Elder Ting asked Lin-Chi, “What is the great meaning of the Buddhist Teaching?”
Chi came down off his meditation seat, grabbed and held Ting, gave him a slap, and then pushed
him away. Ting stood there motionless. A monk standing by said, “Elder Ting, why do you not
bow?” Just as Ting bowed, he suddenly was greatly enlightened.
Like the great teacher he was, the founder of the Rinzai Sect tried to undercut the concepts and mental barriers that stood in the way of Elder Ting perceiving the answer to his question: What is the great meaning of the Buddhist Teaching? It’s the question we all ask, isn’t it? And each of us must come up with his/her own answer, our own very specific answer. An answer that doesn’t leap from the letters of a book or someone’s talk, but from personal experience. Of course, even your personal experience isn’t yours alone, it’s interdependent with the many things of life.
The teacher, like a thief, has to steal away the mental constructs we all create that act as barriers to the visceral experience of life. For example, I often hear people say that they live to alleviate the suffering of others. Is that really what they live for? When you get up in the morning, what do you do? Maybe you go to the bathroom, take a shower, make coffee, maybe you do zazen. How much time has passed before you give a thought to the suffering of others? You have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you check the news, you talk to your family and friends, you make plans. How much of your day is actually given to the suffering of others? And still the person will maintain: That’s who I am, that’s me. It’s really our concept of who we are, not who we are.
Elder Ting had similar mental constructs. He also had a teacher known for physically shaking things up. And Lin-Chi, as was his custom, got very physical with Elder Ting, grabbing him, slapping him, and pushing him away. This was probably pretty outrageous to do to an elder in 9thcentury China. But it’s the monk’s words that move me here: “Elder Ting, why do you not bow?”
I don’t know who that monk was, perhaps a senior monk, perhaps not. Why did he tell Elder Ting to bow? Probably because that was the customary thing to do. The teacher intervened showed you something, providing guidance in his idiosyncratic way, and you should bow. Elder Ting, shocked and motionless, did what he was told, and that simple action brought on deep insight.
It’s the simple things, finally.
I think of another koan:
“Regarding the matter of the dharmakaya eating food, the master asked, ‘What is it that eats when
you eat food?’
Again he said, ‘What is your entire being?’
And again, ‘How far is it between body and mind?’”
The dharmakaya refers to pure essence. When you eat food, is it just you eating food? In a way yes, in a way no. How far is it between body and mind? Is there a gap? When your body bows, what is your mind doing? What is the dharmakaya doing?
I see it as some kind of humility, acceptance of things as they are, of things being simple. I make plans, prepare, work towards a goal, but do I really know how important any of that is?
I often bring up the bees that fly from flower to flower to obtain the nectar for their young, and in doing so pollinate the flowers. Flowers can’t move in order to pollinate each other. Instead, the pollen sticks to the fuzzy part of the bees and then fall as the bee lands on the next flower. Are the bees even aware of the crucial task they are performing? Do we ever know what our work in the world really is? Do we need to know in order to do it?
There’s a quality of relaxing into what is. When Elder Ting bowed, the dharmakaya bowed. We search for something. Where is God? Where is the Unknown? It’s sitting, talking, listening, breathing, wiping sweat from the brow. How far is it between your body and mind? Is there a distance? When we experience distance, we experience brokenness. And when there’s no distance?
Yesterday I talked about stress. Stress invites fighting. When I’m stressed, I’m fighting in some subtle way, or else distracting myself. But even in the distraction, the minute I pay attention there is awareness. At that moment dharmakaya is petting the dog, dharmakaya is eating a Greyston brownie, dharmakaya is looking at the flowers after rain.
Zazen is great way to see how I fight the moment, how I maintain distance to avoid stress. I don’t want to fight anything anymore. More and more, I find that practice is a matter of relaxing.
Albert Einstein said: "I think the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’”
If it’s friendly, I don’t have to be on guard, I don’t have to distrust myself or anyone else. If I think it’s unfriendly, I will be vigilant and maintain a defensive posture my entire life, living a life of stress for the illusion of control.
We can do things simply, even complicated things. We know what it is to get caught up, to lose our way because everything feels complicated. I wake up this way most mornings. Then I get up, take a shower, light a stick of incense, bow, sit, feet on the ground, hear birds, see sunlight. Live simply, give simply.