Sunday, November 18, 2012

the lost buffalo

Yesterday, at our all-day practice period,  I gave a talk about Case 38 in the Gateless Gate koan collection, and had an unfounded but strong feeling it would be the best talk I've given in a very long time, so I decided to record it using the beautiful digital recorder that a student gave me as a gift a couple of years ago.   It turned out to be a pretty good talk, as these things go, and the dharma dialogue that followed was truly wonderful.  A number of practitioners thanked me for it later, saying that it was very meaningful for them.

And so I was excited about posting it here, and on our Boundless Way website, and sat down just now to upload it to my computer, the first step to dispersing it to the world.  I discovered, alas, with some embarrassment and a little bit of amusement, that the talk does not exist anywhere on the recorder.  It turns out that I still haven't mastered the mysteries of this tiny, complex machine.  I put my nose to the grindstone and devoted myself to reading the thick instruction manual, and I am proud to say that I not only learned how to record talks, but also how to delete them -- at least I believe that this is so.    My new knowledge will be a great benefit to all beings in the future, I'm sure.

While the talk no longer exists in aural form, there are still a few thought waves kicking around in my head, and perhaps in the heads of those who heard it.  So in the spirit of beginner's mind, here is the case, in Robert Aitken's translation, with a few comments from the me who exists in this moment, rather than the me who gave the talk yesterday.

The Case:  Wuzu said, "It is like a buffalo that passes through a latticed window.  Its head, horns, and four legs all pass through.  Why can't its tail pass through as well?"

Wumen's Verse:  Passing through, falling into a ditch: turning beyond, all is lost.  This tiny little tail -- what a wonderful thing it is!

And I will simply add:  Not understanding how to operate a recorder!  What a wonderful thing it is!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bodhisattvas Arising From the Cracks in the Earth

The past couple of weeks have been fraught with unusual events, some joyful, some not so much.  High winds from storms with the names of women have disrupted life in many ways.  One small event that has happened again and again here at the Temple is the fall of one particular string of Tibetan prayer flags.  The city has an ordinance against street signs on this residential block, and so we use the prayer flags to signal our presence to the world as a Zen Buddhist temple.  (I have heard some remarks that the flags also make our parking lot look a little bit like a car dealership, but this is a minority opinion.)

One day, with winds blowing strong, I was attempting to put up the flags once again.  It was a hopeless task, due to the fraying of the string and the fact that I needed three hands -- two to hold the ends of the strings, and one to tie them back together.

A car driving by gently stopped,  backed up and came in to the driveway.  A lovely woman called out, as she exited the car, "do you need some help?"  She had driven by the flags, and the Temple, and the big Buddha, many times, but she said that she had never seen them until today.  All she saw was my struggle, and she appeared, ready to help, and with some twine that she carries in her car, because one never knows when one will need twine.  A Buddhist practitioner from another tradition, she was astounded to know that there was a Zen temple right on the main road into Worcester.  We tied up the prayer flags, and she offered a stick of incense to our big granite Buddha, and went on her way.

Yasutani Roshi used to say that, when we call out to the universe,  bodhisattvas arise from the cracks of the earth to come to our aid.  And so it was this windy day.  The suffering world is full of compassionate beings, ready to help.  They come in many forms, and some drive cars and carry twine with them, because one never knows when one will need twine.