I ended my last post about the first chapter of Transmission of Light with this statement from the 14th century Zen teacher, Keizan:
“Truthfully, your skin, flesh, bones, and marrow are totally ‘and.’
The host inside the house is ‘I.’ It has nothing to do with skin, flesh, bones, and marrow.”
Now he reverses himself, in typical Zen fashion. He is warning us not to get attached to any concepts, even supposedly sacred ones. He does this by alluding to an interchange, which Bodhidharma had with his senior students. At the end of this interchange he praised Hui Ko as his best student, the only one to get the marrow of his teaching.
Keizan is reminding us that as soon as we single out someone or something as being best, we create problems. My root teacher, Suzuki Roshi, refers to this here:
If you think the aim of Zen practice is to train you to become one of the best horses, you will have a big problem. If you practice Zen in the right way it does not matter whether you are the best horse or the worst one. When you are determined to practice zazen with the great mind of Buddha, you will find the worst horse is the most valuable one. In your very imperfections you will find the basis for your firm, way-seeking mind. Those who can sit perfectly physically usually take more time to obtain the true way.
This reminds me of a time when I was practicing with him in San Francisco, having a hard time sitting still. I had the following dream: I went into the meditation hall and there were two really tall guys sitting in statue-like erectness and taking up the entire space, so that their heads reached the ceiling. There was no room for even a small fellow like me in the zendo. Then my teacher came in (He was even smaller than me). He proceeded to turn somersaults on the floor all around them playfully, beckoning me to join him, so I did! The two tall guys, who were sitting like statues didn’t even notice us.
I was excited to tell my teacher this dream, which I did while driving him to the Zen center where he lived. But he fell asleep before I finished telling him.
The message in the dream buoyed my practice at a time I was judging myself as a failure. The dream turned that around. I went from feeling like a failure to thinking I had a “special relationship” with my teacher. Then he fell asleep while I was talking, which didn’t make me feel so special any more. Still, the after-effects of the dream helped continue my practice without judging how well I was doing. It’s quite wonderful how deeply we can enjoy our moments and our lives when our inner tyrant loses its power over us. When this happens, we discover that, as Keizan says, we are able to “practice fully, penetrating in all ways, clarify Buddha’s enlightenment and your own enlightenment.”
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher