Case 25 Kyõzan's Dream
In a dream Kyõzan Oshõ went to Maitreya's place and was led in to sit in the third seat.
A senior monk struck with a gavel and said, "Today the one in the third seat will speak."
Kyõzan rose and, striking with the gavel, said, "The truth of Mahayana is beyond the four propositions and transcends the hundred negations.
Taichõ! Taichõ!" [Hear the truth!]
Now tell me, did Kyõzan preach or did he not not? If he opens his mouth, he is lost; if he seals his mouth, he is lost.
Even if he neither opens nor shuts his mouth, he is a hundred and eight thousand [miles away from the truth].
In broad daylight, under the blue sky,
He forges a dream in a dream;
He makes up a monstrous story
And tries to deceive the whole crowd.
There is a tradition in Zen which says that there are certain type of dreams that indicate a student's practice is ripe. There is also a tradition in Zen that says a true Zen master doesn't dream. When we practice Zen we must work through all the unresolved material that resides in our unconscious. For many of us this is a slow and arduous process. We might be filled with thoughts and feelings of anger, guilt, self doubt, greed, ego glorification, etc.. This is called karma. And all this unresolved karma rules when we dream and also rules when we are awake. It rules in the subtle and sometimes not so subtle emotions that accompany us all day. It rules in a semi-conscious substrata of thought that is happening all the time. It rules in our conscious because our conscious thoughts rise from these other layers of the semi-conscious and unconscious. This is how karma works. We call this conditioned consciousness and it manifests as that continuous jumble of thoughts that streams through our heads
The practice of Zen, in time, brings all this unconscious material to the surface and allows for its resolution. Generally this is a long process, and whatever issues we find ourselves confronting, again generally we cannot think these issues to resolution but must simply accept and let go. Taking vows and true repentance can also be deeply helpful. Then when we have done this work we will start to experience the unconditioned consciousness. This is simply a quiet mind. Yes, thoughts will arise here and there in response to the situation, maybe even strong emotions, but generally a person who has followed through on this process will be accompanied by an inherent ease and wisdom.
Here we have Koyzan, if he was truthful, telling us about a dream in which he gives a dharma talk. Was this because of some deep karmic desire to be a Zen Teacher or was it simply an awakening of wisdom presented in the dream state. I think the actual manifestation of dreams happen no matter how practiced or "enlightened" some one is. One of my first teachers often talked about his dreams in his dharma talks. Modern science tells us that everybody dreams but I have also experienced that the process of Zen greatly simplifies our unconscious and consequently one's dreams. My own experience is that when I am in retreat and just meditating and chanting day after day I will find myself just chanting in my dreams. A well practiced monk might find himself preparing for the next days activities in a dream. So Koyzan might simply have dreamed a dharma talk. So then the point of this koan is not the dream aspect but the dharma talk.
"The truth of Mahayana is beyond the four propositions and transcends the hundred negations.
Taichõ! Taichõ!" [Hear the truth!]
This dharma talk is right on the money. There is nothing more to say!