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Practice Corner

To help keep Joshu Roshi’s teaching alive and vital, we have invited Rinzai Ji Oshos and monks to contribute small musings on Zen practice, teaching, and insight.

Shozan Marc Joslyn Osho.

Shozan Marc Joslyn Osho.  Shozan Marc Joslyn became a student of Sasaki Roshi in 1964. Together with several other people, Shozan helped establish the first Rinzai Zen center on Cimarron Street in Los Angeles. In 1970, Shozan with Dan Sunada established Mt. Baldy Zen Center in the San Bernardino Mountains, east of Los Angeles. Shozan was ordained as a monk in 1972 and as an Osho in 1982.

One morning during a Sesshin at MBZC Roshi gave a particularly intense Teisho on the theme of being ‘hung up’ either because one has to get or achieve something or because one has to avoid or get rid of something.  True self-embraces everything, he emphasized, and true self cannot be fully or absolutely experienced as long as there is something which one lacks or has in excess.  True self is ‘perfect’

While accompanying him back to his cabin after the Teisho, and passing the work cabin on the side of the way, Roshi paused, then went up to the entrance of the cabin to look at something.  It was a particularly crisp, clear morning and hanging from the southwest of the eave, swaying in a gentle breeze, was a large, glistening, dew-laden spider web.  I had never before seen such a huge, beautifully constructed web.  Roshi also seemed impressed.  But he commented abruptly “Roshi dislikes spiders!” in seeming contradiction to the Teisho he had just given. He cast a sharp look as if hitting me as if to say “understand?”

Roshi was demonstrating non-discriminating discrimination, that disliking spiders was not absolute, not in contradiction to his Teisho, that Zen practice does not demand that we live without preferences like angels or machines.  Trying to gain ‘emptiness’ or to root out one’s likes and dislikes only results in attachment to non-attachment, in egoful pretense of egolessness.  To see our human preferences for what they are with no effort to gain or get rid of anything is to trust True Self to relieve us of the phony absoluteness of this or that fixed notion.

Gido Richard Schnabel Osho.

Gido Schnabel Osho started his study of Tathagata Zen at the age of twenty-one. Forty eight years later, he continues his practice and investigation. Early on, heeding the words of Joshu Roshi who told him: “Your life is going to be heavy if you don’t get this koan” he has applied himself earnestly to the questions Joshu Roshi posed,  questions that usually started with “How, When and Where”. They say the Buddha’s search for the dharma were stimulated by the keisakus of illness, old age, and death. So far, Gido says, he has found no fault with that old story.

There are many pairs of polarities we can use to describe this world, each with their own utility in illuminating particular aspects of our experience. We can talk about light and dark, past and future, expansion and contraction, male and female, and so forth. These bring focus respectively to the activities of form, time, space, humanity and desire. Yet to be Zen we must arrive at zero, which the polarity of plus and minus accomplishes with the exactitude of the language of mathematics.

Listeners to the teishos of Joshu Roshi over the last twenty-five years of his life know that he untiringly returned to the metaphor of plus and minus for the twin activities that generate that which is complete and perfect as well as incomplete and imperfect in all of their manifestations. This suggests that he found it to be a tool without equal in using words to infiltrate, not just the American mind, but the modern mind with constructs stimulating to our practice to realize these two activities for ourselves.

I don’t know if in Zen’s long history of words and tales we would find the specific concept of plus and minus. But if there is to be a uniquely American or better yet modern, international manifestation of Zen, it will need its own language, and I would suggest that Joshu Roshi’s use of plus and minus is a big step in the right direction.  Using the symbology of mathematics “the queen of the sciences”, it builds a much-needed bridge for the modern mind into the religious experiences which are the foundation of this thing we call Zen.