Feb. 13 – 19

When events occur that we don’t like, we create pseudo problems and ge caught in them:
‘You insulted me! Of course, I’m angry!’
‘I’m so lonely. Nobody really cares about me.’
‘I’ve had a hard life. I’ve been abused.’
Our journey isn’t finished until we see there is no problem. How could there be a problem? My ‘problem’ is that I don’t like it. So out of my opinions, reactions, and judgments I build a castle in which I imprison myself. We remain imprisoned because we don’t recognize the castle or how to win our freedom. People are imprisoned in many different ways. For example, one castle can be the constant pursuit of an exciting and vibrant life, full of new things and enjoyment. People who live in this way are stimulating but hard to be around. What is your castle? What is your pseudoproblem? The answer is different from each person. If we begin to see that the current problem that upsets us is not the real issue in our lives, but merely a symptom of a deeper pattern, then we’re beginning to find our way out.

– Joko Beck

This Week’s Koan

Blue Cliff Record, #17: Xianglin’s “Sitting for a Long Time”

A monk asked Xianglin, “What is the meaning of the Patriarch’s coming from the West?”

Xianglin said, “I am tired from sitting for a long time.”


Xianglin (“Kyorin” in Japanese), b. 908
14th Generation
Lineage: Shitou > Daowu > Longtan > Deshan > Xuefeng > Yunmen > Xianglin
Dharma Siblings: Deshan Yuanming, Baling, Dongshan Shouchu
Dharma Descendants: Zhimen ->Xuedou

The question is a common one in Zen lore: Why did  Bodhidharma (the Patriarch) come from the West? Bodhidharma is the figure credited with founding Zen in China. He was born in India, and came west (and north) to China, sat in a cave for 9 years and then began teaching students in the tradition known in China as “Chan” and in Japan as “Zen.”  To ask for the meaning of Bodhidharma coming to China is to ask for the meaning of Zen practice. The monk is asking, What is this practice all about? Why do we do it?

Xianglin’s answer suggests that we do it in order to sit for a long time and become tired. Or: We do it in order to arrive where we are — which, at that moment, for Xianglin, was a state of being tired from long sitting.

Sekida notes: “When sitting, you are sitting; when you get tired, you get tired. There is no irritation, no regret: you are as you are, all of a piece.”

Barry Magid commented on this koan:

“All of us come to practice with basic questions we’re trying to answer. Perhpas we want to know how we should live our life; perhaps we are trying to understand hyow to deal with suffering or loss or problems in our relationships. . . . The monk is still looking for an answer beyond his own simple everyday experience of this moment. . . . In our daily practice, we must discover and express for ourselves the fundamental truth that this mind, this body, this moment is all that we have, is all that there is. We come to practice believing that our minds as they are, our bodies as they are, are the problem. . . . But practice will never teach us to exchange this mind for another one or to substitute this body for someone else’s. Nor are we here to train our body and mind, to turn them into new, improved versions of what we already have. . . . Listen to Xianglin: this tired old body is not the problem; it’s the answer.”

Xuedou’s verse:

One, two, and tens of hundreds of thousands,
Take off the muzzle and set down the load.
If you turn left and right, following another’s lead,
I would strike you as Zihu struck Liu Tiemo.  

Liu Teimo [“Ryutetsuma” in Japanese], born ca. 800, a.k.a. “Iron Grinder Liu” is one of the few women who is mentioned in Chan literature as a Zen adept. As Chinese monasteries were off limits for women, she lived at the base of Mt. Guishan, and had interactions with Chan monks and students as they traveled in and out of Guishan’s monastery. She got her nickname of “Iron Grinder” from the fact that she used to grind the young monks minds to dust with her responses to them. Iron Grinder Liu has carved a unique niche for herself in the annals of Zen. See BCR 24/BOS 60. Female Zen adepts also figure in GG 31/BOS 10, and Wumen’s comment on GG 28.

Zihu was a disciple of Nanquan and a dharma sibling of Zhouzhou and Changsha. Zihu himself famously addressed the question of Bodhidharma coming from the west: “The Patriarch’s coming from the west only means that winter is cold and summer is hot, night is dark and day is light.” Xuedou’s verse references this story:
One day Liu Tiemo appeared unexpectedly before Zihu.
Zihu said, “Are you not Liu Tiemo?”
Liu said, “I don’t presume to say so.”
Zihu said, “Do you turn left or right?”
Liu said, “Don’t tip over, Teacher.”
Zihu struck her whil her words were still in the air.

This Week’s Reading

Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special, “The Castle and the Moat,” p. 138.

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About mgarmon

b. 1959; grew up VA, NC, AL, GA; also lived in TX, TN, MN, and now in FL; m. 1979; 1 daughter, b 1980; 1 son, b. 1982; div. 1997; m. 2000; Honduran son, b. 1987, adopted 2004; schooled: U West Ga, Emory, Baylor, UVa; UTS; MLTS. Former philosophy professor, now a UU minister and zen student.

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