Thursday, April 06, 2006


Another quote from the koan commentary cited below (we have a clearer translation, but this one's more fun):
Master Ch'ang-sha and Master Yang-shan were good friends. One evening in autumn they were admiring the moon together. Suddenly Master Yang-shan pointed to the sky and said, as if to himself, "This clear bright moon! Though everyone has it, there is scarcely anyone who can freely use it." "Yes, there are some who can use it," said Master Ch'ang-sha, "I can show it to you, if you wish." "That is interesting. I should like to see it," Yang-shan answered. Even as Yang-shan spoke, Ch'ang-sha sprang upon him like lightning and knocked him down. Rising to his feet, Yang-shan commented with admiration, "You are really a tiger!" Hence Master Ch'ang-sha was given the nickname, "Ts'en the Tiger."

No wonder they were such good friends.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Step Forward From the Top of a Pole

Another good preparatory meeting on our Fear project. Jyana brought in the the text of a Zen koan that we've been talking about. Here it is, followed by commentary*:


Master Shih-shuang said, "From the top of a pole one hundred feet high, how do you step forward?" An ancient Master also said that one sitting at the top of a pole one hundred feet high, even if he has attained "it," has not yet been truly enlightened. He must step forward from the top of the pole one hundred feet high and manifest his whole body in the ten directions.

Wu-men's Commentary

If you can step forward and turn back, is there anything you dislike as unworthy? But even so, tell me, from the top of a pole one hundred feet high, how do you step forward? Sah!
To those of you who can manifest in ten directions, this is perhaps not too interesting. But I refer you to that "Sah!" which I think we can all appreciate.

Once you've reached a certain level of achievement and preparedness, how do you make the leap back into life--back in to the hustle and scrum of the everyday, with the necessary humility and compassion? Enlightenment is not just in reaching the state of awareness, but in returning back to the world and life--to teach, to live, not to persist in remaining separate from it. That's my rough approximation of the interpretations we've read about the koan.

For us, we're dealing with this image in the context of fear--the fear one must overcome to take that leap. Once you have prepared yourself for what you want to do, what stops you from making the step into it? How do we, individually, respond to the challenge to step forward from a pole one hundred feet high? Do we even climb the pole in the first place? Once there, are we comfortable enough not to risk leaving? Do we scheme to find other less dangerous and less frightening ways to get off the pole? How do we feel about other people and their poles? (To those with dirty minds--Earl, this means you--I say: Sah!)

*This is adapted from case 46 of Zen Comments on the Mumonkan by Zenkei Shibayama

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