So here’s a little story about Seppo from Zen’s Chinese heritage. A little adapted. I’ll use the Japanese names and not try to pronounce Chinese.
Seppo once practiced as tenzo under Zen Master Tozan. Once when he was washing rice, Tozan said, “Do you wash the sand away from the rice, or the rice away from the sand?” Seppo said, “I wash them both away together.”
Before I go further, we might try to even just think what does the question mean. And I found myself relating it to the scroll that we just hang up in the other room, that says “Don’t remove delusion; don’t even seek the truth”. And an analogy to the question that Tozan asks; to wash the sand away from the rice or the rice away from the sand; I might ask a new student, “Are you here to get rid of delusion, or are you here to seek the truth?” Right? So he’s setting up that kind of either-or: You try to get rid of something or you try to get something. Right? There’s no good answer.
Seppo tries, “I wash them both away together, wash away both sand and rice together”. Tozan says, “Then what’s the community gonna eat?” Seppo overturned the rice bowl, the washing bowl. There’s a gesture for you, right? There goes everybody’s lunch, down the drain,” right? Tozan said, “You should go study with somebody else, soon.”
See, what you have is a challenge of going beyond a certain kind of either-or, which Seppo does. Seppo is a very interesting figure. A number of stories about him. And he’s someone who early on had enough of an opening to be able to make a move beyond either-or here. Yet he’s stuck in a certain kind of gesture, a certain kind of picture of emptiness. He’s going to just knock over the washing bowl. Which can be sort of a big nuisance to have around the house, you know? I mean it’s...you want insight to manifest as compassion, as functioning. We don’t want your insight to manifest as show-offy, arrogant, wise-ass gestures, of which there seem to be a lot in this business. It’s probably why I can identify with him.
In any case, Tozan really says, “Somebody’s gotta knock sense into this guy”, you know, and sends him off to Tokusan. And that’s where we usually hear about him. In the Mumuonkan there’s the case of “Tokusan Carries his Bowls”. I think there’s a commentary on that in Nothing Hidden, I’m not going to repeat all of that. But, somehow Seppo gets himself the job of tenzo again - I guess this incident was not on his résumé. And so he’s tenzo at Tokusan’s monastery, and one day when the meal is late, for some reason that’s not specified, the old teacher comes down at the regular meal time and Seppo says, “The bell hasn’t rung, what are you doing here?” and sends him back to his room. The teacher didn’t do anything except, you know, quietly turn around and go away. But Seppo was very lucky in having a friend in the monastery, another older monk named Ganto. And Ganto set up a whole little game on Seppo’s behalf, by saying to him, “You know the old teacher is not bad, but he hasn’t heard the last word”. You know, and that’s the kind of thing that really hooked this guy, you know, the idea of the last word. So they play that, a little charade to try to get Seppo to understand. Didn’t work.
However, there is another story about Seppo and Ganto going on pilgrimage together. And again it’s a nice story because it’s of two friends, practicing together. Too often we have stories just of masters and students, a very, you know, seemingly very far apart in their understanding. But this is a story about a pair that were close to being peers, and it’s a good lesson because, I think, certainly in my experience often we learn more from each other than we can learn directly from the teacher. It’s very important to have peers in your practice.
Anyway, the two of them were off on pilgrimage, out on a place called Tortoise Mountain, and they get stuck in a big snowstorm, and have to stay over in some little inn, waiting for the roads to become passable. And Ganto, who’s the sort of older brother monk, puts down his pack and just goes to sleep, wakes up for meals, goes back to sleep again. Seppo, however, spends each day sitting in zazen. One day Seppo wakes up Ganto and says, “Elder brother, elder brother, get up!” Ganto says,”What is it?” Seppo says, “Don’t be idle. Monks on pilgrimage have profound knowledge as their companion. This companion must accompany us at all times. But here today all you’re doing is sleeping!” You can see what a pain in the ass this guy is . Ganto yelled back, “Just eat your fill and go to sleep! Sitting there in meditation all the time is like being some clay figure in a villager’s hut. In the future you’ll just spook the men and women of the village.”
And what happens after that is Seppo is honest enough to say, “I’m doing this because my mind is not settled, I’m still trying to resolve this.” And, when he’s honest about that, Ganto says, “Well, tell me what the matter is and I’ll try to help you.” You see, as long as he’s just sitting there like a stone buddha, and trying to say, “This is what we should be doing, sitting, morning til night”, there’s not much to do with that. But once he admits that, “I practice this hard because something’s wrong, something’s missing”, then we can begin to address that. And I won’t read the whole dialog, but Seppo tells Ganto of a couple of experiences he’s had with different teachers. And basically it’s those experiences he’s trying to replicate and deepen.
And Ganto says, “Haven’t you heard it said that what comes in the front gate isn’t the family jewels?” It’s an interesting expression because, usually when you hear that it seems to imply that you can’t get the family jewels, your own treasure, from somebody else, it has to be your own experience. But what does that mean here exactly? See Seppo in a way is treating the next big enlightenment experience as something that he’s got to get. Right? That there’s something about his present condition that is lacking. And he’s trying to bring in something, essentially, from the outside, that’s gonna cure him. Ganto says, “In the future, if you want to expound a great teaching, it must flow forth from your own heart. In the future your teaching and mine will cover heaven and earth.” And with that Seppo had some final realization and peace of mind.
Now, one of the things I would suggest we understand about that is not that Seppo’s unease or anxiety or feeling he was missing something finally was washed away by the big experience he was always looking for, and now his problem was solved once and for all. That’s to fall into a certain trap of still have and have-not. What it means, I think, to have a great teaching flow from your own heart is that everything in your heart becomes part of this great teaching, becomes part of the realization. Nothing is thrown out and swept away. It’s all the things that were inside that you thought were the problem suddenly are reconfigured as part of the solution. One way to think about that that occurred to me this morning is the image of a collage or a mosaic that is made of lots of torn pieces of paper or broken different-colored shards of tile, and they’re all arranged to form a big picture. Once the picture is formed, there’s nothing that’s been changed about the fragments; they’re all still broken, they still have all the rough edges. Right? But they’re put together in such a way that they form a bigger picture. And I think this is how we have to see what’s going to happen to us in the course of practice. It’s not that somehow all those little broken pieces will be made whole. All the rough edges will be sanded off. All the torn pieces will somehow be glued back together so that the seams never show. Right? It just doesn’t work that way. What’s broken is broken, and it stays broken in us. We have our hurts, our fears, our history, it doesn’t disappear. But we can put it all together in a way that makes a different picture. And we’re practicing in a way to sustain that bigger picture, in which the brokenness, the sharp edge of any given piece, is not a problem. It’s part of the picture.