Thursday, March 3, 2011


"Once, after I (Hakuin) had set forth my understanding to the master (Etan Zosu) during dokusan, he said to me, 'Commitment to the study of Zen must be genuine. How do you understand the koan about the dog and Buddha-nature?'
'No way to lay a hand or foot on that,' I replied.
He abruptly reached out and caught my nose. Giving it a sharp push with his hand, he said, 'Got a pretty good hand on it there!' "

Some people use shock therapy to transmit dharma; others feel placid serenity is more the trademark of one ready to share enlightened understanding. Participants in this blog cover the full range. In fact, I've had the Dojin Roku representative of each extreme sitting here in sangha at the same sesshin!

Which approach do you find most awakening - the warm smile or the bucket of icy water?


  1. Buckets of ice can make you talk nonsense and believe you are enlightened. Warm smiles can make you so calm that you believe you are enlightened. Each approach has its dangers, but at least peopl with warm smiles aren't babbling and shouting all the time. So I'll stick with my warm smile, thank you ^^

  2. Somewhere off the line between serenity and verbally (or physically) smacking someone with a stick lies the region of putting a sandal on your head. Solid humor manages to be friendly and still push us out of our normal way of thinking.

  3. Ah! Eric…Finally, someone who gets it!

    The humor of original Zen has been all but lost due the militaristic interpretations of feudal Japan; this why it comes down to us as being so rigid. As you have probably already discovered, nearly all the “humor” we find in our readings comes from Zen before it makes its way into Japan.

    All this slapping and hitting with sticks has been interpreted as “discipline” by those who have lost their sense of humor. Originally when some master took of his shoe and hit one of his students; it was like you doing the same to your teenage kid for saying some funny smart-alecky remark. (Think Three Stooges)

    Even the incense board (keisaku) has been passed down as being a disciplinary tool, this interpretation is patently false. (It is an aid for relieving tension in the neck and shoulders and reinvigorates sleepy meditators)

    A classic example of how the humor of Zen has been lost is in Joshu’s Mu koan. The Japanese have made this a very serious koan; What did Joshu really mean? What is the deep meaning of Mu? Did Joshu contradict the Buddha? Think deeply on Mu, only then can you understand this very deep koan, ect. ect…

    But at the right time and place the humor was obvious. The word Mu is what makes this confusing to the Japanese. In Chinese it is Wu and mimics the sound a dog makes.

    So it really goes like this:

    A monk asked Chao Chou: "Does a dog have Buddha Nature?"
    Joshu barked back: "Wu!"

    With the Japanese word Mu this would have been better understood if the koan read:

    A monk asked Joshu: "Does a cow have Buddha Nature?"
    Joshu bellowed: "Muuu!"