The Other

Sesshin here over the weekend so no blogging, then work all day and afterwards a green tea latte with an old friend – an ex-Roman Catholic priest, retired Episcopalian minister, and now a practicing Quaker. One very chilled and wonderfully grumpy old guy.

Thanks to those of you who commented on the issue of immanent and transcendent. Here’s a question from email, one that lots of Zen students have, that gets at this issue in a relationship kind-of-way:

“How can a Buddhist or anyone who uses Eastern ideas to communicate his life and experience…talk to Christians? By Christian…I mean, God is a man…and…Christ is your personal savior and all other religions are off because of this fact. I ask at risk of stealing my little koan from myself. I have a girlfriend who is into this…difficult to talk about anything in words. Of course, before words, Truth is there.”


The point of [any intimate relationship] is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good [relationship] is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of [her or] his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.

The above is Rilke, not me, also pictured above (also not me). He sure says it better than I could.

Nevertheless, I’ll hack away at it. Another way to put it though is this: Don’t be a Buddhist, be a Buddha. As long as your a Buddhist you’ll be fighting.

“Under the beautiful flag of religion we fight,” said Katagiri Roshi.

A Buddha can hold both sides at the same time, transcendent and immanent, and still enjoy her noodles.

And if you’d like to fish some more in the Zen stream, what follows is an old koan that appears in Playing the Iron Flute Upside Down. It deals with relationship issues, including like those between Ms. Transcendent and Mr. Immanent (or Ms. and Ms. or Mr. and Mr.) You might imagine this to be a dialogue between two lovers. My comments are inserted below in normal font.

A monk from Korea said to Yun-chu “I have realized something within me which I cannot describe at all.”

Oh, a realization that is so pure it avoids foul words? Transcendent, transcendent. A gap greater than heaven from earth. And much like many Zen students these days who hide behind no-words. Yun-chu best go back to his room and make the monk sleep on the couch.

“Why is that so?” asked Yun-chu, “it cannot be difficult.”

If you’ve seen it, you can say it. If you know what purity and impurity are, you can play with them like a doggie with a new ball.

“Then you must do it for me,” the monk replied.

Best not to pick up the work that the other must do for her/him self. If you do, they’ll just wind up resenting you.

Yun-chu said, “Korea! Korea!” and closed the dialogue.

Remember, the monk was from Korea. So Yun-chu is saying, “You’ve returned home! You’ve returned home!”

Later a teacher of Rinzai Zen criticized the incident, “Yun-chu could not understand the monk at all. There was a great sea between them, even though they lived in the same monastery.”

Yes, Yun-chu was just using the sea to guard the monk’s solitude.

Genro (18th Century Soto monk): The Rinzai monk could not understand Yun-chu. There was a great mountain between them even though they were contemporaries.

Yes, the Rinzai monk was just using a mountain to guard Yun-chu’s solitude.

Genro’s Verse
It is not difficult to open the mouth;
It is not difficult to describe the thing.
The monk from Korea was a wandering mendicant,
Who had not yet returned home.

Comments welcome. Other or not.
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