Zen and Creativity 05 10 | Meditation | Kōan

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This document can be acquired from a sub-directory coombspapers via anonymous FTP and COOMBSQUEST gopher on the node COOMBS.ANU.EDU.AU The document's ftp filename and the full directory path are given in the coombspapers top level INDEX file. date of the document's last update/modification {18/09/93} This file is the work of Stan Rosenthal. It has been placed here, with his kind permission, by Bill Fear. The author has asked that no hard copies, ie. paper copies, are made. Stan Rosenthal may be
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  This document can be acquired from a sub-directory coombspapers via anonymousFTP and COOMBSQUEST gopher on the node COOMBS.ANU.EDU.AU The document's ftpfilename and the full directory path are given in the coombspapers top levelINDEX file.date of the document's last update/modification {18/09/93}This file is the work of Stan Rosenthal. It has been placed here, with hiskind permission, by Bill Fear. The author has asked that no hard copies, ie.paper copies, are made.Stan Rosenthal may be contacted at 44 High street, St. Davids,Pembrokeshire, Dyfed, Wales, UK.Bill Fear may be contacted at 29 Blackweir Terrace, Cathays, Cardiff, SouthGlamorgan, Wales, UK. email fear@thor.cf.ac.uk.Please use email as first method of contact, if possible. Messages can besentto Stan Rosenthal via the above email address - they will be forwarded on inperson by myself...............................Beginning of file.................................5 of 10The mind should not be filled with desires. The sage, being at one with theTao, is aware of the distinction between that which is needed as a sufficiency,and that which is merely wanted, rather than needed.Even the finest blade will lose its sharpness if tempered beyond its mettle.Even the most finely honed sword is of no avail against water, and will shatterif struck against a rock. A tangled cord is of little use after it has beenuntangled by cutting it.Just as a fine sword should be used only by an experienced swordsman, intellectshould be tempered with experience. By this means, tangled cord may beuntangled, and seemingly insoluble problems resolved; colours and hues may beharmonized to create fine paintings, and people enabled to exist in unity witheach other because they no longer feel that they exist only in the shadow of thebrilliance of others.Even from these few lines, it is obvious we are being advised that we shoulddistinguish when necessary. We are not being told that 'everything is thesame', but that there are some instances in which we should make distinctions,and other instances when we should not. We are also told that we should learnto distinguish between the occasions when we should distinguish, and thoseoccasions when we should not. This is what is meant by the phrase, 'necessarydistinction'.In this context, the word 'necessary' can be read as 'fitting' to the totalsituation. This is why there are many koan describing the teacher seeming toact in opposite ways in response to the same situation; no two situations arethe same. The Zen master would agree with the pre-Socratic philospherHeraclitus, who said, You cannot step into the same river twice. This of course relates to the Zen concept of 'change', but it also relates thatconcept to the natural qualities of things, and to the value judgements which weplace upon them, as mentioned by Lao Tzu. In a lecture on these particulartopics, paraphrasing the writing of Lao Tzu, Shih-Tien said,All physical things consist of, or possess, certain elementary,natural qualities, such as size, shape and colour. Since the universal principle  (the Tao) encompasses all things, so it must encompass their natural qualities.Natural qualities are general to all things, but in order to relate to aquality, we think of it as it exists relative to a particular thing, and toourselves. We therefore think of a specific quality according to how it ismanifested through one particular thing when compared with another. Thus, wejudge one thing to be 'big', compared with another thing which we think of as'small', one sound 'noisy', and another 'quiet'.Equally, we judge and compare by thinking of the aesthetic quality of a thing interms of its manifestations, 'beautiful' or 'ugly'; morality in terms of 'good'or 'bad'; possession in terms of 'having' or 'not having'; ability in terms of'ease'or 'difficulty'; length in terms of 'long' or 'short'; height in terms of'high' or 'low'; sound in terms of 'noisy' or 'quiet'; light in terms of'brightness' or 'darkness'.Although many of the manifestations which we compare are judged by us to beopposites, one to the other, they are not in opposition, but are complementary,for even extremes are nothing other than aspects or specific examples of thequality which encompasses them. Both 'big' and 'small' are manifestations orexamples of size, 'young' and 'old'are examples of age, 'noise' and'quietness' are degrees of sound, and 'brightness' and 'darkness' are extremesof light.As Lao Tzu told us in the Tao Te Ching, it is the nature of the ordinary man tocompare and judge the manifestations of the natural qualities inherent in thingsand in situations. It is not wrong to do this, but we should not deludeourselves by allowing the belief that we thereby describe a quality of thatthing or situation, rather than a particular manifestation of that quality.Whilst all judgements are comparative, a judgement is frequently, if not always,relative to the individual who makes that judgement, and also to the time atwhich it is made. To the young child, the father may be old, but when the sonreaches that age, it is unlikely that he will consider himself old. To thechild, the garden fence is high, but when the child grows bigger, the same fenceis low. The adult in his physical prime knows that to run ten miles, which iseasy at that time, will become more difficult as he becomes older, but that thepatience required to walk will become easier.The sage knows that judgements such as 'old' and 'young', 'big' and 'small','difficult' and 'easy', or 'leading' and 'following' relate as much to theperson making that judgement, as they relate to the thing or action described.The teacher Kotan used a koan on 'making judgements', thus providing an exercisefor his students, by means of which they could expand their awareness, and alsoexperience something of the dangers of making judgements from only limitedinformation.....Consider a sage and an ordinary man sitting on the side of a hill in the lateevening. They are watching the sun setting, and looking down on the roadbelow.They remain on the hillside, even when darkness has fallen, and they both seethe light of two lanterns approaching, one yellow, the other red, bobbing gentlyas their bearers pass by.From the relative positions of the two lights, the ordinary man knows that thebearer of the yellow lantern leads the bearer of the red. As he watches, hesees the red lantern draw level with the yellow, and as they pass beneath him,the red lantern preceding the yellow. He wonders why the two lantern bearers do  not walk side by side.The sage, who has seen what his companion has seen, thinks it right that the twotravellers should do as they have done, to walk side by side through the night,neither of them leading or following.Obviously each of the observers was looking at the same situation, and each ofthem saw the same thing happening. The difference was not in what they saw, buthow they construed (put together in their minds) the elements of what they saw.The sage realised that there was more to the situation than could actually beseen. To an observer sitting on the opposite side of the road, it would haveseemed that the red lantern at first led the yellow. The two lantern bearers ofcourse knew that they walked side by side.It is worth noting that if the sage wished to correct his companion in a 'Zenmanner' he would have done so in daylight, when it would have been possible tosee the bearers of the lanterns as well as the lanterns. His friend would thenhave seen how the optical illusion occured. Without seeing the physicalsurroundings he would have found it either difficult or impossible.Seeing the totality of a situation is frequently difficult, and in manyinstances this is due to our own inexperience. When a Zen teacher realises thata student is too inexperienced to appreciate the reality of a situation, hemight 'provide the experience' (as illustrated in the story of the student andthe rock) or he might simply say nothing at that time.....The student Kaku asked his old teacher Tokusan, Even the sages of long ago must havegone somewhere. Where did they go? Tokusan replied that he did not know, and Kaku,hoping to 'sting' his teacher into making a more positive reply, respondedrudely, When you were younger you would havereplied as quickly as a running horse,but now you answer like a turtle. Tokusan sat quietly, and said nothing. However, the next day, when Kaku wasmaking him a cup of tea, Tokusan asked him kindly, How is that koan you spoke of yesterday,have you managed to resolve it yet? Kaku, pleased that his teacher had remembered his question, smiled and said, You are more like my old Tokusan today. Tokusan did not answer.Of course, Tokusan knew that what had prompted Kaku's question was his own oldage, and that the student was concerned for him. However, since the studentfailed to say this directly, the teacher did not respond when the matter was putto him indirectly.The next day he opened up the topic again, but Kaku was still unable to expresshis concern as he felt it, only his relief. The teacher therefore said no more,since there was no more for him to say which his student could have understoodor 'dealt with' at that time.The story of Tokusan and Kaku is sometimes used as a koan. Responding to it inthat light, Tekisui wrote the teisho,  So it is that the sage is aware that he who seems to lead does not always lead,and that he who seems to follow does not always follow. Suiteki also wrote a teisho on the same koan, expressing his admiration forTokusan, writing the verse, The blossoms that above the leaves do growmight come to summer fullness first.But if we care to look beneath the leaf,a flower of even greater beauty may be found.When looking for a master or a guide,look to the spirit of the man,and not to the clothes his spirit wears. The teacher Ishida, responding to the same koan, changed the theme only slightlywhen he provided his own teisho, Just like the rockwhich remains unmovedby storm and tempest,so the wise manremains unmovedby words of praise or blame. Considering the history of Zen, and its acceptance by the samurai warriors ofthe Kamakura period in Japan, it seems outwardly strange that Zen teaches us tobe humble and respectful, but possibly even more strange is the fact that itteaches us to seek,'Love, peace,and the freedom to grow.'The reality of Zen, especially with regard to the samurai, is that it told themthe Zen practitioner should avoid bloodshed, but be prepared to defend his ownhonour, and that of his teachers.However, there is a paradox even here, for we are also taught that we should notdefend ourselves with a sword if attacked with a paper streamer. This isillustrated in a story told by the student Getsuro,Like all true roshi, when it is necessary for our teacher to be hard, he ishard. But with those who are prepared to make the effort he is compassionate.However, there is one aspect of his behaviour which I could not understand forsome time. This is his refusal to defend himself, or allow his students todefend any attack on his integrity. On more than one occasion he has raised hisfinger to ask that we stop when we have attempted to defend or explain hisactions.When I asked him why he allowed such attacks to go undefended, hereplied, When you learn more of the Tao, then you will know the answer to thatquestion. Meanwhile, simply accept that if one is attacked with a blunt sword,there is no need to defend oneself as though the fight were meaningful. His reply puzzled me at the time, but I knew he had used my question to give mea koan, and that to question him further would be to deny myself the opportunityof resolving that koan.
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