People often discard what is directly before them. It’s something we all do, adopting a passive mindset, awaiting what is around the corner to really give us the kick in the pants we were looking for. This passive mindset especially seems rooted in esoteric traditions, either of the West or the East. The solution to this appears in the “sudden enlightenment” schools of Dhyana Buddhism (Chan/Zen), and western systems such as Thelema, but even in these schools do you see the same stagnation and difficulty in its adherents.
I came across two koans recently which I felt I’d share and offer a little meditation upon. The first speaks for itself, and speaks of this theme I refer to, so I’ll start with it. It is called ‘A Drop Of Water’ and is from an English translation of the Shaseki-shu (Collection of Stone and Sand).
A Zen master named Gisan asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.
The student brought the water and, after cooling the bath, threw on to the ground the little that was left over.
“You dunce!” the master scolded him. “Why didn’t you give the rest of the water to the plants? What right have you to waste even a drop of water in this temple?”
The young student attained Zen in that instant. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means a drop of water.
(The above koan was made available on the website of Ashida Kim).
The lesson here is quite clear. Zen being about cultivating non-dual (enlightened) awareness, cultivating true self-nature. There are many ways to take this one, if we see the Temple as our body, do not waste a drop of water. If we see water as flowing life through this temple that is the body, don’t waste a drop of it, attain realization of non-duality here and now and then act from mindfulness and non-duality thereafter.
This koan can also easily be extrapolated upon to see a correlation to real life, outside of a temple. The student’s mindfulness had slipped away during his work assigned by the master, his mind was one-pointed but only to the extent of having to complete the task of influencing the Master’s bath temperature. His mindfulness was merely to prepare him for that individual act, and dropped away with the completion of the task, as he became careless and dumped the water out without a second thought. The master scolded him, as to be “Zen”, one must see the whole of their works and deeds as their Work (karma), not this wavering application of their will as was demonstrated by the student in the koan.
The Brahmajāla Sūtra (also known as the Brahma Net Sutra) states the following: “If we do not fear transgressions, it is difficult to develop a wholesome mind. Therefore, the sutras contain this teaching: Do not regard a minor misdeed as inconsequential. In time, drops of water may fill a large vessel. Offenses committed in a moment, may result in eons of suffering in the hells. Once the human state is lost, it may not be regained for myriads of lifetimes.” (The emboldened emphasis in the quote was mine).
There’s one last koan I’d like to point at, this one from China. It is from the Odes to a Classic Hundred Standards by Xuedou Zhongxian:
“In ancient times there were 16 bodhisattvas. At the time for monks to bathe they followed the custom and entered the bath, and suddenly awoke by the primary cause of water.
All you Virtuous Ones of Zen, how do you make it alive to comprehend them saying, “The wonderful touch proclaims the brilliance and becomes the abode of the Buddha’s children.”
Also, [you] must do eight holes in seven borings to begin to get it.”
This one is not so apparent. Water means intelligence and wisdom, but also in Chinese Philosophy and Taoism it takes on a meaning of matter’s dying, or hiding stage. (This is because Water is the fifth stage of the Wu Xing). In the Five Dhyani Buddhas, Water and Winter are attributed to the same direction, if imagining the water freezing solid it turns it into a “mirror”, making the “Perfect Mirror Wisdom”, which is the Wisdom of Self Reflection, and this is upon the Eighth Consciousness… If you’re getting a bit confused, I’ve covered this in a previous post, do check it out. The Eighth Consciousness is “Cosmic Space” (the Space Element), and is “Emptiness”, or non-dual mind. As I’ve mentioned the Five Dhyani Buddhas, the direction of Water/Winter/Non-duality/Wisdom of Self Reflection is given the attribute of Akshobhya. Some information from Wikipedia: “Akshobhya is the embodiment of ‘mirror knowledge’ (Sanskrit: ādarśa-jñāna; refer Panchajnana). A knowledge of what is real, and what is illusion, or a mere reflection of actual reality. The mirror is mind itself – clear like the sky, empty yet luminous. Holding all the images of space and time, yet untouched by them. He represents the eternal mind, and the Vajra family is connected with reason and intellect. Its brilliance illuminates the darkness of ignorance, its sharpness cuts through confusion.
The Vajra family, to which Akshobhya belongs, is associated with the element of water. This is why the two colours of Vajra are blue or white. Bright white like sun reflecting off water, and blue, like the depths of the ocean. Even if the surface of the ocean is blown into crashing waves, the depths remain undisturbed, imperturbable. And though water may seem ethereal and weightless, in truth it is extremely heavy. Water flows into the lowest place and settles there. It carves through solid rock, but calmly, without violence. When frozen, it is hard, sharp, and clear like the intellect, but to reach its full potential, it must also be fluid and adaptable like a flowing river. These are all the essential qualities of Akshobhya.”
Returning to that last koan, the closing line of it is “you must do eight holes in seven borings to begin to get it”. The eight holes representing those aforementioned Eight Consciousnesses, since the eighth is emptiness and the other seven arise from it, the last line I believe refers to this. The Eighth is known as ālaya-vijñāna, or the “All-encompassing foundation consciousness”. The other seven consciousnesses are “evolving” or “transforming” consciousnesses originating in it, and are defilements of that original pure and empty nature (known in Zen as “Buddha Nature”).
The analogy of stepping into the baths water together, and then being in the abode of Buddha’s children, is wonderful imagery and is self-explanatory. Where in the air is there an absence of this water, and where are the monks not Buddha’s children?