Not all Zen stories involve being hit by a stick.
There is one in which two seekers travel to find a Zen teacher. The ask the old man,
'What is Zen?'
The teacher refuses to answer their question, as stated.
Instead, he replies, 'I would rather be torn to pieces than darken the mind of a single student.'
The understanding of this story is that if the teacher had responded to the visitors' question of him by giving them An Answer, that answer would have colonized the visitors minds.
They would have had some verbal print out of what Zen is, and would have walked off,
prattling the teacher's answer by rote.
The teacher wanted them to find out for themselves.
That particular type of Zen story would not the kind favored by entrepreneurs who want to plant a trademarked image of themselves into our minds.
It isnt enough to hear 'a Zen story' repeated.
Use the hermeneutic of suspicion.
is telling me this story?'
Next, ask, 'Why is this one variety of Zen story told so very often?'
Ask, 'Why are not story tellers giving us stories are not violent, why are they constantly retelling stories that give us include an unexamined power imbalance, a power imbalances that is taken as given within that story, a power imbalance we as listeners are supposed to accept?'
Why is this subtype of 'Zen story' so commonly selected from a much wider collection of Zen stories that are available.
(there is another one. A monk meets another monk. Both monks talk of thier teachers.
One monk brags of all the magical powers his teacher can do. Then, smugly, he asks the other monk what amazing thing his teacher does.
The monk replies, 'When my teacher is hungry, he eats. When he is tired, he sleeps.'
The person who has no need for magic and no need to tell of wonders is a rare bird indeed.
So...why are stories like this, which are from the Zen tradition, not commonly told as Zen stories, by entrepreneurs, eh? Why is it people with sticks, people pulling each others noses?
Christian ministers are warned to beware of the temptaton of only preaching from their own favorite subsection of Scripture, because that inflicts the ministers own selection bias upon his or her congregation.
We have to ask why some Buddhist stories are so commonly told and why.
For a corrective, there is a book by Stephen Asma, entitled 'The Gods Drink Whiskey'
Asma lived for a year in Cambodia, teaching Buddhist philosophy at an academy there. The Cambodians were struggling to rebuild their culture after years of vandalism and genocide by the Pol Pot people.
Asmas book is a valuable travel account, because it focuses on Theravedan Buddhism, which most travel accounts rarely do--the latter usually tell us about Zen or Himalayan forms of Buddhism.
Asma's book is going to be very annoying for anyone into Dharma lite. If you want strong stuff, you will enjoy him immensely.
Here, Asma mentions meeting a very well informed Buddhist layman from Sri Lanka named Chaminda.
'As a Buddhist insider, he was not as uncritically gullible about his own cultural heritage as we "outsider" Western neophytes tend to be.
(Chaminda)reminded me of my Japanese college buddy, Jun, who took me to a Pure Land Buddhist temple in Chicago once when I was a wide-eyed greenhorn. After the ceremony, we met the head monk at tea social hour.
(Asma speaks of himself) '
I was very keen to connect with the whole scene, but for Jun none of this was exotic; he indulged my excitement, but was hoping to get back in time for a softball game. Mostly, Jun went to the temple because his mom kept after him to find a nice Japanese girl to marry.
'I asked the head monk' Asma continues 'at one point how I should understand the Pure land pursuit of heavenly paradise and Amitaba (the deification of Buddha) when the original teachings of the Buddha seemed so different.
(The head monk) grew quiet and reflective. Then he offered, in a soft voice, 'Well, my friend, how does the butterfly understand its movement from one flower to the next?"
This was followed by a long silence, and I nodded my head slowly, taking in the morsel of enigmatic deep wisdom.
'Then my friend Jun rolled his eyes and demanded of the monk, 'What the hell (Asma's italics( does that mean?"
'This for me was one of those Zen moments of clarity. The monk became flustered and attempted more evasion but ultimately found some pretext to move on. I could see that while Jun made things a little awkward, he was fundamentally right to ask for explanation.
'Asking for more explanation is one of the things that Westerners are afraid to do regarding eastern thought and it frequently leads them to fawn over the emperor's new clothes. "
Stephen T. Asma, The Gods Drink Whiskey
, page 168
And, in the Cambodian context, Asma describes how one sector of the Buddhist establishment uses the doctrines in a vile manner to evade issues of social injustice, and how there are reform movements within Buddhism that refuse to take that easy way out.
But...the real take home insight here is Asma's reminder that not nearly enough of us dare to ask, 'What the HELL does that mean?'
It may be that that was simply confusion technique. That Japanese monk may never have heard of Erickson, but perhaps during his training, just by watching his superiors he may have learned how to use some traditional but effective confusion techniques
to get out of tight spots.
I remember from my days when I used to be Catholic, I'd tell priests my concerns about abuses perpetrated during the churches ugly past.
Time and again, I heard the reply, 'But that isnt what the church is about
I heard that so often that eventually, I began to suspect that this was a cliche answer, a boilerplate, standardized deflection tought in seminary as part of the coping skills tool kit.
I regret I did not have the confidence Jun did. There were some things I could have said to rebut it, but I was not very polite.
So here is a very subversive question to raise, concerning these seemingly profound
Could some of them be all purpose tools, used to instill confusion?
Suppose a monk or layperson has a tough question.
The Zen senior monk or priest has no easy answer.
Rather than admit this, and instill doubt that Zen is not worth supporting if its people cannot answer tough questions, how about offering a confusing and traditional
zen koan, as a signal to the questioner to shut up.
It should be noted that Jun was not a traditional Japanese man, trained to avoid confusion.
He was an Americanized young man, eager to play softball. It was because he had a dual background...confidence in relation to Japanese rituals and an American ability to
ask the kind of confrontational question that would not be part of traditional Japanese
culture at all.
Ironically Jun rescued Asma from behaving like a submissive peasant and reminded Asma of his own right as a US citizen to ask questions...even in unfamiliar surroundings.
'What does THAT mean?'
Jun was showing us Zen, not to confuse but to clarify.
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 04/11/2009 08:56PM by corboy.