Saturday, May 14, 2011
Watazumi Doso Roshi Zen Mountain Monastery 1983
When the shakuhachi master Watazumi Doso visited the Monastery some twenty years ago, he did play the iron flute with no holes. He was an amazing student and teacher of the bamboo flute who regarded it not as a musical instrument but a “breathing tool.” He was a bit crazy and very delightful, gruff but with a real sense of humor. We took him on a tour of the grounds when he got here. There was a plumber working at the bathhouse, pieces of galvanized pipe lying all around. Watazumi Doso picked up a five-foot section and started playing it. He had a melody and a whole range of tones coming out of the pipe. But is that expressing the inexpressible?
What is the unobscured clear original person and where is it to be found? What is the soundless sound of the stringless lute? There’s a truth that precedes sound and there’s an intuitive perception that follows. Before the sound even happens, the truth is present. And it is intuitively grasped. In the buddhadharma, this is called intimate talk or intimate sound, that is, expression that can be recognized and understood even though it has no sound. However, we should appreciate that although there is no sound, it cannot be said that it is silent. For this is not a matter that exists in the realm of dualities. It’s non-dual.
Although there is no sound, it cannot be called silent. It can’t be called silent because it communicates. We can’t even say it communicates in the usual sense because nothing comes from the outside. There is no outside. That’s the way the buddhadharma is transmitted. You already have it—all of it. That is why you can’t obtain it. It needs to be discovered; it needs to be realized. When that really happens, it doesn’t arise from all of the skillful means—discourses, face-to-face teaching, liturgy. It just emerges out of your own being. You suddenly see that it has always been there. You are born with it and you go to your grave with it. Some may realize it and some may not, but the fact is, it’s there. Not just a part of it, not one side of it—the whole thing.
Soon after we established Zen Mountain Monastery—then the Zen Arts Center—I invited Watazumi Doso for an extended stay as a master in residence. Doso, a master of the bamboo flute, was esteemed as a Japanese national treasure. One weekend Doso was teaching a workshop, and a rather puffed-up philosophy professor and long-time bamboo flute aficionado arrived at the Monastery. The professor brought out a very expensive and highly polished bamboo flute. Dramatically bowing to Doso, he said a little too loudly, “Please teach me.” The translator relayed the message. Doso grumbled something in Japanese. The translator responded in Japanese to Doso. Back and forth they went several times until Doso’s voice became gruff and demanding. The translator then turned to the professor and said, “The master said he will teach you… ‘Take the bamboo flute and hit yourself on the head with it.’” Before the professor had an opportunity to react, Doso began talking again. The translator continued, “The master says, if you don’t want to hit yourself on the head, hand the flute over to him and he’ll do it for you.”
Our state of consciousness is revealed by our presence, before anything else. We can’t hide it by being silent or by avoiding interaction. We see the same sort of exposure in Herrigel’s book Zen and the Art of Archery, where he describes how he was constantly “seen” by his master. These days, when we conduct retreats in Kyudo at the Monastery, Master Shibata’s piercing eye reads students well before they even get anywhere near a bow. Being able to see a student is an important part of the teachings, and it informs the way instructions are given. But it doesn’t just happen in Zen. When the sound of a flute is off, everyone in the audience can hear it. Even the uninformed can feel the disharmony.
Going beyond that, can we hear the subtle differences between, let’s say, a master violinist and a highly developed practitioner? I can’t. To me, a first violinist sounds superb, and I can’t tell the difference between him and a maestro. When it comes to Zen, we’re talking about even more profound subtleties. It’s not about performing, but rather about everyday human interactions. It’s about how we combust our lives.
The next line in the commentary says, In walking, talking, asking, and answering, illumination and function must be simultaneously manifest. There is the outward behavior, and then there is what is happening inside. There is driving a car, growing a garden, holding a child. In each of these activities, is there self-centeredness, or is there selflessness?
The next line says, Provisional and real are not two. The real is the absolute basis of reality. The provisional is the world of differences, the myriad things. The truth is a single reality; it doesn’t fall into one side or the other. The matter cannot be avoided—it was this way in ancient times. When you look at it, it’s clear that human nature hasn’t changed in thousands of years. The delusion of two thousand years ago is the delusion of today. How we process it may be slightly different, but it’s still there.
Imitation and self-styled Zen fills the skies and covers the countryside. This is monkey-see, monkey-do Zen. These days it’s monkey-read, monkey-do Zen. We think we can get the truth out of a book. The market is filled with Zen recipe books. You do this, you do that, and you become enlightened. Do we really think we can learn liturgy from a book? Or how to play the flute, nock an arrow, paint a picture, dance a dance? We can’t. We can only do it by practicing under the guiding eye of someone who has been there before.
As for self-styled Zen, in the land of the blind, a person with one eye is king. People see a little bit, and they figure they got it. We don’t know what we don’t know. At eighteen years of age, I definitely had the answers to all sorts of problems. And if anyone was willing to listen, I would tell them about it. However, the commentary says, if you are a clear-eyed person, you can’t be fooled one bit. Being clear-eyed is having the awakened eye, the piercing, penetrating eye that can discern the subtleties.
In order to guide people through the forest of brambles, the marvelous functioning and unconditioned compassion of an adept is required. That marvelous functioning—also called the great functioning—happens after we’ve let go of the notion of a self, after we’ve become free of our restrictive habit patterns and our mind has merged with thusness. “Great functioning” is also used to describe the functioning of the universe itself, because when the self is forgotten, the universe is all there is. It also means the fully awakened human potential that functions outside of fixed patterns.
The consequence of this great functioning is unconditioned compassion. Once you realize that you are the universe, there’s no way you can avoid taking care of it.