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Buddhadharma : Spring 2006
buddhadharma| 5 |spring 2006 commentary time to remember our legacy by robert aitken the Caigentan (say “Tsai-gen-tan”), or Vegetable Roots Discourse, by Hong Zicheng, consisting of 360 Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist homilies, was first published in the Ming period, a time that coincided with Shakespeare’s. This was very late in Chinese cultural history; Confucius, Lao-tzu, and the Buddha had flourished around 500 B.C.E., a hundred years or so before Plato. The Ming period followed the Song, when the great com- pendiums and encyclopedias were composed – the first great collection of Zen cases was published at the very outset of the Song period in 1000 C.E. Efforts to reconcile such disparate Chinese traditions as Buddhism and Confucianism developed a bit later in the thirteenth century. Thus, by the time Hong Zicheng came along, the imperative to synthesize the three im- portant Chinese traditions was well established, and in read- ing the Caigentan, you can trace how the writer evolved in his own psyche from largely Confucian attitudes to those reflect- ing Daoism and Buddhism as he advanced in age. You can also trace lessons for our time: the decency of our Chinese ancestors as compared to the inhumanity of our time, the rigor of the old practices compared to the concern about feelings in what we call practice today, and the vast nature of selflessness compared to the dumbing-down and the self-indul- gence of much of modern teaching. Many Zen students claim to understand the old cases, when really they haven’t a clue. A monk said to Yunmen, “What happened when the Buddha looked up and saw the Morning Star?” Yunmen said, “Come here! Come here!” The monk approached. Yunmen picked up his staff and drove the monk from the hall. What’s going on here? I suspect you need to return to your cushions. Here are some Caigentan entries, together with some com- ments I composed: If treacherous talk constantly assails your ears and hostility constantly troubles your heart, use this power as whetstones of moral cultivation. If every word fell pleasantly on your ears and every event gladdened your heart, then your entire life would be mired in venomous poison. This sets forth the practice of the noble-minded person in Confucian ideology, and of all noble people of whatever reli- gious persuasion. With nothing to defend, there can be only welcome of any chance to wear away the last vestiges of self-serving. The true Buddha is in the home. The true Dao is in everyday functions. If you maintain an honest heart, a harmonious manner, a pleasant countenance, and graceful words with your father, mother, brothers, and sisters, and flow with them, each in turn, in whole-hearted accord of body and spirit, then isn’t this ten thousand times better than breath control and introspection? This trenchant Confucian challenge would seem to deny the virtue of zazen. But it does not, at least so far as the Mahayana is concerned. If the last phrase read, “ten thousand times bet- ter than the thrush singing to the overcast sky,” that would be a denial. Zazen is not confined to the wheeze of your lungs, for goodness sake! Zazen is the mountains, the rivers, the great Earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars. Soil that is dirty grows the countless things. Water that is clear has no fish. Thus, as a mature person, you properly include and retain a measure of grime. You can’t just go along enjoying your own private purity and restraint. This is a passage I found long ago in Zen in English Literature, and I’ve quoted it countless times since. The Dao of the mature person is the Middle Way. It is a matter of clarity, discrimina- tion, and firmness. Otherwise, it is a pitfall. There is simply no substitute for integrity. When the wind has passed through a grove of bamboo, the rattle of the stalks dies away. After the wild geese are gone, their reflection in the deep pool disappears. In such a way, things come up for you as a noble person, and when they are gone, your mind is empty once again. Another old favorite: “Let Nature be your teacher,” as the young Wordsworth cautioned himself (in vain, it seems). Probably the Buddha himself had a passing thought once in ➤ continued page 11 TOMHaaR