Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mumonkan, Koan 26: Two Monks Roll Up the Blinds

photo from the Paint-Draw-Create blog
When the monks assembled before the midday meal to listen to his lecture, the great Hogen of Seiryo pointed at the bamboo blinds. Two monks simultaneously went and rolled them up. Hogen said: "One gain, one loss."

I've spent a lot of time with this koan because, each time I thought about it, I drew a blank. A few ideas came to me, but nothing definitive. Since I didn't seem to be making any progress, this post was going to be some random babble about what I'd gotten out of it so far before I moved on to the next koan. Instead, as I wrote the post, I found myself arriving at a solution. Here it goes...

The solution is related to that of Koan 6 ('The Buddha Holds Out A Flower') and Koan 3 ('Gutei Raises A Finger'). In both koans, a deep understanding is transmitted wordlessly. In Koan 6, Shakyamuni Buddha holds out a flower to the people who have come to listen to him speak, but he doesn't say anything. Mahakashyapa responds by smiling, because he has wordlessly understood the lesson. In Koan 3, after a grisly lesson, an attendant becomes enlightened when Gutei raises his finger. For this koan, when Hogen pointed at the blinds, his intent was misinterpreted by the monks. They took it as a mundane request to roll up the blinds when it was actually his lecture.

The meaning of Hogen's comment is the monks lost the opportunity to receive instruction. The 'gain' is a rather ironic one in that, while illumination was let into the room, the greater illumination was missed by a too literal response to the master's gesture.

As I figured out the koan while writing about it here, I realized my problem I had been having trouble with it because I was trying to hard. I was looking for an 'in' to the koan. I was chewing it with my thoughts, rather than letting it melt in my mind.

Koan solutions are very much like enlightenment in general. If you try to hard, you fail. Or in the case of the two monks here: if you're too literal, you miss the wisdom.

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