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October -05 2019 Barry Magid October 5th 2019

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From the sayings of Rinzai, collected here in The Roaring Stream, edited by Nelson Foster:

Someone asked, “What was Bodhidharma’s purpose in coming from the west?”
The Master [Rinzai] said, “If he had had a purpose, he wouldn’t have been able to save even himself!”
The questioner said, “If he had no purpose, then how did the Second Ancestor manage to get the Dharma?”
The Master said, “Getting means not getting.”
“If it means not getting,” said the questioner, “then what do you mean by ‘not getting’?”
The Master said, “You can’t seem to stop your mind from racing around everywhere seeking something. That’s why the Ancestor said, ‘Hopeless fellows -- using their heads to look for their heads!’ You must right now turn your light around and shine it on yourselves, not go seeking somewhere else. Then you will understand that in body and mind you are no different from the Ancestors and buddhas, and that there is nothing to do. Do that and you may speak of ‘getting the Dharma.’

This phrase, there is nothing to do, is a translation of Buji, which is the character on the scroll that I just hung in the garden zendo. It’s a phrase that Rinzai uses over and over again to try to show an alternative to the students’ usual way of thinking about zazen instrumentally as a means to an end, as a way to get enlightened. He sees them all preoccupied with getting something, so he uses this language, where there’s nothing to do and nothing to get.

I’m sure the pun doesn’t exist in Chinese, but in this English version when he talks about getting the Dharma, it’s a very nice way to turn that around and say that here, getting the Dharma, is like getting a joke. It’s how you speak about somebody who “gets it.” It’s like if you said you got a joke, someone else says, “You got it? How big was it? What did it weigh? Where did you put it?” It’s not an object that you got, but getting it means -- oh, you understand it, everything falls into place, you give a spontaneous laugh in response. So here he says, all you monks think you need to get the Dharma as if it’s something you don’t have. As if I’ve got it and you don’t. Or it’s an experience you’ve never had and you have to do extraordinary things to get it. But he wants you to see getting it as operating on a completely different dimension rather than seeing what’s already there. Oh, I get it! It’s right there! It’s right in front of me! It’s not something I’m acquiring new for the first time. Rather, it’s just apparent now.

I first encountered this word Buji when I started through the commentaries of Yasutani Roshi, where he gave it a very different meaning or spin because Buji means do nothing. He talked about Buji Zen as what the Soto monks meant where the identity of sitting and enlightenment fell into a complacency of doing nothing. They thought they didn’t have to have kensho, so he was very critical of that version of Buji Zen, which was a kind of go-through-the-motions Zen. It’s interesting that Joko would have said only practice if you absolutely have to. Practice when there’s something that you just have to admit to yourself that you feel is not OK.

In Rinzai’s way of talking about Buji, there’s nothing to get because you already have everything, or you already realize that essentially your experience is all there is. There’s no outside. There’s no outside at all. There’s just what’s happening moment to moment. There’s just this. All practice ever can do is have you just fully occupy your life and not look outside it for something else. But over and over again in our lives we often will come to places where we hit a snag and we just don’t feel that this is it, that our life contains everything we need. We get stuck on the idea that something is missing. There’s something inadequate about us, or there’s something we long for that another person has. All these different permutations. When we hit a snag like that, then, the point is not to try to talk ourselves into pretending that everything is OK or that this is it when we don’t really believe it. That’s when practice starts, and we have to try to engage honestly that emotional sense of “this is it.”

For Joko, that’s where real practice began, when you have that kind of moment to moment emotional honesty when you realize you say “No” to the moment, not “Yes.” You say “No” through your anger or your anxiety or your greed, just all the ways that automatically, unconsciously we say, “This isn’t it.” Buji Zen, in Yasutani’s sense, would be to try to pretend, to just put a facade of complacent OK-ness, going through the motions, or in the case of monks, just being meticulous about the rituals and the forms, and doing everything right, at a surface level, while trying to deny to themselves that deep down they don’t believe it.

Let me read you a little more of his sayings just to get a further feel for the way he taught.

Fellow believers, at this time having found it impossible to refuse, I have been addressing you, putting forth a lot of trashy talk. But make no mistake! In my view, there are, in fact, no great number of principles to be grasped. If you want to use the thing, then use it. If you don’t want to use it, then let it be. People here and there talk about the six rules and the ten thousand practices, supposing that these constitute the Dharma of the buddhas. But I say that these are just adornments of the sects, the trappings of Buddhism. They are not the Dharma of the buddhas. You may observe the fasts and observe the precepts, or carry a dish of oil without spilling it, but if your Dharma-eye is not wide open, then all you’re doing is running up a great debt. One day you’ll have to pay for all the food wasted on you. . . . As for those who go off to live alone on a solitary peak, eating only one meal a day at the hour of dawn, sitting in meditation for long periods without lying down, performing circumambulations six times a day -- such persons are all creating kharma. Then there are those who cast away their head and eyes, marrow and brains, their domains and cities, wives and children, elephants, horses, the seven precious things, throwing them all away. People who think in that way are all inflicting pain on their body and mind, and in consequence will invite some kind of painful retribution. Better to do nothing, with nothing mixed in.

See, he’s trying to delineate all the ways in which we get caught up in various kinds of instrumental thinking in our practice, ways in which we get preoccupied with doing it right, following the rules, following the precepts, getting the rituals just so, as if getting the Dharma is somehow getting all the forms right, or on the other hand, he talks about people who engage in various kinds of asceticism, attaining mountain peaks or doing drastic versions of home-leaving practices, giving up everything, all for the sake of the Dharma which is somehow everywhere but in the middle of the life that they were already living.

We’re used to seeing this attitude summed up as “no gain,” and while often Rinzai and Soto schools are opposed as if they were very different, when you read Rinzai himself, you get this very powerful sense of “no gain” coming through. In Dogen the emphasis is that in zazen itself everything is perfectly complete. His vision was that to just live the life of the monk, to just sit zazen, there it is, you’ve already got it, you’re manifesting the Way. You’re performing the Way, all the things that you’re doing aren’t taking you somewhere else. They are the thing itself. Rinzai’s emphasis is somewhat different. In a way he’s closer to us when he talks about everything in your life being it. That it’s not the performance of a special practice or ritual or form of life that constitutes the Dharma. The Dharma is that kind of full engagement with the moment, the realization that the moment is all there is, not using your head to seek your head.

Joko’s teaching, although in some ways radical and discontinuous with what went before, in other ways resonates very much with this attitude that all we need to do is engage this moment, particularly all those moments where we have resistance to this moment. The Absolute is found not only at the end of some long period of concentrated samadhi, but the Absolute is to be found in feeling the tension right now in your body, where there’s irritation or anger or annoyance. It’s right there. It’s not the light at the end of some long tunnel. It’s the light inside of you right now, available in every moment.

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