Case 15 Tõzan's Sixty Blows
Tõzan came to study with Unmon. Unmon asked, "Where are you from?"
From Sato," Tõzan replied.
"Where were you during the summer?"
"Well, I was at the monastery of Hõzu, south of the lake."
"When did you leave there," Unmon asked.
"On August 25" was Tõzan's reply.
"I spare you sixty blows," Unmon said.。
The next day Tõzan came to Unmon and said, "Yesterday you said you spared me sixty blows.
I beg to ask you, where was I at fault?"
"Oh, you rice bag!" shouted Unmon. "What makes you wander about, now west of the river, now south of the lake?"
Tõzan thereupon came to a mighty enlightenment experience.
If Unmon had given Tõzan the true food of Zen and encouraged him to develop an active Zen spirit, his school would not have declined as it did.
Tõzan had an agonizing struggle through the whole night, lost in the sea of right and wrong. He reached a complete impasse. After waiting for the dawn, he again went to Unmon, and Unmon again made him a picture book of Zen.
Even though he was directly enlightened, Tõzan could not be called brilliant.
Now, I want to ask you, should Tõzan have been given sixty blows or not?
If you say yes, you admit that all the universe should be beaten.
If you say no, then you accuse Unmon of telling a lie.
If you really understand the secret, you will be able to breathe out Zen spirit with the very mouth of Tõzan.
The lion had a secret to puzzle his cub;
The cub crouched, leaped, and dashed forward.
The second time, a casual move led to checkmate.
The first arrow was light, but the second went deep.
Those who have who are well practiced in zen usually answer questions in one of two ways. They will answer in a completely straightforward way without guile because, they have no personal agenda, or they will answer from within the enlightened perspective and often will make little sense to those outside that perspective. This is of course why koans are so difficult to understand but also why they work.
Unmon asks Tozan a very simple question, "Where are you from?"
And receives a very straight forward answer, "Sato". "Straight ahead runs the way" says Hakuin in his Song of Zazen. And Unmon says he will spare him 60 blows. Being spared 60 blows is better then receiving 60 blows but why would a Zen Master hit anybody?
Rinzai Zen is noted for its vigor and it's physicality. In those ancient days Zen Masters did hit their students spontaneously. Today Zen students are also hit but now it is with a kiasaku stick while they sit zazen. Someone walks up and down the rows of sitters carrying the stick and each of the practitioners is free to ask to be hit as the person carrying the stick passes. Then the practitioner is hit on the muscle just behind each shoulder. The feeling is a quick sharp pain that wakes you up and that is exactly the point. It is meant to help you stay awake durring zazen. But the stick can do more than just help keep you awake. I heard Harada Roshi tell an interesting story. He was asked by one of his students what was the most difficult part of his training in the monastery. He said it was during the last years when his fellow students were assigned temples before him. When the priest of the temple that he was eventually to take over came to the monastery and asked Mumon Roshi when will the student who is to take over his temple be ready, he was told the student needs a few more good whacks.
"Kiasaku stick" is often translated as the "enlightenment stick." Its purpoes is not just to help the student stay awake but to truly awaken the student. The physical aspect of the enlightenment experience should not be forgotten. I have written much about the phenomena of chi ( ki in Japanese), herein this blog, which is that nervous system energy associated with the enlightenment experience. Some meditation systems may work directly with this energy visualizing it rising through the body but in Zen you just get hit. As one sits for a long period chi energy builds up in the body but it often takes some sort of catalyst to make it function. That catalyst is often a shout or a hit. Then the chi rises resulting in a deep spiritual experience. I am not one who often asks for the stick while I sit during sesshin. I have been practicing for many many years and so with a little effort I can usually settle into a deep state of meditation in a period or two but sometimes I just can't stop my mind from wandering and then I ask for the stick. More often than not the quality of my meditation will instantly change. I can feel the energy rise to my head and I will settle into a deeply quiet and aware state of mind.
While Unmon was not necessarily chastizing Tozan, Tozan felt as if he was chastized and spent the night agonizing over what he said that was wrong. And maybe Unmon was looking for that other type of response that comes from within enlightenment. In the morning Unmon essentially tells Tozen that all his wandering in search of spirituality is just a symptom of an unsettled mind and that the Dharma is not to be found in this or that monastery or from this or that teacher. The wisdom of the dharma can only be found through the discipline of zazen which allows us to look within. So now we are back to the original question, "Where are you from?" This is the central question of this koan. It is not about any physical location but is asking the question in a much deeper sense.
This is the fundamental question of all religion. Where do we come from? Humans are born upon this earth with a basic ignorance. We don't know what we are and why we are here. Most of us take life pretty much as it presents itself to us. We humans appear to be individuals in a world of individual beings and things. We are filled with thoughts and desires and a strong sense of our individuality. And we are driven by those desires and thoughts. But that is ok because that is who we are. And yet very quickly in life we learn that we are temporary beings who deeply suffer, and do terrible things to each other driven by our desires. And there is this fundamental ignorance of our nature and purpose which sits in our heart and with out some answer creates a deep existential suffering. What are we truly? Where do we come from? What happens when we die? Do we have a purpose beyond propagation? Does life have a purpose? Religion, among other purposes, serves the purpose of answering these questions. Frankly I think most religions are just stories we have made up to meet our psychological needs. We have a strong innate fear of death and desire to keep living so when faced with our inevitable death it is only natural that we would make up stories that deny death and come up with an alternative such as heaven and reincarnation. We have a strong sense of our own individuality and importance so we have made up this idea of a soul or atman which is the deep unchanging source of our individuality which can live on in heaven or reincarnate. We probably made up our first religious stories long long ago sitting around the campfire. The really good ones were remembered and told for generations until they were believed as the wisdom and revelations of our ancestors, the core of the tribal religion. Out of our ignorance and our needs we made up these stories. And then out of our ignorance and needs and training from childhood we believe these stories.
I am not saying that religion is a bad thing. It is part of the human condition. The power of faith is that it can relieve our existential suffering and give us purpose. But in today's world where each of us are exposed to many of the world's religions and we can choose what we want to believe like we are selecting food off a menu why should we believe any of it?
I do not really know much about India in the time of the Buddha but I think it was a time of religious questioning like today. The early shamanistic religions of India were transforming spurred by many factors like increased urbanization and the invasion of tribes from the North. The Buddha's own tribe was one of these invading tribes. But if we read the stories of the Buddha as well as a wider study of the forming of India's religions we realize there were many people in the Buddha's time trying to come to a deeper understanding of our human condition. From this same time in India we see Buddhism and Jainism formed and much of the Upanishads literature in Hinduism is written. But Buddhism was unique in that it really didn't rely on any of the already existing beliefs. More than anything else the Buddha laid out a path in which the seeker can find out his/her own answers. In fact it is imperative in the following of this path that the seeker drop all beliefs. I know I know much of today's Buddhism is filled with doctrine which is to be taken on faith but this was not true of the Shakyamuni's own teachings and it is not true of Zen today. And the vehicle for this search is the practice of meditation in which we can watch how our mind works and then as we deepen our meditation we purify our mind of all attached ideas and settle into pure consciousness in which there is not even an idea of a self. This is the perch from which we can clearly see ourselves and the larger world and the relationship between them not as two but as One. Each of us must in this way answer, the question, where did I come from?