Tales, Legends in the Transmission of Zen by Jean Marc Kukan Delom

Tales, Legends in the Transmission of Zen by Jean Marc Kukan Delom

Tales, Legends in the Transmission of Zen by Jean Marc Kukan Delom

By Jean Marc Kukan Delom

Zen is full of stories and tales from multiple sources, reworked, told and polished over time.

Tales and stories do not speak of religion or transcendence but simply of the human being and the world. They are the living expression of Dharma. There is no morality, no absolute truth. When reading them, if we understand their meaning, the invisible becomes visible.

The common point of all Zen schools is the master-disciple relationship.

“The main role of the master is to transmit the three pillars of Zen, to settle, to go beyond the mind, to act without expecting anything (Mushotoku)”. In Zen, transmission, the master-disciple relationship becomes more important than the study of texts and sutras. We discover how the disciple penetrates emptiness through non- meaning. The me of the disciple fades away, the vision changes, starting from an egocentric functioning towards a heliocentric dynamic, then towards a non-dual vision, finally reaching the vision of the heart. Here are three examples of transmission :

The Buddha’s Flower

One day, the Buddha showed a flower to an assembly of one thousand two hundred and fifty monks and nuns. The assembly was perfectly silent and sought to understand. And then, suddenly, the monk named Mahakashyapa smiled and the Buddha smiled back at him and said, “This treasure of insight, I transmit to Mahakashyapa.”

Why did Mahakashyapa smile?

Perhaps it just shows his joy and happiness. Joy is the living expression of realization. But the Budhha also knows the limits of words. He has omniscience in omnipresence. As the senses perceive objects and construct ideas, the mind conceives thoughts. We build and manipulate ideas, but in itself, these are just ideas that lead to an activity called Karma. Reality can not be expressed as long as one thinks reality, or one speaks reality, but it must go through a direct experience.

This first transmission also invites us to open our heart. To relearn how to see, see and contemplate a flower, a tree, a stone and this other one, in its similarities and differences. And so between attachment to the pleasures of the senses and renunciation of these pleasures of the senses, to find Knowledge.

Knowledge, which is like birth. Inwardly turning, as the child turns into the interior of his mother’s womb, and being reborn in the moment to this existence, in this balance that leads to wisdom.

Returning to this simplicity of being in the moment, in this simple conscious presence, living in the spontaneity of a child, Mahakashyapa received, with a smile, the transmission of the Dharma

The first Awakening from Taiso Eka 2nd patriarch of Chan zen (Hueke)

Taiso Eka, following the instructions of the Indian monk Boddhidharma, the first zen patriarch in China, having practised zazen for a long time beside him, asked him:

Master my mind still does not find rest,

Show it to me, replied Bodhidhama and I will purify it!

I can not grasp it …

Boddhidharma exclaimed :

Then, I have purified it!

And the disciple knew his first awakening. In zen, Dokusan s the term that characterizes this exchange. Doku : going alone – San : to the one who will perfect our learning.

Thus a permanent dialogue is established through verbal exchanges or tasks to be performed, which are meant to make the disciple advance on the way (oshie) to enlightenment (satori).

Zen insists on a regular and constant confrontation.

Dokusan is not just a meeting once a year. It is the expression of a common approach that is accomplished over time, in an intimate relationship whose purpose is to get the mind out of his drowsiness, his habits, his packaging.

In this short exchange, Bodhidharma does not answer Taiso Eka’s question with a descriptive, or prescriptive word, saying what to do or not to do. His words are performative, that is, they are an act in itself, thus causing a change in the other.

Transmission of Hyakujo – 10ème patriarch of Zen, Obaku

Certain circumstances can lead to violent situations..

Hyakujo questioned Obaku after picking mushrooms.

Hyakujo asked him if he had seen a tiger. Suspecting that Hyakujo was launching a dharmic fight, Obaku uttered a loud groan.

Huakujo brandished an ax as if to hit the animal, but the disciple grabbed the master and punched him. Hyakujo burst out laughing and the same evening announced to the other monks: “There is a tiger in Mount Taiju. Beware of him, this morning he bit me.”  In pronouncing these words, he had just designated his successor in the dharma.

As it is said in the Fukanzazengi: “You must therefore abandon a practice based on intellectual understanding, running after words and keeping you to the letter “.

For the readers that we are, the methodology of this story invites us to a kind of hermeneutical experience, interpretative beyond words. Tradition becomes language without being tied down by it. The tradition becomes timeless, impersonal, universal and simply alive.

Soto Zen kept this in its method of transmission through the Hossenshiki ceremony which dedicates a shusso, as the first disciple or monk of the first row.

This ceremony does not confer a diploma, nor is it a degree of ordination. Hossenshiki literally means “Ceremony of Dharma Combat”. Through a series of questions and answers and very precise gestures, the Shusso certainly demonstrates his knowledge, but he especially updates his personal commitment to the service of the community, of all people. It’s the spirit of the big brother, the big sister. He expresses his determination, certainly by words but above all by his bodily attitude in a body-mind unity.

Hokyo Zanmai helps us to understand this ceremony. “The meaning does not lie in words, but the appropriate moment makes it appear “.

In conclusion, Zen stories and tales tell how the disciple, in this visible world which is common sense and yet not separated, must live Returns, Turns and Renunciations. For this, Zen Masters have used :

  • Silence
  • Destruction of image and beliefs.
  • Means of communication such as gestures, screams and paradoxes
  • The “public case” (koan)
  • The “beginning of a word” (huatou)
  • Poems

Like the Buddha, they taught with skilfull means or rather they were skilfull in their means. Exceeding any notion of separation, this transmission could not take place without benevolence, quite simply in the love of one.

Sangha Tenborin