Sunday, November 02, 2003

deepest teaching

I may have mentioned this on the blog before (and I have no intra-blog search engine to confirm this, though I'm thinking of rigging one up from the free engines available), but since I posted this as a comment over at Winds of Change, I thought I'd be a shmuck and post it here as well:

[This is in response to the question at WoC, "What is Zen?" That post was riffing off this post, from which I stole the brief snatch of Kerouac, whom I've never read.]

"...mud is better than words, boy."

While in the States, I sometimes attend ch'am-seon sessions over at Hanguk-sa, a Korean Seon (Zen) temple in Germantown, Maryland run by Master Shin Go-seong, who came to the US in the 1970s.

My first session at the temple-- my first time ever trying ch'am-seon-- went extremely well, which I attribute to beginner's luck. Sitting for three 40-minute blocks isn't the most obvious thing in the world, but time flew (beginner's luck confirmed: subsequent sessions were sometimes much more difficult).

I came to the temple with Connie, a Korean friend and sort-of classmate in the grad program at Catholic U. in DC. After the ch'am-seon, there was a dharma talk in the temple basement done in the Q&A style favored by monks teaching Westerners. Master Shin turned to us, asked some preliminary questions about what we were doing, etc., then suddenly said,

"You study religion, eh? So-- what is religion?"

You can't know mud is better than words until you've been in the mud, and this question, so simple, was precisely the kind of poser we academics dread, because the temptation is to approach it from a thousand equally wordy angles in an attempt to cover every possibility.

Master Shin wasn't patient with our stumbling, cagy, pedantic answers-- "Oh, religion could mean many things..." "Religion is about interconnectedness, being derived from 'religio,' itself derived from..."

Master Shin shook his head. "No, that's too complicated. Religion is deepest teaching."

You're not supposed to attach to words and concepts, but I've kept this wisdom with me and come back to it now and again, always finding new depths and richness in the simple phrase.

"Deep" isn't enough-- deepest. Zen is all about seeing with the dharma eye, direct perception of things as they are. More than mere perception, it's about doing and living.

"Teaching" is important because it implies that we don't walk the path alone, and from that we can indeed start to talk about interconnectedness and all the rest. Wisdom comes from somewhere else, always, just as all phenomena are dependently co-arisen.

By marrying those two words, "deepest" and "teaching," Master Shin cut right to the heart of the matter (in a way I'm not doing right now by writing this!).

What is Zen? Deepest living. Ordinary mind. Not the crash and flash of miracles and mountaintops and bellowing voices of deities, but finding the absolute in a bite of apple pie, and then not dwelling on it.

[Hominid's technical note: Unless I'm mistaken, the Sino-Korean term ch'am-seon applies specifically to Seon (Zen) seated meditation. The Japanese term zazen is, in Korean, chua-seon, the character chua referring to being seated. Zazen/chua-seon is a general term, often associated with Seon/Zen, but, in Korean Buddhism at least, applying to a wider context than just Zen.]

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