Followers of the Way, as the Zen school sees it, life and death rotate over and over. Practitioners should take a close look at this. When a host meets a guest, there is an exchange of discourse. Sometimes they reveal the body according to the circumstances. Sometimes the whole body is brought into function. Sometimes they show pleasure, or anger on purpose as an expedient according to karma. Sometimes they reveal half the body. Sometimes they mount the lion, sometimes they mount the elephant.
In ‘life and death rotate over and over’, ‘life and death’ means the realm of form, and ‘rotate over and over’ implies seemingly ceaseless change. The reason why Rinzai tells practitioners to take a close look at this is that seeing the realm of form as it is, is no other than enlightenment.
This part shows how masters teach people depending on circumstances and students’ capacity. ‘They reveal the body according to the circumstances’ means that masters reveal the true-Self according to the circumstances with words, or actions which are called koans. A master answered, “Dry shit” when he was asked what the true-Self is by a monastic, and another master responded, “A cypress in the garden.” These are examples of revealing the body, the true-Self by using words. Some masters would reveal the true-Self by actions such as brandishing their sticks, hitting monastics with their sticks, or feigning anger or pleasure. In fact, all koans are no more than expedients to reveal the true-Self. ‘They reveal half the body’ means that masters reveal the true-Self with plausible words that make people fail to recognise the true-Self by alluring them into following their literal meaning. This is the same as ‘they hide half the body’. However, the true-Self is revealing itself wholly all the time, and it is impossible to hide or cover even the slightest part of it because the action of hiding or covering it is no other than the function of the true-Self.
‘They mount the lion’ means that they give people strict teaching of wisdom, and ‘they mount the elephant’ means that they show compassion through abiding effort to lead them to enlightenment.
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway
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