Saturday, July 28, 2012

Beyond Behavior

Scott Bradley


So many Zen stories, whether mondo or koan, confront us with the apparently nonsensical and even 'unspiritual' behavior of Zen Masters. They laugh at us, caught up as we are in the net of our own discriminating minds. 'Unspiritual'! What delusion!

In the 12th koan of the Mumonkan we have the story of Master Zuigan, who was known to talk to himself in public. "Master", he would call. "Yes", he would answer. "Are you awake?" "Yes, I am." "Never be deceived by others, any day, any time." "No, I will not," he would conclude.

There is much here of which I have not an inkling, but even the crumbs are nutritious. Zenkei Shibayama makes frequent reference to the "use" to which Masters put their Zen. They have been set free to express themselves in any way they choose. They dwell, as Zhuangzi would put it, "outside the lines."

If we were new to Zen, Mumon would want that we should be disturbed by Zuigan's behavior, for this would be the first 'barrier' through which we might pass. This is no small thing. To understand how Zuigan's behavior is beyond our criticism is to catch a glimpse of that place wherein he dwells. If we can begin to understand how his behavior is irreproachable, we can perhaps touch the fringes of his freedom.

The "use" of Zen is frequently playful. Zuigan publicly plays with his own self and, by extension, with ours as well. He is Master, not in name only, but in deed. There is the Master who calls and the Master who answers, but above all there is the Master who plays the game. What game? The game of self and of dualism. Having transcended both, he is free to enjoy them.

Don't try this at home! These feats are being done by a true Master. Mumon declares anyone who would imitate Zuigan an idiot. When you are your own Master, you can play to your heart's content, and in any way you please. For now, we can realize and enjoy a bit of that sensibility without the pretense of display.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, you've hit a sore spot: Zuigan calling "Master" is the koan I got stuck on after practicing Zen for about 5 years. I "passed" the first two koans my Zen Master gave me, but this one...I tried and tried for several years, got "close," according to my teacher, but of course "close" in this context doesn't mean much. By design, koans are supposed to create great frustration and doubt, and that's certainly true in my case. ARGHHH!

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