Case 8 Keichû the Wheelmaker
Gettan Oshõ said, "Keichû, the first wheelmaker, made a cart whose wheels had a hundred spokes.
Now, suppose you took a cart and removed both the wheels and the axle. What would you have?"
If anyone can directly master this topic, his eye will be like a shooting star, his spirit like a flash of lightning.
When the spiritual wheels turn,
Even the master fails to follow them.
They travel in all directions, above and below,
North, south, east, and west.
After my last blog where I tried expressed some transcendent insight to comfort us, now we are back to nuts and bolts Zen. At one sesshin I was having all sorts of great experiences and insights. My mind was on fire. I kept going into sanzen and telling the Roshi all this great stuff that was happening to me. Finally he shut me down. He did not want to hear all my wonderful thoughts. He was interested in something else.
The Mumonkan unlike the many other koan collections is usually "studied" in order. The 48 cases that Mumon assembled are a course of study for the training of clear eyed monks. Here we are at case 8, not exactly beginners but still it is easy to catch our minds. Maybe we have had some great insights and experiences but can we let them go. Again and again we need to go to the root. We need to go to that place described in the Heart Sutra, "no eyes, no ears, no body, no mind," no spokes, no wheel, no axel.
After Harada shut me down I had a very simple insight that is not transcendent in any way, yet it was a very important insight. The insight was that Harada was not interested in my insight but rather the depth of my meditation. When I was to meet Harada in sanzen I was to meet him in whatever samadhi I could muster. Insight is just a natural result of zen samadhi, but if one gets caught up in insight then that insight becomes a barrier to further deepening samadhi.
Most Koans are alike in their essence. They start by telling you something that catches the mind in thought. The story or question might seem absurd or just interesting, We might think we can think through the koan but then we find that never satisfies the teacher. So we go back to sitting but then when our meditation reaches sufficient depth we discover that in some way the koan is really about meditation and that the koan is not about thinking at all but rather about not thinking. So why do we do koans, why don't we just sit like the Soto School and teach not-thinking? Koans in conjunction with regularly meeting a teacher push us in a way that is not found through regular practice. Once we understand that koans can not be thought out then we will realize that we must push our meditation to return to that place where zen insight is natural, samadhi. As we work through the koans our teacher gives us we must do this again and again. Years ago after I passed a few koans with Sezaki Roshi he told me that I must build a "structure". I now realize that this practice of doing one koan after another is how this structure is usually built.
Koans do have meaning, and that meaning will reveal itself when our meditation is sufficiently deep. In this case the cart without wheels or axles is a metaphor for samadhi, nothing else.