! When it hit the water he said, “Bull's eye!”.

 

 

AMERICAN ZEN KOANS
https://www.dragonsleap.com/american-zen-koans

 

Vending Machine

CASE

Dainin Katagiri once said, "You take care of your life as if it were a vending machine. You put the coins in from the top and then expect a soda at the bottom. You do meditation and you expect something. But life doesn't always go well. The vending machine goes out of order. Then you kick the machine."

PARTIAL COMMENTARY

...This was from a lecture given at Green Gulch Farm in 1986. It was given at a time when the Green Gulch community was undergoing considerable self criticism and evaluation.

The masters of old ask over and over, "What do you want? What is your intention? What are you manipulating?"...

VERSE by Dairyu:

RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT, ONE... TWO... THREE.
The monkey mind is a helpful aid and a tyrannical master.
Is the tail wagging the dog?

 

A New Name

CASE

Tai Shimano visited Shunryu Suzuki. “How are you feeling these days?” Suzuki replied, “They have a new name for me: Cancer!”

COMMENTARY

When a teacher is sick, it is quite common to go to him and ask how he is feeling. The Tang Master Matsu replied to such a question, "Sun Faced Buddha, Moon faced Buddha."

Tai Shimano (later Eido-Roshi) is a disciple of Nakagawa Soen (see Case #4) in the Japanese Rinzai lineage. He has led groups in Hawaii and currently in New York, where he founded Dai Bosatsu. The above dialogue occurred in the fall of 1971.

Shunryu Suzuki, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, came to America in 1958. He founded the first Zen training center outside of Asia at Tassajara Zenshinji in 1966. Zen Mind Beginner's Mind is a famous collection of his talks. He died in 1971.

Two generations later, Issan Dorsey of the Hartford St. Zen Center when asked about AIDS replied, "To have AIDS is to be alive." Are you dead or alive, sick or healthy? And, oh yes, how are you feeling today?

VERSE by Dairyu

At high noon
Or in the dark moonless night there is a light
Can you see it?
And, by the way, who are you?

 

The Brown Telephone

CASE

Richard Baker told the assembly, “I dreamt I was trying to solve a problem. A brown phone kept ringing in the background, distracting me. Finally, annoyed, I picked it up and the voice on the other end told me the answer to the problem.”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY

… What is important? What has to be dismissed?… Is your daily life a necessary but unwanted adjunct to your daily meditation?… Don't let your practice block your practice…

VERSE by Dairyu

Ruled by picking and choosing
A distraction may be to the point.
What are you trying to do?

 

Encourage Others

CASE

A student asked Nakagawa-Soen during a meditation retreat, “I am very discouraged. What should I do?” Soen Roshi replied, “Encourage others.”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY

… Some will follow the way when they are discouraged, some when they are encouraged, and some when they are even tempered… Which are you? What should you do?…

VERSE by Dairyu

In the rainy village
or the sunbleached plain
the Dharma reigns equally,
still you are responsible.

 

What is Meant by Emptiness?

CASE

A student asked the eminent translator Tom Cleary what is meant by Emptiness? Tom Cleary replied it is innocent of concept.

PARTIAL COMMENTARY

…What is emptiness? Innocent of concept?
No eyes, no ears, no nose…
”In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in
the experts few.”

VERSE by Dairyu

At Tassajara it is easy to stub your toe on he rocky paths.
The vacant trail is totally alive.

 

What is the Teacher?

CASE

Charlotte Joko Beck writes, “What is the teacher? Life itself!”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY

…Sincerity of the student is crucial. Life itself is the teacher…

VERSE

The world is mysterious.
We need all the help we can get.
Do not miss the teacher under your own feet.

 

Different Schools of the Same Teacher

CASE

The Burmese Theravedan monk U Silananda was asked what is the relationship between Theravada Buddhism and Zen. He replied: “Different schools of the same teacher.”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY

…The sincerity of the student is crucial. Life itself is the teacher…

VERSE by Dairyu

On a cloudy moonlit night
everything appears to be moving
— clouds, moon and myself
as I walk along the temple path.

 

In What Sense is this Table Real?

CASE

D.T. Suzuki was seated with other scholars around a table at a philosophy conference. At the end of the day he had not spoken. The chairman said, “In what sense is the table real?” Dr. Suzuki replied, “In every sense!”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY

…In what sense is any of this real?
Vast indeed!…

VERSE by Dairyu

Faith and doubt
Swallow them in a single gulp
Don't forget to breathe.

 

Perfect and You Can Use a Little Improvement

CASE

Shunryu Suzuki addressed the assembly. “Each of you is perfect the way you are and you can use a little improvement.”

PARTIAL COMMENTARY

…Can you stand to be perfect? Can you stand to be flawed? Where do you turn away?…

VERSE by Dairyu

The heat of Master Shunryu's heart
burns away both faith and doubt,
leaving a withered tree in the golden wind.

 

It Ain't Over Til It's Over

CASE

Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame Yankee baseball player said, “It ain't over til it's over.”

COMMENTARY

Yogi Berra is a famous baseball player. Joe Gargiola said he was called Yogi because he walked like a yogi. He played, managed, and coached baseball. During a game, commentators often remark or ask if the game is over. If the score is 10-0 in the 7th inning, even though there are two innings left, they may say the game is over.

Great wisdom often appears as silly nonsense. Poor grammar can bend the minds patterns.

When you drive in your car are you thinking about where you've been, or where you're going or where you are?

It is easy to make a mental jump ahead of the moment. This sentence is over at the period. [Not at the period.]

Yogi Berra was a great athlete. He knew each moment was its own. Each moment has its own life and its own opportunity, its own completion.

VERSE by Dairyu

Has it begun?
Is it over?
Whatever the score
The Yogi is ready.

 

What is Love?

CASE

One evening, after the Dharma talk at the Cambridge Zen Center, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “What is love?”

Soen-sa said, “I ask you: what is love?

The student was silent.

Soen-sa said, “This is love.”

The student was still silent.

Soen-sa said, “You ask me. I ask you. This is love.”

COMMENTARY

To ask or answer a fundamental question is the give and take of Zen practice. It may not be difficult to stick to the question or the answer. Perhaps something deeper is at work.

VERSE by Dairyu

The radio sings non-stop of love
But when does the moon meet the baying wolf?

 

What is Nirvana?

CASE

Sojun Mel Weitsman asked Shunryu Suzuki. “What is Nirvana?”

Suzuki replied, “Seeing one thing through to the end.”

COMMENTARY

Nirvana is a Sanskrit term usually translated as extinction, oblivion, bliss. It is a release from the conditioned. How to be free? See each thing through to the end. Don't move!

VERSE by Dairyu

The doorbell is ringing
Will you meet it?
Each act completes the whole
Even the loose thread connects.

 

She is My Teacher

CASE

Maureen Stuart, teacher at the Cambridge Buddhist Association said, “ Elsie Mitchell is my teacher.” Elsie Mitchell insisted, “Maureen Stuart is my teacher.”

COMMENTARY

Maureen Stuart Roshi (1922-1990) both a pianist and Zen teacher, was acknowledged by Soen Nakagawa in 1982 as a teacher.. Elsie Mitchell is a long time student of Buddhism and author of Sun Faced Buddha, Moon Faced Buddha. The Cambridge Buddhist Association grew out of meetings in her living room.

The second chapter of the Lotus Sutra states, “…only a Buddha together with a Buddha can fathom the reality of all existence.” One true teacher meets another true teacher. What could be better?

VERSE by Dairyu

When two Buddhas shine
teacher and student
Become Wisdom

 

Watch Them, See How They Behave

CASE

The 14th Dalai Lama was asked, “How can one verify true teachers?” He said, “Watch them, see how they behave.”

COMMENTARY

The 14th Dalai Lama was born in 1934. At the age of two he was found and acknowledged as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. He escaped Tibet in 1959 after the occupation of the country by the Chinese. He has been concerned about the right transmission of Buddhism to the West and by the behavior of some teachers.

John Madden said, “Don't trust someone who wears a cowboy hat and has no cow.”

Clear observation is an important practice. Press clippings, documents and reputation do not tell the whole story. The great Buddhist writer and translator John Blofeld would judge the teacher by his/her students.

VERSE by Dairyu

The true Dragon is not always the one you expect.
Gullibility and skepticism are passing fancies
Without minimizing or inflating
The heart within the corpse beats true.

 

We Humans Need It

CASE

A student was visiting the Minnesota Zen Center. He asked Abbot Dainin Katagiri, “You chant the repentance and the four vows every morning during service. Is that traditional?” Katagiri Roshi replied, “No, I decided to do it.” The student asked, “Is that because we Americans need it more?” Dainin replied, “No we humans need it.”

COMMENTARY

A Soto Zen temple traditional service usually consists of some combination of the Heart Sutra, the Dharani for Removing Disasters, the Merging of Difference and Unity, The Jewel Mirror Samadhi, reciting the Buddhas and Ancestors, and the Great Heart-Mind Dharani.

The repentance verse:
”All my ancient twisted karma
From beginning less greed, hate, and delusion.
Born through body, speech, and mind,
I now fully avow.”

And the four vows:
”Beings are numberless, I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.
Dharma Gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
Buddha's way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.”

make up part of the twice monthly full and new moon Bodhisattva precept ceremony.

India, China, Korea, Tibet, Japan and America all have different cultural backdrops. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Each has much to learn and to teach. Arrogance is best learned within each of us.

VERSE by Dairyu

‘We humans need it.'
No pale faces here.
All Indians.

 

Patience

CASE

Someone asked Chogyum Trungpa, “Is there a Buddhist equivalent of the Christian term, ‘Grace?'” He answered, “Yes, patience.”

COMMENTARY

Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987), a Tulku of the Karma Kagyu of Tibet Buddhism, left Tibet in 1959 eventually settling in North America in 1970. A dynamic teacher, he founded Vajradhatu, and was the author of many influential books including Meditation in Action, and Cutting through Spiritual Materialism. Rick Fields, journalist and student of Trungpa's, said, “This man made more trouble and did more good than anyone I ever knew.”

When Buddhism came to China it dialogued with and absorbed aspects of Taoism and Confucianism. In America, one can see this happening with a variety of disciplines: Christianity, 12-Step Programs, psychology, and physics. Grace in Christianity is often used to mean an unearned virtue or gift granted by God. Patience in Buddhism is one of the six Paramitas, Perfections or Practices of a Bodhisattva. They are Giving, Precepts, Patience, Effort, Meditation, and Wisdom.

Trungpa's answer was not a literal translation. It was something else. What's that?

VERSE by Dairyu

The Avatamsaka Sutra asserts that rocks are alive.
Patience isn't punishment.
It's the real thing.

 

Give Me a Gift of Flowers

CASE

Harry Roberts said, “When I was with my teacher, Robert Spott, he would say, when approached by a student who wanted to study with him, ‘Give me a gift of flowers.' If the student went away to obtain flowers he would not be accepted. If he looked down at his feet for flowers, he was accepted.”

COMMENTARY

Robert Spott was a high medicine man of the Yurok Indians of North West California. Harry was adopted by him and thought of him as his uncle. Harry Roberts (1906-1981) was a fisherman, lumberjack, horticulturist and nursery man, an agronomist, rum runner, a welder, a machinist, and a cowboy, as well as several other things. (He was Ginger Roger's dance partner for awhile). The last three years of his life he lived at Green Gulch Farm (Green Dragon Temple), where he was a valued teacher and advisor.

Case #4 of the Book of Serenity is reminiscent of this case. Buddha was walking with the congregation. He pointed to the ground with his finger and said, “This spot is good to build a sanctuary.” Indra, Emperor of the Gods, took a blade of grass, stuck it in the ground and said, “The sanctuary is built.” The Buddha smiled.

While the distant blue mountains appear inviting, the Buddhas of the past, present and future all are here. Please meet them. Give them what you have. Receive what they give.

VERSE by Dairyu

Students and teachers
Gods and Buddhas
Flowers, grasses and sanctuaries
Acceptance or rejection
Each moment a seed is planted
and a flower blooms
Don't look elsewhere.

 

Who Made the Appointment

CASE

Swami Satchidananda once said, “People come to me and say they are disappointed. I ask them, “Who made the appointment?”

COMMENTARY

Swami Satchidananda (1914-2004) was an Indian Hindu teacher, founder of the Integral Yoga Institute in New York with branches throughout the country and a residential community in Virginia. Teachers are often called upon to solve questions which can't be solved outside of the questions. The assumptions are the questions. The answers flow from the assumptions. Expectations are difficult things, particularly unrecognized expectations. Results of either fulfilled or unfulfilled expectations can lead to satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Satisfaction or dissatisfaction can lead to us feeling happy or sad about ourselves and our lives. Perhaps if they are recognized and accepted, they are just expectations, results and emotional evaluations. But what is your deepest intention beyond results, beyond your getting or losing your appointments?

VERSE by Dairyu

When meeting the Swami
Best to leave your appointment book at home.
He might take it away.
Then what would you have?

 

Mankind Faces a Crossroads

CASE

Woody Allen remarked, “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

COMMENTARY

Woody Allen is a comedian and film maker. The case is from “My Speech to the Graduates.”

Case #5 in the Mumonkan: Kyogen's “Man up in a Tree.”

Kyogen Osho said, “It is like a man up in a tree hanging from a branch with his mouth; his hands grasp no bough, his feet rest on no limb. Someone appears under the tree and asks him, ‘What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?' If he does not answer, he fails to respond to the question. If he does answer, he will lose his life. What would you do in such a situation?”

Paul Goodman, an American social critic, once said if you're stuck, you're not being creative enough.

Caring leads to frustration. Frustration leads to not caring. Not caring is a mask for not trying, which leads somewhere else. Find where you are and swallow the whole world.

VERSE by Dairyu

When there is no way out
Breathe
When there is a way out
Breathe
What do these things have in common?

 

Zen Corners

CASE

Thich Nhat Hanh said, “There are enough Zen Centers. We need more Zen Corners.”

COMMENTARY

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Vietnam in 1926. Both Theravada and Mahayana existed side by side in Vietnam. A leader of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace movement during the wars that shook his country, he became acquainted with the West and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Price by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This comment occurred in his retreat center, Plum Village, in France in 1984, during a discussion of the institutional and ethical issues arising in Western Dharma Centers. In Asia a place for practice might be called a temple or monastery. In America it is more apt to be called a Zen or Buddhist Center.

Case #89 in the Blue Cliff Record. “Ungan's Hands and Eyes”

Ungan asked Dogo, “How does the Bodhisattva Kanzeon use all those many hands and eyes?”

Dogo answered, “It is like someone in the middle of the night reaching behind his head for a pillow.”

Gan said, “I understand.”

Go said, “How do you understand it?”

Gan said, “The who body is hands and eyes.”

Go said, “That is very well expressed, but it is only eight-tenths of the answer.”

Gan said, “How would you say it, Elder Brother?”

Go said, “Throughout the body, the hand and eye.”

VERSE by Dairyu

The exact center is everywhere.
The whole universe is a collection of corners
If you corner the market with centers,
You may lose the open field.

 

Bateson's Sense of Humor

CASE

A famous writer who was known for being highly articulate and witty came to meet Gregory Bateson. They chatted for a while and then the writer left. Bateson remarked to a student, “At first I thought he had a sense of humor, then I realized he did not.” The student was confused by Bateson's remark and asked him to explain what he meant by a sense of humor. Gregory looked at the student for a moment before replying, “It's knowing that you don't matter.”

COMMENTARY

Gregory Bateson (1905-1980) was a creative innovator in many fields: anthropology, psychology and information theory. His work with insight in dolphins and Double Bind Theory in disturbed human beings seems particularly relevant to Buddhism.

Beside what is said, the attitude of the speaker is particularly crucial. The best teachers are serious all the way down to the bottom and completely playful; completely themselves to the smallest millimeter and will to overturn the whole edifice in an instant. Suzuki Roshi said, “When I drink this tea, I drink the whole universe.”

How important are you? Won't you come out and play? Do you just send or can you receive? In the world of objects, your funny bone objects. HA!

VERSE by Dairyu

Whether you matter or not
Throw yourself into the house of Buddha
The Old Man there is he serious?
You betcha
Does he have a sense of humor?
Nothing in front, nothing behind

 

A Rose

CASE

Gertrude Stein wrote, “A rose is a rose is a rose.”

COMMENTARY

Gertrude Stein was a poet and writer born in America, who lived much of her life in France. Shakespeare wrote “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Gertrude Stein is an American is an American is an American.

In the Diamond Sutra it says, “Just that which the Buddha has taught as gone beyond, just that he has taught as not gone beyond. Therefore it is called “Wisdom which has gone beyond.'”

Whatever it is, watch its thorns and enjoy its aroma.

VERSE by Dairyu

A rose is not a rose is a rose
Or is it?
Nine bows to Gertrude Stein

 

Yell at Me Too

CASE

During a football practice when John Madden was coach of the Oakland Raiders, a defensive end tackled the quarterback. Madden stopped the play and screamed at the defensive player, telling him not to hurt his teammate. On the very next play the other defensive end did the same thing. The coach was so furious he could hardly speak and ended the practice. Later he spoke with the second player and asked why he did what the coach told him not to do. The player said, “I wanted you to yell at me too.”

COMMENTARY

John Madden was an animated football coach and sports analyst. He cares passionately about things and express his feelings. His players admired his energy and straight forwardness.

Praise and blame create the compost heap of our everyday life. In the Book of Serenity it says, “Closing the door and sleeping is the way to receive those of highest potential, looking reflecting and stretching is a roundabout way for the middling and lesser.” But I ask you, what did the Chinamen of old know about football?

VERSE by Dairyu

Keeping score he creates desire
When he realizes that he is out of his depth
He clears the field
Are you waiting for his scream too?

 

Are Birds Free?

CASE

Bob Dylan wrote in A Ballad in Plain D , “My friends from the prison they ask unto me, ‘How good, how good does it feel to be free?' And I answer them most mysteriously, ‘Are birds free from the chains of the sky way?'”

COMMENTARY

Bob Dylan is a famous poet, musician and songwriter. What is true freedom is not always apparent. There is looking from the inside out; looking from the outside in; looking from side to side; eyes shut and open; varying degrees of light to mention a few factors. Fish, birds and astronauts have their own freedom and their own chains. What is your true intention? Free from what? Free for what?

VERSE by Dairyu

Bodhisattvas play in a world full of light.
Shouting, Home free all!
Bodhisattvas strive in a world full of suffering
Shouting, Home free all!
Is your front door a barrier or a gate?

 

The Thorns on the Rose Bush Might Hurt Your Horse

CASE

Issan Dorsey every week would host a Sunday Brunch at Jamesburg House, the last stop before the fourteen mile dirt road into Tassajara Monastery. There was a rough outlaw cowboy who would come and let his horse loose where it would graze on the garden. No one would comment about this behavior. Finally, Issan said, “You should tie your horse up, the thorns on the rose bush might hurt him.” The cowboy tied up his horse.

COMMENTARY

Issan was a student of Suzuki Roshi and his disciple Baker Roshi. In his later life he founded the Hartford Street Zen Center and the Maitri AIDS project.

Skill in means is no mean feat even for the skilled. Who chops wood and carries water looking out for both the axe and the wood, the rose and the horse, the corrector and corrected? Great compassion includes wisdom and great care. Can you tether yourself in a way that all are freed?

VERSE by Dairyu

Horses, roses, brunches and gardens
So much hog wash
Issan cooks them all up
How much will you eat?

 

How Do I Learn That?

CASE

A student asked Dainin Katagiri, “Western teachers are very good, their lectures are excellent and they use very accessible examples of their own life, but many Eastern teachers, even those not such good ones, have a certain warmth or faith or something. That is what I want to learn from you. How do I learn that?”

Katagiri Roshi answered, “When people see me today, they don't see the years I spent just being with my teacher.”

COMMENTARY

Sometimes the shared life of teacher and student is the teaching. Hanging out together, taking care of the details of one's shared life creates an intimacy which is not easily acquired by reading texts or hearing talks. Its very ordinariness may make it outwardly invisible.

Roles of spouses, children, parents, teachers, etc. when successful create a connectedness beyond and through whatever role is being played. How the incense is passed and received illuminates all the sutras. This is both manifest and not so visible.

VERSE by Dairyu

The play of awareness
Needs no sides
For a time someone talks and someone listens
One carries the Kotsu, one the incense
When the tea is poured
Its warmth pervades the earth's stomach.

 

By Their Free Knowing They Will Get It

CASE

Bishop Ippo Shaku visited Tassajara and asked Shunryu Suzuki, “What is the future of Buddhism in America?” Suzuki said, “I don't know.” The Bishop asked if Americans understood him. Suzuki Roshi said, “Whatever people understand is OK. By their free knowing they will get it.” The Bishop said, “Zazen is so uncomfortable for westerners, maybe there is some other way.” Suzuki Roshi replied, “That's all I know. That's what my teacher taught me.”

COMMENTARY

Bishop Ippo Shaku was a Nichiren priest, a sect emphasizing the Lotus Sutra. He was a friend of Suzuki Roshi who emphasized sitting meditation. They respected each other greatly.

Cloud and water gatherers (monks are sometimes described this way), meet and take stock of the world and their teaching.

Each one risks his truth, trusting no thing. “By their free knowing they will get it.” When the dharma is out of the bag, no one can control it, yet the breeze feels fresher.

VERSE by Dairyu

When two Buddhas meet
Their faith opens 1,000 lotuses
There aren't enough fingers
To point to the moon

 

I Have No Students

CASE

At Alan Watts’ funeral, Governor Jerry Brown of California met Kobun Chino and asked, “How many students do you have?” Kobun Chino replied, “I have no students.”

COMMENTARY

Jerry Brown is a student of Catholicism and Zen and at the time of this story he was governor of California who had many statistics at his fingertips. Kobun Chino Roshi (1938-2002) came to America to help Suzuki Roshi run Tassajara. Later he headed the Los Altos Zen Center. Although students flocked to him and he ordained many, he had a solitary poetic and artistic side. The funeral of Alan Watts at Green Gulch Farm was attended by many well known people.

Obaku said (Blue Cliff Record Case #2) “You are all sippers of dregs. Don’t you know that in all of Tang China there are no Zen teachers?” “What about those who teach disciples and preside over monasteries?” “I didn’t say that there is no Zen, just no Zen teachers.”

One does not posses a student or a teacher. The statistical basis of dharma is puzzling as one plus one is more than two or perhaps none.

VERSE by Dairyu

Many important guests arrive at a funeral
Alan Watts presides in the twilight
There is no accounting
For teachers and students

 

Hyphen Or No Hyphen

CASE

William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker, was going over a long article with the author Philip Hamburger at 10 pm one evening. The piece ended with the phrase, “stone cold.” Shawn said, “Stone cold requires a hyphen.” Philip Hamburger said, “Put a hyphen there and you spoil the ending. That hyphen would be ruinous.” William Shawn said “Perhaps you had better sit outside my office and cool off. I’ll go on with my other work.”

From time to time he would stick his head out and say, “Have you changed your mind?” Philip Hamburger replied, “No hyphen, absolutely no hyphen.”

Some time around 2:30 in the morning Shawn said wearily, “All right, no hyphen. But you are wrong.”

COMMENTARY

William Shawn was editor of the New Yorker for over 40 years, during which time it was perhaps the leading magazine in the country. Each article, each punctuation mark was important to him, yet he also gave his staff a lot of encouragement and latitude. Philip Hamburger was a long time writer for the magazine, who also cared deeply about his work. Care, attention and endurance are important elements in true transformation. Both men respected each other greatly. There is a secret here. Do you recognize it?

VERSE by Dairyu

To hyphen or not to hyphen
May be the question
Stay close to your heart
And the hearts of others

 

Mind Your Own Business

CASE

A long time practitioner from another Zen Community wrote Robert Aitken in Hawaii, “What is Zen training and how do you teach Zen?” Aitken-Roshi wrote back, “Mind your own business and floss everyday.”

COMMENTARY

Born in 1917, Robert Aitken Roshi (1917-2010) was head teacher of the Diamond Sangha, which is centered in Hawaii. He was a lay teacher of the Sanbō Kyōdan Zen order.

The simplest questions are often asked by the oldest practitioners. Mind your own business! What a practice! The old teachers have thoroughness that knows no bounds. If you think he was merely being flippant, you should floss twice!

VERSE by Dairyu

The obvious question is not always so obvious.
Your own business may not be so clear.
Moment by moment there is a way to go.
Please take care!

 

Plutonium Waste

CASE

Joanna Macy says, “Shooting our nuclear waste into the sun or burying it deep in the heart is crazy. We should keep it close by and pay attention to it, put it in museums. Just like when you are in a meditation retreat you sit with your own toxic waste.”

COMMENTARY

Joanna Macy is a scholar and practitioner of Buddhism and General Systems Theory, as well as a peace and ecology activist.

Getting rid of your problems is not always a solution. Whether you are a political activist or a rigorous meditation practitioner (or both), there is much muck. Joanna Macy points to the straightforward acceptance of the problem. There is a secret that awaits you here if you have the courage to enter.

VERSE by Dairyu

Radioactive Greed, Hate and Delusion
with a half life of thousands of years.
One bright pearl in the toxic waste dump.
Don’t waste time!

 

Everybody Gets What They Deserve

CASE

Issan Dorsey said, “Everybody gets what they deserve, whether they deserve it or not.”

COMMENTARY

First you observe it. Then you name it, perhaps karma. If you then see how it measures up to the name you become lost in despair, pride or confusion. But what is acceptance beyond acceptance? What is it that thus comes? Do you deserve it? Do you not deserve it? How is it different if you deserve it or not? Perhaps the law of karma is bigger than your evaluation. The merging of difference and unity is a statement like Issan’s. Healthy or ill, Issan met each moment. Perhaps you deserve more than these meager words. Alas!

VERSE by Dairyu

Old Basho’s “Splash”
Rings in our ears.
Whether you like the poem or not
The frog got wet.

 

Candy is the Most Important Food

CASE

Someone asked, “Do you have to give candy to your students so that they will practice Zen?” Shunryu Suzuki said, “Everything that we do is candy. Candy is the most important food actually.” The questioner said, “I don’t understand.” Suzuki Roshi replied, “Without any actual activity the first principal in Zen doesn’t mean anything. We should help people and what helps is candy.”

COMMENTARY

Teachings are skillful means to encourage others to see things as they are. Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma, “What is the first principle of the dharma?” Bodhidharma replied, “Vast emptiness. Nothing Holy.”

Some say this is the marrow of Zen. Others say it is empty. Some find it sweet, others find it like ashes. The commentary is the second course of this meal, so let’s skip directly to dessert or at least the after dinner mint.

VERSE by Dairyu

In the world of candy
Everything is candy
In the world of Zen
Everything is Zen
The world of vast emptiness
Nothing holy
What is missing?