Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Metaphors and Images

Dear J****,

Hey! ......You point to one of the major difficulties of just reading Zen
literature. Most of us lack the cultural background, the context if you will,
to get the metaphors that are written about in the old Koans and stories.(not
to mention the difficulty in getting words that have been translated not
once...but four or five times over the years. (I have seen the same koan in
two different sources translated as "If you come with a stick I will give you
a stick", and "if you come with no stick, I will give you a
stick"....opposite indications ....opposite metaphors, both most wisely
interpreted by masters who have read them .....which is correct? ....I am not
wise enough to know.

We also often tend misunderstand the nature of the stories, I remember when it
was pointed out to me that often these stories, were an interaction between
two people who's feet were firmly on the path, rather then between a person
who was enlightened, and one who was not. The dramas are events between two
people which often were engaged in an attempt to break though someone else's

Sometimes even on this list, two people who know, are interacting in a drama
to show something to the others on the list. (Al are you there?), and
sometimes they are two people refining their own abilities to walk the path.
(potatos in a sack, knocking the clods off each other)..... As I said in a
recent post, when you get it, it does not mean you never make a mistake
again....it just means you begin to see things in a different way....I think
it is fair to say that Buddha's opinion on the status of women was a mistake
on his part....even enlightened he was not a god, but still a man....this is
not a religion that makes gods of men, or women, it merely completes our
humanness. We are, like Shakyamuni, still limited by our time and place in
the world, this is why we seek a master to interpret the writings from his
understanding based on a time and place (a cultural context) that is closer
to ours, and therefore has some insights to share with us that we can have
the context to understand.

I remember the moment I caught out of the corner of my eye, a teacher running
back to his room to get his bessu (white socks used in memorial or special
services). ...as a trainee, I was expected to have my bessu whenever they
were needed. It was a part of the training to know when they were needed.
This person was a teacher, lecturing us on Dogen, but that did not make him
perfect, unable to miss a mark...it just meant he knew something I did
not....my teacher was often still in the bath while others were waiting for
him to perform a ceremony...I remember laughing at my fellow trainees who
were at a loss what to do, it is not proper respect in Japan for a person
lower in rank to tell a person of higher rank what to do (he is right even
when he is wrong....I am wrong even if I am right)......if we waited for
him..then that was our job.....but he was not coming, and if this went on for
too long then the whole schedule would be messed up...I would chuckle when
feet began to suffle in discomfort as my fellow trainess struggled to find a
way out.........eventually I (not caught in this cultural dilemma) would bow
to my tan (seat in the meditation hall) and bow to my fellow trainess (each
caught in a dilemma they had no way to resolve) and go and get my teacher out
of his bath, help him dress and get to the sodo where every one was waiting
for him....He spoke limited Japanese, and often did not get the drift of what
was going on either..he needed me to help him just as I needed him to help
me. His enlightenment had not conveyed an all knowing, perfection on him the
transcended culture or time and space.....and neither would mine to that for
me, Buddha's did not either...if you have a doubt.....think about Buddha and
women. That is the beauty of this way, Buddha was a human being, not a god.
We can be that too.

Be Well