Friday, May 17, 2013

the AC/DC kongan (2003 repost)

In honor of the Buddha's birthday, a repost from 2003, the year I began blogging:

The sun shone brightly over the monastery. Birds chirped and sang. A gentle breeze was blowing. You couldn't ask for a better, more beautiful day. The Korean Seon master surveyed the assembly of hundreds of monks and nuns in silence. Once or twice, he nodded, as if listening to some inner voice. The sea of bald heads and grey robes was perfectly still, waiting for the master to begin his dharma talk.

Suddenly, as if on fire, the Seon master sprang to his feet, clutched the microphone in a death grip, and bellowed, "I've got big balls! I've got big balls!"

The assembly regarded the Seon master in shock. A few moments passed. The Seon master, still standing, breathing heavily, wiped his sweaty upper lip with the back of his free hand and shouted, "And they're such big balls!"

A monk in the assembly stood up and cried, "Dirty big balls!"

A nun popped up, pointed a trembling finger at a monk she had a crush on, and squealed: "And he's got big balls!"

The accused monk, scandalized, stood and pointed back at her: "And she's got big balls!"

And the entire assembly, on fire with enlightenment, rose as one and shouted to the heavens, "But we've got the biggest! Balls! Of them all!"

The whole world seemed new. The master whispered silkily into the mike, "And my balls are always bouncing, to the left and to the right. It's my belief that my big balls should be held every night."

Silence reigned again. The dharma talk was over. The monks and nuns bowed in hapjang to the Seon master, and filed away to their respective posts. Pretty soon, the master was alone at the podium. Slowly, he stepped down and began his graceful, measured walk across the compound, all the while reciting the mantra:

Some balls are held for charity
And some for fancy dress
But when they're held for pleasure,
They're the balls that I like best.

*** *** ***

UPDATE: I went digging through Robert Buswell's The Zen Monastic Experience to look for an anecdote. Finally found it.

Ch'unsong sunim (1891-1978), a well-known disciple of Han Yongun (1879-1944), was one of the last masters to cultivate "unconstrained conduct" (muae haeng)-- practice not limited by the usual constraints of monastic discipline and decorum. Refusing to conform even in his old age, Ch'unsong continually wandered from monastery to monastery, disdaining even to observe the retreat periods kept by all the other monks. Tales of his audacious and often obscene conversations with laywomen-- all of which tended to center around pointed references to their vaginas-- are rife among the monks. In one of the more well-known stories, assassinated president Park Chung Hee's late wife, a devout Buddhist, is supposed to have invited Ch'unsong to deliver a lecture at her birthday celebration-- his reputation somehow unbeknownst to her. Ascending the dharma platform before all the distinguished guests, Ch'unsong sat still for thirty minutes, not uttering a single word. Not wishing to make a scene before the First Lady, no one said anything, but the audience was growing visibly agitated. Finally, once he saw that everyone's patience had run out, Ch'unsong bellowed, "Today is the day the First Lady's mother burst her vagina!" and walked out. Needless to say, he was not invited back.

Please don't get the wrong impression about Zen monasticism from this. If you pick up Buswell's book (which I highly recommend), be sure to read his concluding chapter, which is a reappraisal of Zen based on Buswell's "inside" knowledge of monastic life (he was a monk at the Korean temple Songgwang-sa for four or five years; he was originally a monk in a Thai order). Korean monastic Zen turns out to be quite scholastic, despite its antiscriptural reputation; it relies heavily on Theravada texts; and the "subitist" notion of enlightenment, to which monks may pay lip service, is belied by the actual meditative praxis, which can take decades to cultivate the proper mindset. Sudden enlightenment early in a Korean Zen monk's career is exceedingly rare.

Meanwhile, enjoy the spots of Zen wackiness when they appear, in books or in real life.


1 comment:

John Mac said...

Well, I'll be damned. I had no idea.