Apr. 16 – 22

“Transformation arises from a willingness that develops very slowly over time to be what life asks of us. . . . Think of babies about nine months to a year, crawling about, encountering all kinds of marvels . . . They’re not crawling in order to absorb information; they’re not trying to be better babies who can crawl more efficiently. In fact, they’re not crawling for any reason. They are simply crawling for sheer enjoyment and curiosity. We need to regain the capacity to feel curiosity about everything in our life, even the disasters.”

– Joko Beck

Practice Meetings

Tuesday Apr. 17, 8:30am
Friday Apr. 20. 7:00pm

This Week’s Reading

Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special, “Transformation,” p. 202.

We’ll be discussing Nothing Special until early July, then we’ll start on Thich Nhat Hanh, Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha (Parallax Press, 1991). To order a copy from Amazon, click here.

This Week’s Koan

Blue Cliff Record, #48: “Minister Wang and the Tea Ceremony”

Minister Wang went to Zhaoqing Temple for the tea ceremony.
Elder Lang, lifting the kettle to bring it to Mingzhao, happened to overturn it.
Minister Wang said, “What is under the kettle?”
Lang said, “The god of the hearth.” [“The stove-supporting deities”]
Wang said, “If it is the god of the hearth, why has it upset the kettle?”
Lang said, “A thousand days of government service, and one accident!” [“All is lost in one morning.”]
Wang swung his sleeves and left the room.
Mingzhao said, “Elder Lang, you have long had food from Zhaoqing temple, and still you wander about the countryside, working with a stump.” [Or: “…yet you are a useless stump in the field.” “…you go off to the other side of the river noisily gathering charred wood.”]
Lang said, “What about you?”
Mingzhao said, “That is where the devil gets the better of you.” [Or: “Those who are not humans have gained the advantage.” “These non-human beings {i.e., the ‘deities who hold up the hearth’} wreaked havoc.” “The spirit got the advantage.”]

[Xuedou’s note: “Why didn’t you, at that moment, trample on the hearth?” {“…I would have kicked over the tea hearth.”}]


Mingzhao (“Myosho” in Japanese), b. 890
14th Generation
Lineage: Shitou > Tianhuang > Longtan > Deshan > Yantou > Luoshan > Mingzhao
Dharma Siblings: None of record.
Appears also in: Book of Serenity #87.

The stove or hearth for warming the tea stood on three legs, each of which had the face of a spirit or deity carved on it. These legs, which prevented the tea from turning over, were known as “stove-supporting deities.” Minister Wang asks, “How is it that the tea kettle is turned over, even though there are deities present who are supposed to prevent that from happening?” This is a checking question to see if the Senior Monk Lang can give an answer befitting a Zen monk. His answer fails to hit the mark, as Mingzhao’s rebuke indicates.

When Mingzhao is asked for a reponse, he indicates that the tea-hearth deities have jumped in and committed a prank. As Yamada Koun comments:

“This reply is still wide of the mark, and unacceptable when seen in terms of the ultimate truth of Zen. Although Zen should always have its attention riveted on the essential world, we see here not the slightest trace of that world.”

Xuedou seems to have included this koan in the Blue Cliff Record only because it is no good — and thereby provides him a chance to say what should have been done. Yamada Koun explains that Xuedou is saying:

“If I had been there at the time when he asked what was under the stove, you know what I would have done? I wouldn’t have said anything, I would have just knocked the stove over! Why? That’s the essential world completely revealed. Here we have a spirited expression of the essential world.”

Xuedou’s Verse (Sekida translation):

Cleaving the air, the question came;
The answer missed the point.
Alas! The one-eyed dragon monk
Did not show his fangs and claws.
Now fangs and claws are unsheathed,
Lightning flashes, stormy clouds!
Surging billows rage around,
Falling back against the tide.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *