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Buddha's Zen
Answer
4/27/12 5:47 PM
Hi, I was reading the 101 Zen Stories, and was really intrigued by the last koan (not the only one of course, but this one made me think more).
Now, I know Zen koans are known to sometimes be incomprehensible, but is that the case for this one?
The Koan was "Buddha's Zen", read below:
Buddha said: "I consider the positions of kings and rulers as that of dust motes. I observe treasures of gold and gems as so many bricks and pebbles. I look upon the finest silken robes as tattered rags. I see myriad worlds of the universe as small seeds of fruit, and the greatest lake in India as a drop of oil on my foot. I perceive the teachings of the world to be the illusion of magicians. I discern the highest conception of emancipation as a golden brocade in a dream, and view the holy path of the illuminated ones as flowers appearing in one's eyes. I see meditation as a pillar of a mountain, Nirvana as a nightmare of daytime. I look upon the judgment of right and wrong as the serpentine dance of a dragon, and the rise and fall of beliefs as but traces left by the four seasons."

extracted from http://www.101zenstories.com/index.php?story=101

From what I understand, this is the buddha saying how the world looks like from the perspective of the buddha's nature, pure consciousness, or whatever you call it, seeing the reality as it is, without any concepts filtering it.
But I'm not sure what he said about "Nirvana as a nightmare of daytime.". I would guess what he means is that since nirvana is no-self and making all one's achievements useless, people are afraid of it.

Do you guys agree?
I do feel like I'm missing something though.

Thanks

RE: Buddha's Zen
Answer
4/29/12 2:55 PM as a reply to John P.
Hi John,
John G Packer:

From what I understand, this is the buddha saying how the world looks like from the perspective of the buddha's nature, pure consciousness, or whatever you call it, seeing the reality as it is, without any concepts filtering it.

Oh, my, what a web we weave when first we are tricked into being deceived.

First, let's become clear about what this book, 101 Zen Stories, is before discussing any philosophy or whatever that it is alluding to.

I have a translation of this book in the Paul Reps publication Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. In the preface we find the following:

"101 Zen Stories was first published in 1939 by Ryder and Company, London, and David McKay Company, Philadelphia. These stories recount actual experiences of Chinese and Japanese Zen teachers over a period of more than five centuries."

Further on is stated: "These stories were transcribed into English from a book called Shaseki-shu (Collection of Stone and Sand), written late in the thirteenth century by the Japanese Zen teacher Muju (the "non-dweller") and from anecdotes of Zen monks taken from various books published in Japan around the turn of the present century [1900]."

Therefore, we are NOT looking at anything that can be authenticated as having derived from the earliest talks given by Gotama that are known to exist (the Pali Canon). The source of these stories are from Zen teachers and monks.

The point being: consider the source.

John G Packer:

But I'm not sure what he said about "Nirvana as a nightmare of daytime." I would guess what he means is that since nirvana is no-self and making all one's achievements useless, people are afraid of it.

Now that you are aware that what you have quoted is essentially from the mind of Zen practitioners and based upon their own impressions of their practice and not upon anything that can be authenticated as having come from the mouth of Gotama, we may proceed with caution. Also, consider how accurately (or inaccurately) some interpreters might translate various thoughts being attributed to the Buddha, and you begin to see the trouble that can develop when attempting to accept that some passage either was or was not directly attributable to anything that Gotama may have taught or stated.

With that as a background, then, your interpretation of what was meant by the passage you brought up is as good as anyone else's is, considering that you now know the actual source of the quotation. In other words, in order to ascertain the intended meaning, one would have to speak to the Zen practitioner who originated the story in the first place.

To my knowledge, I've not come across any passage in the Pali Canon (and I've read three and one tenth of the four main Nikayas, along with three of the volumes from the fifth collection — the Khuddaka Nikaya) that could even remotely be translated to resemble the passage: "Nirvana as a nightmare of daytime," much less the whole of the passage translated and (falsely, to my thinking) attributed to Gotama. Therefore, I would not trouble my mind with attempting to figure out what in the world this might possibly mean.

Then, too, you have to consider the prime premise of Zen, which is to trick the mind into "no-thought," thus achieving, to the Zen way of looking at things, the equivalent of the early Buddhist ideal of Nibbana/Nirvana. What you then need to consider is: whether this Zen ideal of achievement is all there is to what Gotama had to teach? Or is there more. . . unplumbed depths of riches toward which Gotama pointed that assist one in arriving at a depth of understanding deserving of an Awakened One.

In peace,
Ian

RE: Buddha's Zen
Answer
4/29/12 3:09 PM as a reply to John P.
John G Packer:
I do feel like I'm missing something though.
What you're missing is that koans aren't meant to be approached this way. Their questions should be held as objects of meditation, and any realizations which seem to derive from this practice should be reported for feedback to the teacher who assigned the koan.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a good chapter about how to approach koans in his book Zen Keys in the chapter "The Cypress in the Courtyard."

Katsuki Sekida's translations of the Mumonkan and Hekiganroku are probably better sources of koans, especially when read in conjunction with his Zen Training. But they are not books for beginners studying on their own.