When the monks assembled before the midday meal to listen to his lecture, the great Hõgen of Seiryõ pointed at the bamboo blinds.
Two monks simultaneously went and rolled them up.
Hõgen said, "One gain, one loss."
Tell me, who gained and who lost?
If you have an eye to penetrate the secret, you will see where Seiryõ Kokushi failed.
However, I warn you strongly against discussing gain and loss.
Rolling up the blinds, the great sky is open,
But the great sky does not come up to Zen.
Why don't you throw them all down from the sky,
And keep your practice so close that no air can escape?
This koan is a trap. It is meant for the really hard cases, those who can't stop thinking about even the smallest details. Spin this koan for a couple of years and see what you get. Gain and loss, right and wrong, just stop thinking that way so you can finally move on. I certainly don't want to give this koan much attention so I am going to write about something else.
I have been a carpenter/woodworker for most of my working life but now as I have gotten older and my back hurts much of the time I am closing up shop and moving on. So the other day I was cleaning my shop, delivering garbage to the dump. Getting ready to sell my tools to a new generation of eager carpenters I was thinking about getting old and at the dump I was thinking about the massive waste our society produces and then with global warming and our crazy President wondering if we humans really can survive. Thoughts like these might cause depression in some but as a well trained Zen Buddhist I don't worry about the future much. I don't ignore and not think about the problems we humans face its just that I don't attach to any particular outcome. Sometimes I tell friends that humanity is not the final outcome of evolution, there will be another species that replaces us and maybe it will be smarter and less self destructive. We humans are sort of at an evolutionary cusp. We are smart enough to be self conscious but only barely smart enough to be Self conscious with lots and lots of work. Maybe in some distant future there will be a species on this planet where the individuals naturally mature into Self conscious awareness.
So there I was at the dump and my mind quieted. I became deeply aware of our human existence being a dream within a dream. At the most basic level thought creates this human world. I am not saying that there is no world outside our thoughts. To believe that there is nothing outside our thoughts is ego speaking. There is certainly something outside our human mind and physicists and other scientists attempt to understand and describe this hidden world. But on a basic level the brain turns the input of energies, from this hidden world, interacting with our sense organs, into some sort of coherent and functional picture. We don't experience the world of subatomic particles, quantum fluctuations, quantum fields etc. which underlies our experience of the world. We see the world as having shape and color and definable edges, and solidity and softness, smelling sweet and sour, tasting salty and also sweet and sour etc. This is a world created by our brains. In some sense this is a dream even at the most basic level of our experience. But, we don't reside at the most basic level of our experience. From our sense impression we create the whole human whole world with all our judgements and desires with the whole social structure and it has worked to promote the stability and the propagation of the human form. Now I am not sure it is working any more.
As we dive deeper and deeper into meditation and cut out one layer of dreaming after another we return to our most basic level of pure sensation without meaning or interpretation. this is the world of emptiness, sometimes it is called the world of suchness. As I explained earlier this world of suchness is also created by the brain but there is no I, no person, in this creation. Zen teachers have often called this world of suchness a reflection. The image of the moon reflecting on still water is often used as a metaphor for the world of suchness. But even this world of suchness is a dream. it is all just interconnected energy, and even to put this word "energy" to this phenomena is adding too much. It is just the unknown and mysterious, dreaming of itself as a human and that dream of a human dreams a world into creation. Look at ourselves. We are smaller than a grain of sand in comparison to the Earth in our relation to the known Universe, and what about the unknown Universe. We are truly insignificant. We are born and we die in an insignificant spec of time. It might seem painful to accept such insignificance. We must be the special creation of a special god. How can we live without a sense of self worth? That is suffering!
Stop thinking that way. Just stop thinking. Isn't it enough to just be and partake in this mysterious existance moment to moment? All the years of Zen practice have given me a way of dealing with these issues. I don't think of myself as much of anything. Yes I am insignificant but I am also the Self Awareness of the Great Mystery just enjoying experiencing this larger Self breath by breath. Wouldn't life be much easier if we didn't thirst for significance