Seijo's Soul Separated

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Goso said to his monks, "Seijo's soul separated from her being. Which was the real Seijo?"

Mumon's Comment:

"When you realize what the real is, you will see that we pass from one husk to another like travelers stopping for a night's lodging. But if you do not realize it yet, I earnestly advise you not to rush about wildly. When earth, water, fire, and air suddenly separate, you will be like a crab struggling in boiling water with its seven or eight arms and legs. When that happens, don't say I didn't warn you.

Mumon's Verse:

The moon above the clouds is ever the same;
Valleys and mountains are separate from each other.
All are blessed, all are blessed;
Are they one or are they two?

Before I tell you the story to which Master Goso refers, let me tell you a little bit about Master Goso Hoen. He was ordained at a relatively advanced age. Most of the masters that we encounter became monks quite young. Goso Hoen was 35. He was a scholar-monk, and he studied and studied under many different lecturers, but he couldn't find true peace of mind. While he was studying various Buddhist texts, he came upon a quote: "It is said that when a bodhisattva sees with the wisdom eye, functioning and principal are one." Functioning and principal are one. Circumstances and essence are one. Objectivity and subjectivity are one. But, a non-Buddhist philosopher argued, if subjectivity and objectivity are not separated, how can that fact itself be proved? The Buddhist scholar Genjo responded, "It is like when one drinks and knows for oneself whether the water is cold or warm." This is a very famous saying in Zen. "Knows for oneself"… So often we run around asking, "Is the water cold or warm? How's the water? What can you teach me? Tell me what I need to know!"

Now Goso Hoen asked himself, "How do I know for myself?" He decided to go out and find a good Zen teacher. After going here and there, he finally settled down with Hakuun Shutan Zenji. One day, engrossed in his koan, he overheard Hakuun Shutan instructing another monk about Mu-probably instructing with the keisaku, not with a lecture! In any case, this instruction penetrated deeply into his heart, and he woke up.

Master Goso taught for about forty years, and among his diciples was Engo Kokugon Zenji, the compiler of The Blue Cliff Record. One day, when he was about 80 years old, Goso said to his monks, "It's time for me to retire." He took a bath, shaved, sat down, and died.

But before that, he said to his monks, "Seijo's soul separated from her being. Which was the real Seijo?" This is a reference to an old Chinese story: There was once an old man named Chokan, who had lost his first daughter. As you might imagine, he was very attached to his second daughter. Sei was her name; Jo means young woman. Sei was very beautiful, and so was her cousin, a boy named Ochu. The two of them were so cute together. The family would watch the two children playing and say, "Ah, what a great couple they make. How adorable." Chokan often said, "The two of you are so perfect together."

Well, they grew older, and indeed they felt that way about each other: "You are right for me. You are my great love." But then, to their dismay, Chokan told his daughter that he had chosen a husband for her. It was not Ochu! We can't imagine that here, but this was a very common occurrence back then, and even not so long ago. Now, too, in some cultures this kind of arranged marriage is quite common. So what happened to this young loving pair? They couldn't bear it. Ochu couldn't stay and see his beloved married off to someone she didn't love. He got into a boat and began making his way up the Yangtze River. Then he noticed someone running along the shore, calling after him. He peered into the darkness-who could it be? It was Sei! She got into the boat, and they went off together. Years passed. They had a family together. Now the mother of two children, Seijo began feeling deep regret for having run away from her father. Knowing what it's like to love a child, she could imagine his anguish. She said to Ochu, "I long to go back to my native village and see my father and beg his forgiveness." And he replied, "I, too, feel that way. Let us go." So they got into a boat again and went back down the river.

When they reached the village, Sei stayed in the boat while Ochu went to her father. Ochu bowed low and begged for forgiveness for having run off with Sei. The old man listened with a look of incredulity on his face. "What? Who are you talking about?" Ochu said, "Your daughter, Sei. She's in the boat." Her father replied, "No, she's not. She's lying in bed. She's been sick all these years, and we haven't known what's wrong; she's been lying there like an empty husk. She hasn't spoken since you left."

"But she followed me," Ochu said. "We've been living in another country. We're married, and have two children, and she's in great health. She's here now to ask for your forgiveness." Ochu went to the boat and asked Sei to come to the house. Meanwhile, Chokan went to tell that sick daughter of his about all this. Still not speaking, she got up out of bed and walked out of the house. Sei coming from the boat, Sei coming from the bed, now One. The shocked father said to his daughter, "Ever since Ochu left, you have been lying lifeless, as though your soul had fled." Sei replied, "I didn't know I was lying sick in bed. When I heard Ochu was going away, I ran after him as if in a dream."

So this is the story to which Master Goso is referring. Now you may think, What's an old ghost story from the Tang dynasty have to do with me and what I'm dealing with here in this sesshin? Yesterday during teisho I recounted how someone had told me that he used to think sesshin was a retreat. You know, a nice Zen spa. But, he said, "I've realized sesshin is not at all a retreat-it's a laboratory for the intense examination of the self." And then after telling that story, I went out and saw the sign we've posted on the door. It says "Silent Retreat in Progress." I guess next sesshin we'll have to put up a new sign, something like, "Laboratory: Hazardous Materials. Enter at your own risk."

What are we studying here in this laboratory? Who am I? What is real? What is this self? Which self? Maybe some of you dimly remember the self of pre- sesshin, the preoccupations of that "I." Right here, at this moment, does it seem real? Which is real, the "I" of this intense examination, or the "I" of last week, of next week? Which is the true self? The "I" that craves, the "I" that's filled with need and preference, disappointment and recrimination, the "I" that thinks the whole world revolves around it, no matter how it tries to camouflage that belief? What about the "I" that with each sitting, each day of sesshin, grows more and more permeable, less cut-off, less rigid? Melting, melting, melting. The "I" yearns after a remembered oneness, a remembered home. Is it one? Or are they two? It must be understood that there is no "I" of oneness without the "I" of differentiation. This is a radical, radical oneness we are talking about. I often refer to our practice of zazen as revolutionary. All our assumptions must be dropped, abandoned.

This Dharma wheel turns without end, not because we're turning it. It's just turning, and the more we get out of the way, the more we can experience the true fact that we are nothing but this radical One. Seen from the "I" of true understanding-the "I" that excludes nothing whatsoever-the pre-sesshin "I," defined by self-absorption and ego-centricity, is exactly what Buddhism means by illness. Seijo lying there unable to speak, unable to act, paralyzed by inertia-does this sound familiar? How many times have you felt, "I really know I need to do such and such, but I just can't." Steven Butterfield, who was a student of Trungpa Rinpoche, had a very serious illness that made it impossible for him to breathe. He wrote in an article for the Sun in 1988, "Walking anywhere with friends, especially uphill, is an occasion for silence. I cannot walk, talk, and breathe at the same time. Every gram of oxygen must be used for locomotion. There is nothing left over. Superfluity must go. This becomes an amazing metaphor. In my life, in my mind, what is superfluous?"

You might ask yourself this when you go back after sesshin. What is superfluous in your life? If you couldn't breathe, what would you drop away? Butterfield continued, "What is superfluous? Anger that freezes into resentment. Jealousy, greed, gossip, ego-clinging, pretense, embarrassment, any form of fixation. Running after pleasure. The discourse of thought that maintains the storyline of me. These things are very costly, in terms of the life energy that it takes to keep them going. And they are what conversation is mostly about. When the oxygen is diminished below a certain point, you must choose absolutely between feeding all your mental bloodsuckers and taking care of your true business. You cannot afford to keep them around as pets."

He added something very important: "As long as our goal is to hang on to something or get rid of our own mortality, we are still only suppressing symptoms. Healing could become one more ambitious project by which we try to ignore the message of luminous emptiness." Steven Butterfield died in 1996, but left us such good words. Those of you who have some chronic illness or have suffered through a potentially fatal disease may know what he was talking about. But all of you, after sitting for four days, ought to have some sense of this. Because guess what? We all have a fatal illness. It's called life.

There is no place to stand in the endless cascade of our lives. We thought that we had a cozy little observation balcony, but it's all Niagara Falls, no matter where we turn. Even the parking lot is being swept away. Wonderful? Someone told me about salmon swimming upstream. There are all these pools and cascades, pools and cascades; another step higher and another pool and cascade. The salmon, as you know, are swimming upstream. And they want that rushing water. They want that cascade. They are like an arrow shooting up, single mindedly up that cascade. Is this not sesshin? Or are you in the parking lot, being swept away?

In Case 40 of the Blue Cliff Collection, "Nansen's This Flower," a government official named Riku Taifu tells Nansen something that was said by the Indian Buddhist scholar Jo Hosshi: "Heaven and earth and I are of one root. The ten thousand things and I have the same body. Isn't this amazing? Isn't this mysterious?" Nansen pointed to a flower and said, "People these days see this flower as though they are in a dream." Most of our days are spent in a dream. We may not be lying prone in bed, wordless, but what are we really seeing? Are we awake to each flower, each petal, which has never been before, and will never be again? Just this: Flower! To wake up from our dream is what we are here for. "This very body," we recite in Hakuin Zenji's "Song of Zazen," "This very body is the body of the Buddha." This body. How many times do we treat this body as though we were in a dream? Is it real, or is it just an empty husk? What is the real body? The flower of your own precious life, do you see it? Soon it will be gone. In this heat, flowers don't last very long. And you may think, Well, it's not that hot. I probably have a few more years. But as the Lotus Sutra reminds us, we're living in a burning building. And here we are, taking our time, running after this and that, getting caught up in all kinds of circumstances, believing them to be real, and not seeing, not seeing. In a dream. Of course not able to speak, not able to act.

Thus Mumon says about the two Seis, "When you realize what the real is, you will see that we pass from one husk to another like travelers stopping for a night's lodging." That's all. We're just here in these husks, just for a moment. Traveling on. A night's lodging is all we have. If you realize this, then what is there to fear? Then indeed, as we recite in the Heart Sutra, there is "no hindrance in the mind; no hindrance, therefore no fear." Where do your fears originate? This is very important to understand, so that you don't try to make them go out of the room where you can't see them, or push them under the rug. Really look into their source. What are you scared of? What safe haven are you yearning after? If you think that the real "I" is separate from this dreaming, fearing, yearning "I," then you're in trouble. This very body is the body. This very "I" is the "I" of the Buddha. "But if you do not realize it yet, I earnestly advise you not to rush about wildly," Mumon says. What is this rushing about wildly? What's going on in your mind? "Well, my zazen isn't working. There must be a better way. There must be something else. She gave me this practice, but it's clearly not working. So I'm gonna ask for a different practice. I'm gonna go see some other teacher. I'm gonna go to a nice retreat, a spa." You can do this, you know. You can rush around wildly, this life, the next life, and many lives to come. Rush, rush, rush, rush. And then what? "When earth, water, fire, and air suddenly separate"-in other words, at the moment of your death, when the four elements of which you are made come apart-"you will be like a crab struggling in boiling water with its seven or eight arms and legs." Do you think you're uncomfortable now? Just wait! It won't be long. "When that happens, don't say I didn't warn you."

Mumon's Verse begins, "The moon above the clouds is ever the same." The night before last, the moon was just beginning to be full, and the sky was so clear. So after zazen, I led everybody outside to see it. And nobody was enlightened. There it was! The full moon of enlightenment! "Oh, look at the moon, OK, `bye." Just like Nansen's "This Flower," everyone in a dream: "Yeah, that's nice, I wanna go to bed now." Well, this is like a crab struggling in boiling water. I tried. Don't say I didn't warn you! The next line is, "Valleys and mountains are separate from each other." Valleys, low. Mountains, high. Moon, whether we see it or not, whether full or not, whether hiding behind clouds or clearly revealed, still the same moon. You see the moon or you don't see the moon. Same moon! Your own true nature is right here, whether you wake up to it or not. Same true nature! Same Seijo! And at the same time, one is lying in bed, one has gone off to raise a family and is returning home. This principal of sameness and differentiation is at the very heart of our teaching. To wake up to this is truly essential. And what happens when you do? What happens when the two Seijos become one?

Mumon says, "All are blessed, all are blessed." That doesn't mean only Seijo, and not you. That doesn't mean only the valley and not the mountain. It doesn't mean only the moon and not the valley and the mountains. It means All. All are blessed. Are they one, or are they two?

Today we heard in the Diamond Sutra the famous lines, "The mind should be kept independent of any thoughts that arise in it. If the mind depends on anything, it has no sure haven." No sure haven. This One does not depend upon anything. We are always looking for a haven, and so we cannot realize that we are already in it. And because we are always looking for something else outside, we cannot feel this moon, this flower of our own lives. So what can you do to experience this sure haven? Some of you already have had a taste of it. That's wonderful. Yesterday I spoke about the Four Noble Truths, but I only went as far as the third. The Third Noble Truth tells us, it is possible to enter into Just This. Just stop. Stop depending upon anything; stop rushing about wildly. Just Be. How? Just sit down and shut up. This is what we're doing in sesshin: no matter what comes, just shut up shut up shut up. This is Mu, over and over, shut up. Yadda yadda yadda, shut up. After a while we don't need to say anything, just (exhaled breath). No dependence. And so the Fourth Noble Truth, this Eight- fold Path that we are on, is nothing but this original haven. Sometimes rushing madly upstream like an arrow in the torrent; sometimes sitting absolutely still in the moonlight, sometimes feeling the cool breeze through the pines-indeed, what more need we seek?

This is the last teisho of our five-day summer sesshin. It may be the last teisho. You never know. Don't take anything for granted. Who is the real you?