Saturday, March 6, 2010

Catching the Bull

(A continuation of the Zen story, "Ten Bulls")

4. Catching the Bull

I seize him with a terrific struggle.
His great will and power are inexhaustible.
He charges to the high plateau far above the cloud-mists,
Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.

Comment: He dwelt in the forest a long time, but I caught him today! Infatuation for scenery interferes with his direction. Longing for sweeter grass, he wanders away. His mind still is stubborn and unbridled. If I wish him to submit, I must raise my whip.

When I first began to practice with Tony Patchell, he told me the Zen koan of the iron bull and the mosquito. At first I thought I was the mosquito, and Zen was the iron bull. I was flitting and buzzing about, trying to gain entry to an impenetrable path. I felt as powerless as a mosquito would feel, in such a predicament.

Later at home, I had an epiphany: I am the iron bull! It seemed that I was the one who was implacable and unwilling to change, tethered to my world view, and the mosquito, Zen, was relentlessly pursuing me, trying to get my attention, wanting to wake me up with its nipping bite.

I do not know if one or the other of these insights was correct. All I know is that having my understanding inverted, thrown from one thing into its opposite, split my world open. My life-long attachment to duality and good/bad, me/you, was tossed high into a stormy summer sky, and I was left fresh and new because of it, even if only temporarily.

So am I catching the bull? Or is the bull catching me? Do I raise my whip to subdue the bull? Is that what happens when I sit down to meditate, refusing to get up until the zazen period is done? Is the bull my wandering mind, seeking the pleasures of other pastures? If so, is it a whip that will pull it back? Or a gentle beckoning?

No answers - but many possibilities of answers. And in that wealth of opportunities, a widening of the world.

The text and drawings are excerpted from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. The story is by Kakuan, transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps, and illustrated by Tomikichiro Tokuriki. (Comments in italics are part of the text.) Copyright Charles Tuttle and Co.

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