It has been a while since I have made any entries here at Art and Zen Today. Now that I am back, I plan to use this site in a slightly different way; namely as one component of a performance art piece that is a response to a Koan given to me by my Zen teacher Jiyu Gage Roshi.
I’ll be working on this Koan in preparation for a ceremony that is called “Shuso Hossen” in the Zen world. In this ceremony a student offers his or her understanding of the Koan and fields questions from other students about the Koan to demonstrate their readiness to be considered a senior student. Usually, students are assigned to work on one of the traditional Koans that have been part of the training for Zen monks throughout the centuries in China and Japan. However, my teacher has decided to explore alternative Koans that speak more to Westerners living and practicing Zen in non-monastic circumstances.
My intention, at this point, is to frame my response as a performance art piece and use blog posts here at Art and Zen Today as part of that performance. All of this may change, but for now I see posts in the near future as being directed primarily to members of The Vista Zen Center and having to do with “my process” as I prepare for the Shuso Hossen Ceremony. . It is my hope that my posts will generate comments and feedback from readers that will help me figure out what the culminating ceremony will look like. Here ( in Italics) is my Koan as sent to me by Roshi:
In our Shuso Hossan ceremony we will be looking at a koan that Manoj has been working with for quite sometime. It is traditional for the person who is the shuso to work on a koan with the teacher in preparation for being asked questions by other sangha members during the ceremony. In our situation I am asking Manoj to work with the Four Vows as his koan. In fact, I gave him this koan in the very beginning of our study together. It came out of my own struggles with the Four Vows. I told Manoj that if he wanted to be a serious Zen student he would need to be able to answer the question for himself about how he could work with the Four Vows and create Art simultaneously. When I started Zen practice, I felt some guilt about doing my own artwork while there was so much suffering going on all around me. Overtime, considerable time, I was able to resolve those issues in a satisfactory way for myself and for my teacher’s understanding. As Manoj reached the point where I was going to ask him to go through the ceremony with me and the Sangha, I realized this question around the Four Vows would be good for us as a community to look at together with Manoj. In fact, I may use it with other Shusos in the future. We will talk more about this in group discussions that we will be having over the next few weeks and months. So, the koan Manoj is working with is as follows:
A student came to the teacher and said I want to study with you. Fine, you may study with me but, you are an artist and I want to know how you can fulfill your Bodhisattva Vows as a Zen Buddhist while painting at your easel or playing your trumpet. These are the vows I am speaking of: (These are the ones we regularly chant at The Vista Zen Center)
Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
The dharmas are boundless, I vow to embody them.
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to awaken..
Who is your picture freeing? What delusions are your tunes transforming? What dharma gates are being embodied when you sculpt? How does your art awaken anyone, including yourself?”
While most of my previous blog post were directed to anyone interested in the topics I covered, those leading up to the Shuso Hossen will be primarily directed to members of the Vista Zen Center. Where most of these earlier posts had the flavor of semi-academic essays, I will endeavor to make future posts shorter and more personal expressions having to do with my process of fashioning a response to the Koan. One way for the Sangha to be involved, as per Roshi’s wishes, is for readers to make comments on the posts as they are published.