Monday, January 31, 2011

Gutei's Finger @ Byron Street up the hill in El Paso

Last week after services we talked about the koan "Gutei's Finger." I've always been fascinated by the story, having first read it sometime in the 60s. (What the hell? The guy cut off the monk's finger!) I came across the story in my first copy (I've had maybe six of the years) of Sensaki's and Reps' translation of Zen Flesh / Zen Bones. It's the fifth koan in their version of the Mumonkon, The Gateless Gate, used by Rinzai teachers to test their students. The book is a staple in bookstores, you can buy it on-line and it's even available free on-line with a little search. Of course, as a publisher, I suggest you follow the first or second path.

Now that I've spent time being with the story, I'm hearing reverberations of it in most everything I read. For instance,...

"This is the practice of dying to the self."
--Charlotte Joko Beck


Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. "I attained my finger-Zen," he said, "from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it." Then he passed away.

[Oh, it's Monday morning. I'll paste a recent commentary from my teacher Harvey Daiho Hilbert Roshi, the founder of Clear Mind Zen. The commentary also rings with the understanding of Gutei's Finger. I recommend you follow Daiho's blog or write him directly and ask that he put you on his e-mailing list.]  

Master Dogen taught that to study the Way is to study the self.  This study is the act of burning away the construction we call self, allowing the pieces to fall away, and supporting what remains as that which was not born and that which will not die:  our true nature.  This is the universality of everything, the Great Breath, not one, not two, just this.

How do we “get there”?  Simple, we get out of our own way.  We realize we are already there, that there is no there, and that the desire to get there, the imagining of a there in the first place, is all part of the delusion.

We practice stillness.  This is the practice of just coming and going, the practice of breathing in and breathing out, the practice of practice itself:  zanmai o zanmai.  The Samadhi that is the king of Samadhi.

Does raw land allow our plants to grow or do we need to till and otherwise care for the field?  Do we need to weed and water?  Do we need to fertilize?  For our crop to be plentiful and strong, we need to do these things.  Just so, Zen.  We cannot expect to open the self to allow our True Nature to emerge without study.  Right understanding requires a plow, hands, fertilizer, water, sun, and a willingness to set about the work itself. 

Oh, not to forget, yes, we will be sitting this Tuesday night same time (7pm), same place (4425 Byron) doing the same old thing--sitting in the silence until the bell rings. Come join us.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Thanks to artist Polly Perez for our new logo. Last Friday (the very last moment) in preparing for Zazenkai and the Jukai Ceremonies of Kathryn Soku Shin Masaryk and Mike Inmo Dretsch, I realized I needed some sort of image for their certificates. I wrote Polly around 10am, wondering if she could come up with something quick. She accepted the challenge. She works half-day on Fridays, so she spent some time thinking about it and in a little less than two hours that afternoon she had accomplished the above. I was delighted.

By the way, I put photographs from the Jukai ceremonies on our Facebook page, and I'll be writing something here about the ceremonies when I get the time. I hope you are all well, and I thank you for your practice.

--Bobby Kankin Byrd