Berkeley Zen Center [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Lecture by Sojun Roshi

Given January 1995

This lecture is reprinted from the February 2001 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.

In his Eihei Shingi, Dogen tells stories about the ancestors in order to encourage the monks in their practice. In one story, he gives an example of someone, who while serving as the Kansu, clarified the great matter, or Daiji. Daiji means the great matter of birth and death. The term Kansu, or Kanin, is a little confusing because it has several meanings. In the old days in China, the Kansu was one person in a monastery who performed the duties of the Director, the Treasurer, and other administration. Later these jobs were divided up into three positions and Kansu, instead of meaning all three positions, came to mean just Assistant Director. The name for director became Tsusu and the name for Treasurer became Fusu.

In any case, Dogen tells the story of Master Xuanze, of Baoen monastery in Xingling city, who once served as Kansu in the community of Fayen. One day Fayen asked Xuanze, "Kansu, how long have you been with us?"

Xuanze said, "I've been in your community for three years."

Fayen then asked, "You are a junior person in the monastery. How come you never ask questions?"

You see, one expects a student living in a monastery to come and ask questions. In dokusan, the first question that a new person in the monastery traditionally would ask is, "I am new here. Will you please teach me?" This is a very humbling attitude. It means that you are putting yourself in a proper position in relationship to the teacher as well as to everyone else in the monastery. And it also shows that you are there for some reason.

So Fayen confronted Xuanze. "How come you never ask any questions? You've been here for three years and you've never said anything to me. You seem to be avoiding me, as a matter of fact."

"Well, I don't want to mislead you," Xuanze said, "I must confess, when I was with Master Quingfeng, I attained the peaceful bliss [enlightenment] so I don't feel like I need to come and talk to you."

"By what words did you enter that place?" asked Fayen.

Xuanze answered, "When I asked Quingfeng, 'What is the self of the practitioner?' He said, 'The fire boy seeks fire.'"

"Good words," Fayen retorted. "But I am afraid you didn't understand them."

So Xuanze tried to explain. "The fire boy belongs to the fire. Fire seeking fire is just like the self seeking self."

But Fayen stopped him. "Indeed. You didn't understand. If the Buddhadharma was like that, it wouldn't have come down to this day."

Xuangze was greatly upset by this and indignantly stood up and left. He actually left the monastery. But on his way, he thought, "Fayen is the teacher of five hundred monks. He didn't approve of me but what he said should be correct." So he turned back and approached Fayen. Bowing, he apologized, "I am very sorry that I got up and left."

Fayen responded, "Well, about this question. Why don't you ask me what I think of this question."

"Okay," Xuanze said. "What is the self of the practitioner?"

"The fire boy seeks fire," Fayan said. And at that, Xuanze experienced great awakening.

This is one of Suzuki Roshi's favorite stories. Xuanze was a good student and in a way, he had some understanding. Intellectually, "the fire boy seeks fire" is not very hard to understand. The fire boy seeks fire: Buddha nature seeks Buddha nature. What everyone is seeking is their true self. Of course. And it's right here all the time. Xuanze's arrogance was a block to his understanding but when he returned and humbled himself before the teacher, the block lifted. That was the turning point. Just at the point that he could give up his arrogance, everything started to flow very nicely.

Arrogance is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for someone who is very capable, for someone who has ability and is especially good at learning. On the other hand, for someone who is always stumbling around, arrogance is not so much of a problem. And for the person who doesn't know so much and is slow or makes mistakes, it's often easier to have a good understanding.

I remember Katagiri Roshi used to say, "In Soto Zen, you should be a little stupid." There were some people who didn't believe this. They had to find out the hard way.

Selflessness and arrogance just don't go together. Anger, arrogance, possessiveness, these are big stumbling blocks because they are "self builders." Ego builders.

Another point is that all teachers are different. We read about fierce teachers: Deshan with his big stick and Lin-Chi with his big shout. But the fact is that all teachers are different. And when you have some expectation about how a Zen teacher is supposed to act, that can be a stumbling block to actually picking up on a teacher.

Some teachers are very noisy, some teachers are very extroverted, some teachers are very quiet and introverted, some teachers are very subtle, and some teachers are not so subtle. So we have the whole range of temperament. Consequently, it is best is not to have a fixed idea of what a teacher is supposed to look like or be like. A teacher who tries to fill out their role based on a stereotype is practicing the art of Zen, but not true Zen. One can act a certain way and can take on various mannerisms and it might fit the picture of what Zen is supposed to look like. But a good teacher can be very plain and ordinary. Joshu never beat anyone; he always used his eloquence to teach.

When Deshan, who was proud of his knowledge of the Diamond Sutra, went to visit Lungtan up on the mountain, his intent was to destroy the Zen sect. Lungtan means "dragonpool," but when Deshan met up with Lungtan he saw just an ordinary, little old man in patched-up robes. If you saw Lungtan on the street today, you might not look twice. You might even mistake him for the janitor.

So when Deshan met Lungtan, he said, "I don't see any Dragonpool around here."

Lungtan answered, "Well this is it. You have arrived." And then the two went into Lungtan's hut and talked late into the night, discussing the Dharma. Deshan was very impressed with Lungtan. Finally, it was time to go to bed and Lungtan said to Deshan, "Well, it's dark outside, so I will give you this lamp so you can see where you are going. " He lit a paper lantern and handed it to Deshan. But as Deshan took the lantern and began to leave, Lungtan blew out the light and in the utter darkness, Deshan was enlightened.

This is a very subtle teacher who leaps like a tiger. Be careful of these subtle teachers.

Last revised March 5, 2001. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

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