Jul 2014 - Intimate Transmission

July, 2014 (All day)

INTIMATE TRANSMISSION by Shinge Roshi Roko Sherry Chayat

Dai Bosatsu Mountain is brilliantly alive, glittering, as we “sit alone on the great sublime peak,” one with all beings, all Sangha, past, present, and future. Commemorating the gift of this monastery to our nation on its Bicentennial July 4, 1976, we celebrate the simultaneity of independence and interdependence, which is none other than our own awakened nature.

In the Fall 1975 issue of Dharma Seasons I wrote, “The first of two summer sesshins at Dai Bosatsu was held from June 28 to July 5. (We residents were still living in Joraku-an.) On the fifth day after lunch we went to the new monastery buildings and cleaned thoroughly. That evening, the first zazen in the new zendo began. Eido Roshi said, “This floor has finally been laid. Now we must sit with all our might—we must be the nails and screws.”

On July 4, 1975, when he took the high seat for the first time in the new building, he began: “At last a baby is born….” But he could not continue. Tears started, and soon many of us were silently weeping. After several moments, Eido Roshi said, “I am going to ask my friend Suigan Eddie Daniels to play this teisho.” Suigan went to the altar with his flute and played “A Child is Born.”

A month later: “As the physical construction of the monastery nears completion, an American lay monastic system is developing as well. While in essential areas, the centuries-old traditions of Japanese Rinzai Zen will be maintained, certain aspects of living and practicing at Dai Bosatsu Zendo will become clear only as the monastic community develops.” (At that time we had four monks and one nun.)

“In the meantime, the following may serve as a general guide concerning residence: the fundamental requirement for residence is that the applicant be a student who wishes to devote himself or herself to the Dharma and is resolved to follow the Bodhisattva Way.”

Period. That’s it. Everything else is window dressing. To have devotion and resolve—that’s it. Mastering the traditions of Japanese Rinzai Zen must come directly from this devotion and resolve. When we first learn forms and rituals, we are just copying what they look like; they are skin-deep. Only when we feel them in our bodies do we realize the beauty of these forms. Then we can appreciate how they hold us, support our practice. The forms themselves are like the embrace of a mother, who then opens her arms so that the child can grow freely, explore, be creative, and then totally independent. We can only become intimate with the traditions when we have flexibility of mind and openness to change and to making mistakes-- our best teachers. And as many of you know, although you are taught “the right way,” then the next week? “Oh, we’re not doing it that way any more.”

In Case 22 of the Iron Flute, a monk asked Haryo, “What do the words ‘intimate transmission from west to east’ mean?” Haryo inquired, “Are you quoting from the poem of Sosan, the Third Ancestor?”

“No,” the monk said, “Those are the words of Sekito, the Eighth Ancestor.” “Oh, my mistake,” apologized Haryo. “I’m such a dotard.”

Haryo Kokan was a Dharma heir of Ummon Bunen, with whom he had a deep realization. The usual thing in those days was to write a composition expressing one’s realization. Instead, he presented Ummon with Three Turning Phrases. Haryo left no Dharma heirs; just these phrases, which live on today and continue the spirit of the Ummon School, even though it died out after some five generations.

  1. A monk asked, “What is the Daiba School?” “Snow in a silver bowl.” (This was later used as Case 13 in the Blue Cliff Record.)
  2. A monk asked, “What is the sword against which a hair is blown?” “Each branch of coral embraces the bright moon.” (This became Case 100 of the Blue Cliff Record.)
  3. A monk asked, “What is the Tao?” “An enlightened person falls into a well.”

Ummon told Haryo, “After I’m gone, on my memorial day, just recite these Three Pivotal Phrases. That will be sufficient to requite my efforts.” And indeed, after Ummon’s death, Haryo never chanted sutras to commemorate his teacher, but simply recited these phrases.

The Third Phrase is of particular significance for us. “What is the Tao?” What is the Way? “An enlightened person falls into a well.” Does an enlightened person fall into a well differently from an unenlightened person?

Maybe to understand this more intimately, we should change “the well” to the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Does an enlightened person fall from the window of a burning building differently?

We may imagine that once we finally attain a spiritual level at which we are free from all the things that plague us now, we will no longer feel fear, grief, loneliness, anger, or any other negative emotion. Some of you know the koan (Case 43 of the Blue Cliff Record) in which a monk asks Tozan, “Cold and heat descend upon us. How can we avoid them?” Tozan replies, “Why don’t you go where there is no cold or heat?” The monk asks, “Where is the place where there is no cold or heat?” Tozan responds, “When cold, let it kill you with cold; when hot, let it kill you with heat.” When jumping, just AHH!

In Case Two of the Gateless Barrier, “Hyakujo and the Fox,” an old man tells Hyakujo that long ago, when he had been the head monk of a temple, he had been asked, “Does an enlightened person fall under the yoke of causation or not?” He had said, “Oh, no…” and immediately fell into 500 lifetimes as a fox. We often say, “instant karma.” Again, and again, and again! How many lifetimes have you lived as this person you would like to get rid of? Asked for a turning word to liberate the old man/fox, Hyakujo said, “An enlightened person does not ignore causation.” Right within this lifetime, this karma, there is complete freedom. Jumping out a window. Getting hit by a bus. Being blasted by a grenade. Suffering a recurrence of cancer. Living with devotion and resolve; dying with devotion and resolve. As it is!

Ummon told Haryo that reciting his Three Pivotal Phrases would be sufficient to requite his efforts. In the Admonitions of Tozen Daito Kokushi, we read, “The true student of Dharma who requites the beneficence he or she has received…”

This word, “requite,” really pierces my heart. What have I done to requite the beneficence I have received? Sitting together in this incredible place of Vast Bodhisattva Nature, we are all the beneficiaries of Eido Roshi’s dream. Feeling the beauty of the buildings nestled against the mountain, every detail so carefully considered, I can’t help but think of his brilliant teachings, through teisho, through dokusan, and yes, through his messed-up life: perhaps the biggest teaching of all. Not the one we asked for; but our most important teachings are so often the ones we don’t ask for. They are the ones we reject, until we cannot any longer.

How could he have pursued inappropriate relationships with students, many people have asked, if he was an enlightened being? How could he have made so many mistakes? “An enlightened person falls into a well.”

Life is messy. It doesn’t fit any prescriptions or proscriptions. We now know that there was a pattern of wrongdoing for decades. And no one could stop it. Many people tried, and couldn’t, and had to leave. During these past four years, in the wake of the latest scandal, we were determined not to sweep anything under the rug, not to fall into complicity, or misplaced loyalty.

I had to put my personal feelings aside, and think of those who were harmed, and think of the organization. The Zen Studies Society’s reputation was ruined. My reputation: fuhgeddaboudit. How to restore confidence? How to give people a sense of trust in this practice again?

People say, “Oh come on, don’t talk about this. Move on, don’t talk about the past. Get over it. We have new students now. They don’t want to hear all this!” But you know, that’s just another form of cover-up. This past is part of us, just as is our personal past—and as Jikyo (Bonnie Shoultz) said in her talk during Anniversary Sesshin, we must strip away all those layers, those papered-over layers, and as Genno (Linda King) said in her talk, we must let the tears come. We’re done covering things up. The only way to heal is to speak frankly about the messiness. This healing process requires moving from hatred to love.

As I have said before, the brightest light casts the deepest shadows. When we are in the light, we don’t see the shadows. When we are in the shadows, we forget the light.

When we don’t forget, we can feel profound gratitude for every aspect of this Dharma relationship; we can feel trust in the Dharma in spite of betrayals. Trust comes from somewhere far deeper than anything we can grasp on a rational plane. Thus we feel compassion, for all who have been hurt. That’s just about everyone! Thus we feel this gratitude at the same time that we acknowledge and atone for the harm caused to many, many practitioners over the years. And we can feel love. These things are in short supply in this world, right? Trust; compassion; gratitude; and love. Who ever benefits from fighting, from attacking each other, from retribution? From hardening the heart? These just lead to the perpetuation of suffering. The Dhammapada says, “Hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can.”

Like Genno, I too sat so many sesshins in tears—it must be because we both were born in Brooklyn. We lost the Dodgers! I remember one time I was sitting there, tears pouring down my face. Eido Roshi was walking with the keisaku, and he stopped behind me. We used to sit facing the wall. He bent over and whispered, “Are you all right? Is it pain?” I turned my head and smiled at him through my tears, and shook my head no, and just kept on silently crying. Those tears were waves of grief that went back, back, back—things from childhood were being uncovered through my sitting. Genno called this the “Misery Memoirs.” These memoirs were starting to become clear enough to read.

When that monk asked Haryo, “What do the words ‘intimate transmission from west to east’ mean?” he was not coming from his own life, his personal past. Most of the time we don’t. We ask questions that are academic in every sense of the word. We hope for some insight into something, but we don’t really want to experience it; that would be frightening. What if we actually did lose ourselves completely? What if we just became MU!

You know what it’s like to take a step back from raw experience. You dissolve into MU and then what happens? Perhaps you ask, “Wow, what’s this about? What’s going on? What does this really mean? Wait a minute, who was Joshu, anyway? What kind of dog?” and then what: pain! misery! To paraphrase the Buddha, when you’re shot by an arrow, you don’t inquire what kind of wood was used for the arrow, you just pull the damn thing out! And that’s what we’re doing here. We’re pulling out our arrows. And it hurts! But if we don’t, we get poisoned.

So the monk wanted to know what kind of wood was used: tell me about the meaning of the words “intimate transmission.” Meaning. This is the well we so often fall into: the well of a conceptual framework. We imagine it’s a lot safer than getting down into the nitty gritty. But it excludes us from the wonder of the experience itself, in its entirety.

Haryo asked him, “Are you quoting from the poem by Sosan, the Third Ancestor?” At the opening teisho of JunPo Roshi’s recent sesshin, I spoke on Sosan Kanchi’s Shinjin-mei, “Faith in Mind,” with its injunction, “Abide not with dualism. Carefully avoid pursuing it; as soon as you have right and wrong, confusion ensues, and Mind is lost.”

Such skillful means Haryo used, putting himself in the position of being a fool. The teacher wanted so badly for the student to find out for himself that he used the wrong reference. Mistake! Right and wrong!

Oh, no, the monk told him, “Those are the words of the Eighth Ancestor, Sekito Kisen, from the Sandokai, ‘The Identity of Relative and Absolute.’” This is chanted daily in Soto Zen temples, and begins, the “The mind of the great sage of India is intimately transmitted from west to east,” which is a reference to the teachings attributed to Bodhidharma:

A special transmission outside the scriptures;

No dependence upon words and letters;

Direct pointing to Mind;

Seeing into one's own nature and attaining buddhahood.

As Nyogen Senzaki put it in his commentary to this Case, “No monk or master would mistake one poem for the other, but Haryo wanted the words to come from the monk himself, who

might then receive the transmission, not in the east or from the west, but right at that very moment, in that very place.”

“Oh, my mistake!” apologized Haryo. And right there, Mind was intimately transmitted. “I’m so sorry.”

To be able to say, “I’m so sorry!” Such a wonderful, intimate teaching. “I’m such a dotard.” I’m such an old fart, I can’t even remember one poem from another. Offering himself up, so that the words quoted would be the monk’s own treasure.

That’s what we are here for. There is nothing wrong with reading, chanting, memorizing, quoting—if when you do, you let the words penetrate so completely that those words become YOUR words, emanating from your own experience. Nyogen Senzaki said, “When the question is your own, the answer will be, too.” Ask with true sincerity, “What is this intimate transmission?” And you will receive it.

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