Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mumonkan, Koan 18: Tozan's 'Masagin'

A monk asked Tozan, "What is Buddha?"
Tozan replied, "Masagin!*"
* three pounds of flax

I read a version of this koan some time ago and, in that version, the reply was "birdshit!" So either Sekida is a better translator, or he's loathe to use bad language. LOL!

Anyway, Buddha is reality. That includes flax, birdshit, and all mundane objects as well as the beautiful. Direct perception of reality is buddha mind.

Tozan's reply also points to another idea. It is easiest for us to have true perception with something like flax, because our minds attach no real significance to it. True perception occurs before our minds interpret what we see, assign meaning to it, judge it, categorize it, etc. Now if you consider art, a political speech, a religious 'truth', etc. we've programmed our minds with thoughts, right/wrong, beliefs, traditions, mores, feelings, etc. and it is harder to have immediate perception. Instead we let that programming take over.

Zen is about disciplining the mind to remove that clutter and allow direct perception to take place. Only then are we able to grasp truth or reality. It's not that you banish your opinions or feelings altogether, but you learn not to substitute them for perception. They are all responses and, as such, are paths away from buddhamind and towards delusion.

Mumon's verse had a terrific couplet in it that really spoke to me:

"Those who argue about right and wrong
are those enslaved by right and wrong"

The debates of right and wrong, good or evil, remove us from direct perception and keep us locked in our delusional thinking about reality. They require debating opinions about reality, which is already two steps removed from perception. It's arguing about clutter. Politics is a good example. You can tell in a lot of debates on the subject that people are either Republican or Democrat and that they argue the 'party line'. Or with people of different religions who are determined that their view is right and others are wrong.

This kind of debate never has anything to do with truth or right/wrong but in preserving our perceptions of it against a challenge so we do not have to make the difficult effort to escape delusion and reconnect with reality. When someone is in this delusional, cluttered mindset, they are all response. They are not thinking deeply (or at all), just reacting. Ultimately, that may be the point. For religious and political parties to fight their battles and prevail, it is best to have adherents who think as they are 'programmed' to. By creating adversaries to fight (other parties, other religions, other groups), the adherents remain lost in delusion and are easily controlled.

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