I ended the recent post, "Do Special Experiences Mean Anything?" with this:
"The experience itself does not have those meanings. We find them in relationship."
As I was working on that piece, I thought that I'd add a koan for you, just to make the above point, but in the final edit, it seemed like "doing too much," so I deleted it. The koan I had in mind was just off-the-old-translation block and is probably not known even by the most Zen-narrative savvy amongst us. But it's a delight, so I'm coming back to it here.
Warning: Although the koan below seems like a meeting of old friends, a proverbial dip into the warm mud bath at the Zen Spa, there are thorns in the mud. As you might expect.
The koan I offer below features a householder, Yang Wuwei (who was previously unknown to me), and Furong Daokai, who was the eighteenth generation lineage-holder in China in what became the continuing Soto line. Furong's special experience (aka, great awakening), came when he asked Touzi Yìqing, “The words and phrases of the buddhas and ancestors are like everyday tea and rice. Apart from those, is there a special place from which to help people, or not?”
Touzi told him “If you bring forth intention, you already deserve thirty blows.”
And with that, Furong realized great awakening. Those readers that are also Vine students will remember these two great teachers, or at least I hope you will, because we studied them in our Spring Intensive, 2023.
The koan below is from The Record of Going Easy, "Case 20: Dizang's Intimacy." I'll be posting my full translation of the case and commentaries with my annotations (a six page pdf) later in the week for all subscribers (free and paid) - so if you haven't subscribed yet, you might press the button on that now.
This koan must come from the period after Furong's special experience and is a real "everyday tea and rice" (i.e., a scene from ordinary life) koan:
Yang Wuwei asked the exemplary Venerable Furong, “How many years has it been since we’ve seen each other?”
Rong said, “Seven years.”
The gentleman said, “So, you've been studying the Way, thoroughly penetrating with meditative insight?”
Rong said, “Don’t play this fife and drum.”
The gentleman said, “This is the way to meaninglessly wander through the mountains and rivers, incapable of anything.”
Rong said, “We haven’t been apart that long and yet you’ve sure gotten good at lofty reflections.”
The gentleman had a great belly laugh.
Now, let me add just a note or two about this. First, what stands out is this koan's ordinariness. "How long has it been since we saw each other?" "Seven years."
The gentleman Yang then checks what old Furong's been up to. "After coursing the depths of the buddhadharma, I hear you've become a dharama hot-shot, eh?" Wink, wink.
Furong's response, “Don’t play this fife and drum,” exemplifies the pronoun issue, or lack thereof, in classical Chinese. Thomas Cleary hears (and to translate is to enter the dialogue and hear), "I don't play that fife and drum." Furong also could have intended to say, "Don't you, old Yang, go playing that fife and drum." Or Furong could intend, "While I was travelling around, I didn't find anyone that played that fife and drum."
And there are more possibilities, I'm sure. What is the meaning of Furong's response, “Don’t play this fife and drum”? That is one key point of the koan. And in face-to-face teaching, an explanation won't do. Only intimacy will show it.
The gentleman Yang continues to play with Furong's depth of practice, his special experience, or lack thereof, “This is the way to meaninglessly wander through the mountains and rivers, incapable of anything."
Or, "Dude, are you just wasting away in meaningless just sitting, just walking?"
I see Furong slapping his old friend on the back here and saying, "I thought you were quite a smartass when we studied together under our old teacher, but now I see you've really become quite a smartass."
And Yang had a big laugh. That's the heart of the matter.
But, hey, what's the inside joke?
May this be beneficial for your practice awakening.