Swallowing a Red-Hot Iron Ball
Zen is hell, says the author. But after the eight-day 'monk killing' Rohatsu retreat, he decides it's totally worth it.
Day One: Wake-up bell at 4:30, which leaves 20 minutes for my three anonymous roommates and me to perform our bathroom ablutions, get into our robes, and go to thezendo
(semi-aerobic, follow-the-leader walking meditation) around the zendo at 4:50.Choka,
the morning service in the dharma hall, at 5:00. This is mostly chanting, accompanied by various gongs and bells and drums, and it's fun when you get used to it. It's also beautiful in the darkness before dawn, illuminated only by candles.
After a long sit, Jiro Osho, theTanto
(meaning the second-in-command under Eido Shimano Roshi, the abbot), tells the neophytes aboutmu
. In the eighth century, there was a Zen master named Joshu. One of Joshu's disciples asked him, "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" Joshu answered, "Mu," in effect a nonsense syllable, and the monk attained enlightenment on the spot.
What did he mean by mu? Mu is one of the most basic yet difficult koans, or Zen riddles, and we are now to contemplate it during zazen (meditation) and solve it. Figuring out mu is like swallowing a red-hot iron ball that won't go up or down in your gullet, says Jiro, a stocky and vigorous man who looks like he should be leading the Seven Samurai against an army of bandits. Mu just sits there and burns.
|Struggling with the koan is like swallowing a red-hot iron ball that won't go up or down in your gullet.|