Yanyang's Thing: Ode to Sangha
Tuesday, April 3, 2018 at 11:48AM
Elena Taurke in Community, Interconnection, PsychoZen Meets Life, Psychology, Zen

The diamond sword. The black snake.“Trust the process,” said my new romance, as everything converged.

The spectacular and ridiculous ritual known as Shuso Hossen became the focus that yanked my fragments together last month. Fear was a constant companion but the terror was wildest when I imagined Dharma Combat, the challenge to “Dragons and Elephants” in the Dharma Hall to confront me, to demand answers to potent life questions. Having watched a few of these, each time amazed at the deft handling of such deep inquiry, I was certain that I could never measure up.

Certainty is not usually good preparation and yet I longed for it. The koan that spoke to me seemed to have a ready-made answer for any question:

Venerable Yanyang asked Zhaozhou, “When not a single thing is brought, then what?” Zhaozhou said, “Put it down.” Yanyang said, “If I don’t bring a single thing, what should I put down? Zhaozhou said, “Then carry it out.”

Of course I envisioned many variations that would give me the opportunity to shout: "Put it down!" But that wasn’t the process that unfolded. Something told me that the heart of the koan was the encounter between these two men, the sincerity of the second question leading to the final opening. “If I don’t bring a single thing, what should I put down?” Now he is truly confused. He thought he had the right answer, but the fog of confusion shatters the words...now he’s ready.

“Then carry it out.”  Bammo!  Yanyang sees it. Enlightenment follows--colors vivid, hearing animals speak, love permeating everything, you know how it is.

So I knew that I had to keep encountering teachers as I prepared. I presented one answer; it seemed to work so I repeated it, and failed. Every effort to nail it down failed.

So it is with improvisation, which was my theme during the retreat. Sneakily, I called it “Form and Adaptation,” but those in the know knew that it was improvisation. Ruth Zapporah, a master theatrical improviser, articulates my greatest fear:

"There’s always the risk of disaster—the show where nothing gels, nothing lifts off, the show where I don’t lift off. My disembodied thoughts collide into one another as they work double-time to make a good show, to make it appear as if everything is as it should be, that I’m on top of it, that it’s really a fine piece of theater. But in fact nothing is aligned—my mind is refusing to play, and my body is so far away from me that I can’t climb into it and don’t even remember how."

What is the remedy? What preparation prevents that from happening? People advised me to be 'myself,' but therein lies the impossibility, the koan. Having designed a variety of selves to coordinate with this or that context, how can I know what ‘myself’ actually is?

Says Ruth, "The fake space is the space between the doer and what is being done." Does that help?

Not the words but the doing. When there is no space between doer and doing, that is intimacy. And the only things that matters in Dharma Combat is intimacy. So all the improvisation I got to practice prepared me. My strange romance, meeting delusions, meeting the human, meeting my longings prepared me. Every encounter with a teacher, with a senior student, with a dharma brother or sister, with a person in my psychotherapy practice, every encounter without exception showed me something that I didn’t know. It wasn’t the brand new knowledge that prepared me but the refreshment of not knowing. That's how we put it down.

When I gave the dharma talk on the koan I featured the people in the room, some of the dearest people in the world to me. But now, the arrow points to you. You are helping me wake up to what is real and true. And someone is helping you. Even if you don’t know you’re doing it, especially if you don’t try, you are part of the enlightening. Buddha famously said (even though I can't find the damn quote and I don't have time to hunt for it*) that he was enlightened along with everyone and everything. 

Do your thing in this tragic world, whatever moves you to protest our poisonous culture. And as you do it, see each other, encounter something you don't know.

with love, Elena Yuuka 
*Beautiful Roshi wrote me from Kyoto with the quote and source: Keizan’s commentary of Case One of Transmission of the Light: 
“I, the great earth, and all sentient beings are simultaneously enlightened”




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