Sunday, October 19, 2008
Interfering or teaching
One of my favorite passages is from Zen Master Hakuin who lived in the 14th Century in Japan. Hakuin was a deeply enlightened fellow and is revered by most living Zen Buddhists today. Anyway Hakuin wrote in a letter to one of his lay students named Kokan the following:
One day in Mino province I observed a cicada casting its skin in the shade. It managed to get its head free, and then its hands and its feet emerged one after the other. Only it’s left wing remained inside, still caught to the old skin. It didn’t look as though it would ever get that wing unstuck. Watching it struggling to free itself, I was moved by feelings of pity to assist it with my fingernail. Excellent, I thought, now you are free to go on your way. But the wing that I had touched remained shut and would not open. That cicada never was able to fly as it should have. Looking at it, I felt ashamed of myself and regretted deeply what I had done. When you think about it, present day Zen teachers act in much the same way when they guide their students. I’ve seen and heard how they take young people of exceptional talent—those destined to become the very pillars and ridgepoles of our school—and with their ill-advised and inopportune methods end up making them into something half-baked and unachieved. This is a direct cause 0f the decline of our Zen school, the reason the Zen gardens are withering away.
Hakuin was deeply troubled by his peers, but why? Why would he be upset with someone trying to help someone else? Well his experience with the Cicada was a deeply connected experience. How many of us would look at a cicada with the same compassion as Hakuin? Śākyamuni Buddha; the historical Buddha, said something quite profound on his deathbed when questioned by his attendant, Ananda and his Dharma Heir Mahàkàsyapa, who asked him what they should do once their teacher had died and they were left on their own. Śākyamuni Buddha said, “Of the myriad tens of thousands of words attributed to me, of the myriad tens of thousands of words attributed to me, don’t believe a one of them. Be a light unto yourself.”
Most of us don’t understand that this means to struggle with our own false sense of self until we attain the true way. But this attainment can’t come from reading a book, or having someone tell us what we should believe. This comes from years of introspective struggle with the meaning of our own existence. That is why Hakuin was upset with his peers. They were too willing to help, and in the process hurt the ultimate potential of their students and their student’s students for generations to come.
Zen teaches that we all must reach enlightenment and save this world from suffering. But what does this mean? First off what the heck is enlightenment? In Sanskrit there is a phrase, which Buddha used which is Anuttarā Samyak Sambodhi. Loosely translated this means complete unexcelled awakening. So assuming that we attain this enlightenment or Anuttarā Samyak Sambodhi, what are we to do with it, how are we to help save this world from suffering? So there is a paradox. How can we help, if the helping itself can be a hindrance?
Quote Source: Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin (Paperback)by Norman Waddell