Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mumonkan, Koan 28: Ryutan Blows Out the Candle

Tokusan asked Ryutan about Zen far into the night. At last Ryutan said, "The night is late. Why don't you retire?" Tokusan made his bows and lifted the blinds to withdraw, but he was met by darkness. Turning back to Ryutan, he said, "It is dark outside." Ryutan lit a paper candle and handed it to him. Tokusan was about to take it when Ryutan blew it out. At this, all of a sudden, Tokusan went through a deep experience and made bows.

Ryutan said, "What sort of realization do you have?" "From now on," said Tokusan, "I will not doubt the words of an old osho who is renowned everywhere under the sun."

The next day Ryutan ascended the rostrum and said, "I see a fellow among you. His fangs are like the sword tree. His mouth is like a blood bowl. Strike him with a stick, and he won't turn his head to look at you. Someday or other, he will climb the highest of the peaks and establish our Way there."

Tokusan brought his notes on the Diamond Sutra to the front of the hall, pointed to them with a torch, and said, "Even though you have exhausted the abstruse doctrines, it is like placing a hair in a vast space. Even though you have learned all the secrets of the world, it is like a drop of water dripped on the great ocean." And he burned all his notes. Then, making bows, he took his leave of this teacher.

This koan is full of metaphor. Inside the room with Ryutan, there are answers and light. As Tokusan leaves, he finds total darkness. There is no value in light and answers which desert a person the moment they leave the side of a teacher. What we do not know in and within ourselves, what we cannot carry with us into the world is not knowledge. Further, light or answers that are given like the candle Ryutan gives to Tokusan can be taken away. That is not possible with true knowledge or insight.

While I do not understand the reference to the "words of an old osho", the meaning of Tokusan burning all his notes is clear. The notes are like the lighted room and are not needed. Everything in the notes Tokusan has either absorbed or not absorbed. The former will not be lost by burning the notes; the latter was never his to lose.

Extending this further, perhaps he also realized his teacher should not be needed either. Either he was enlightened (or perhaps he needed solitude for a while before returning). In a way, entering the darkness or leaving his teacher is a way to avoid staying in the lit room with given answers. It's a way to confront what he does not know rather than stagnate with the security of what he is told. Of course, the other side of this is that we should never view a teacher as exerting such control. We should be able to enter the darkness even while letting the light of a teacher point the way.

Perhaps that is the real meaning of the candle being blown out: "Despite whatever teaching I give you; you must ultimately find your own way."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its not a metaphor. Well the candle is metaphor. The rest is more or less literal.

Have you ever wondered why you don't see, my not-seeing. How could it not be you?