Foreword to Flowing Bridge: The Miscellaneous Koans, by Ruben Habito, Part 3 of 3

The three fruits of Zen, in other words, are all about becoming truly human, in all that this entails.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of The Miscellaneous Koans

There is a word in Spanish, aterrizar, used in referring to airplanes as they gradually approach the earth (terra) and land safely on the ground. This term is most apt to describe what needs to happen to the practitioner who has been graced with a glimpse of the world of Emptiness. The third fruit is about this process of touching ground again, after soaring the lofty heights of the vast Empty sky. It involves a process not only of finding one’s ground, but also of taking root, and blossoming, and bearing fruit in abundance, fruits of wisdom and compassion actualized in one’s day to day life. It is a never-ending journey that continues throughout one’s life.

The third fruit relates to the actualization of the awakening experience in all that it entails in every nook and cranny of one’s daily life. While the second fruit may take but a moment, the flash of an instant, to manifest itself, the cultivation and maturation of this third fruit takes an entire lifetime.

This is why continuing practice after the initial awakening experience is so vital and crucial in a practitioner’s life. The glimpse of the infinite horizons of one’s true self, given in the initial awakening experience, can leave one dazed and dislocated, that it can take some time to be able to land safely back on earth again, to return to one’s normal senses.

In our Sanbo Kyodan Lineage, based on the teaching and practice of three founding Zen Masters, Harada Daiun (Great Cloud), Yasutani Hakuun (White Cloud), and Yamada Koun (Cultivating Cloud), who together form the “Three Clouds” (San-un) of our home practice place, San-un Zendo, located in Kamakura, Japan, we have this small treasure box called the Miscellaneous Koans, culled from the various koan collections handed down from the Zen Masters of China, Korea, and Japan. A practitioner confirmed in the kensho experience is given a little booklet with this collection of miscellaneous koans, as the next stage of one’s practice, to help one in the process of settling back on the ground again. It contains twenty-two items, many of which have subheadings. For a practitioner who goes regularly to the face-to-face meetings (dokusan) with the teacher to “work” on these miscellaneous koans, it may take from several weeks, to several months, or up to a year or two, to go through this collection.

After having worked through this initial set of assorted koans, the practitioner is led koan by koan through the major collections, the Wu-men Kuan (Mumonkan) or Gateless Gate, the Piyen Lu (Hekigan-roku) or Blue Cliff Records, the Ts’ung jung lu (Shoyoroku) or the Book of Serenity, the Denko-roku or Transmission of Light, and as the capstone, the Five Ranks, the Pure Precepts, and the Ten Grave Prohibitions.

This program of koan study (shitsunai shirabe, literally, “in-the-room investigation”) provides us with something like an elaborate tool kit for the ongoing inner work involved in Zen practice. The practitioner is thus invited to take a path forged through centuries by countless individuals who have traversed the same road before, with each koan as a new pointer along the way. In taking up this invitation, one ventures on a fascinating journey inwards, wherein one scales the depths and breadth and heights of that infinite realm that is one’s own true Self, wherein one keeps on finding new treasures and precious gems each step along the way.

This program of koan study involves repeated and frequent one-on-one encounters with the Teacher, who herself or himself has gone through the process with a Teacher, over a period of many years. It thus forges a bonding between Teacher and practitioner, an auspicious karmic connection of such depth and breadth that can never be adequately put into words.

The “end result,” if one can talk about results here, is to enable a practitioner to come back full circle and reclaim one’s humanity, with a renewed sense of acceptance of one’s gifts and strengths as well as one’s shortcomings and weaknesses. One is able to see things more clearly with equanimity, and find peace within oneself. One is able to embrace the world, with all its pains and sufferings, as well as joys and hopes, and offers oneself, with a heart of compassion, to the world of sentient beings, to help in the healing of its wounds, with one’s unique gifts and talents and interests, from one’s particular station in life…

The three fruits of Zen, in other words, are all about becoming truly human, in all that this entails.

It is about smelling the aroma of coffee while sipping it from one’s cup in the morning, getting up and taking a walk, smelling the flowers, patting a dog as it wags its tail in glee, greeting a stranger along the way. It is also about getting tired after a hard day’s work, feeling pain at a muscle strain, being indignant at the way the world is being run by so-called leaders, writing a letter to one’s senator on an issue of concern. It is about getting sick, growing old, and eventually, dying. But through all this, at each turn, in each and every encounter, one is fully there, tasting to the brim. As one goes along this path, one continues to deepen one’s appreciation for all that is there, given, in this precious yet fragile condition of being human. One thousand blessings, ten thousand blessings. Gratitude, only gratitude.

The various items in this collection of Miscellaneous Koans present a sampling of the gems that await one in that journey inwards, toward becoming fully, truly, human. Zen Master Sr. Elaine MacInnes has given the world a great gift in presenting her comments on these koans in published form. There are now a good number of books available in English by different Zen Masters with their commentaries on the main koan collections, such as The Gateless Gate, The Blue Cliff Records, and so on. This book of Sr. Elaine is the only one so far that takes up these Miscellaneous Koans, a small but very important collection that can play a crucial part in a practitioner’s landing back on solid ground after an initial glimpse and soaring high into the sky of Emptiness.

Persons in their early stages of the Zen path will find in her words helpful guides for the journey. Practitioners who are well into the path will find fresh insights into these koans, and also recognize themes that they may already be familiar with from their own experience. Readers who are not yet practitioners may find here enough enticements to want to try this practice of Zen meditation for themselves. May it inspire you to accept this invitation, perhaps locate a practice center near your area, check it out, and start sitting. Come, taste and see!

 

Ruben Habito is a Sanbo Zen teacher at the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas. This article was taken from the MKZC website and is titled, Foreword to Flowing Bridge: The Miscellaneous Koans. It was originally published as the Foreword, in Flowing Bridge, by Zen Master Sr. Elaine MacInnes.

Images: Zen Pool, by Vincent Carrella, CC by-ND 2.0 and My Zen, by Brillanthues, CC by 2.o, from Flickr.com

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