The Zen Master !

Jacques Castermane

Shortly after his arrival in Japan, Graf Dürckheim is introduced to the world of Zen; he begins his practice with kyudo, zazen and calligraphy.
Reconnecting with Zen specialist Professor Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki – whom had said that, can access the comprehension of Zen only the one which practices zazen – he shares a preliminary deduction: “Man in quest of meaning is he not in the situation of a fish seeking out for water?”. In other words, are we not in danger of seeking out at a distance what is nearby?

D.T. Suzuki’s answer deserves our attention: “Yes, it is exact. Yet, it is something else. When a man is on the path towards truth, it is water pursuing water!”.
It is no longer about what is near; is about intimacy, the most intimate.
It is no longer about a dualistic approach which opposes and separates the seeker and what is sought for. Back in the West Graf Dürckheim writes: “We easily say Man seeks himself out. But as long as the seeker is other than what is sought for, he cannot find himself”.

A warning which cannot be ignored, nor repressed by anyone practicing and teaching activities such as Yoga, Taiji Quan, Ki Gong, an artistic or arts & crafts practice or a martial art specific to the Japanese tradition. As long as we oppose the person seeking and the purpose of the quest, what we think is the Way of Zen is in reality an existential impasse.

As we can see today, when the teaching of these ancestral practices, which take root in Far East traditions, is assumed by certified coaches trained in a few week-ends, the issue of the Master clearly arises.
Master! ! A term often used from the age of 6, in my relationship with my instructor; the master on the way of knowledge which is nowadays called by his/her first name by children.

  • -  “Graf Dürckheim, what is the difference between the master and the disciple?”

  • -  “The difference between the one we call the master and the one we call the disciple? There is none. Both are on the same path. Yes, both are on the same path; but for the

    one we call the master it is a little more visible”.

    The term master still has its legitimacy in our society. It is the work clothes worn by the lawyer, the notary. Forgotten by our craftsmen, it is still present in the artistic domain; as we speak of the dance master, the music master.

    And if we speak today of the Judo instructor (Olympic sport), we still use the designations master for the Aikido master, Kyudo master (archery), Chado master (tea ceremony) and Zen master. More than a language problem, it is a question of a difference in the relation to the discipline practiced and of a difference in the relation to the one teaching.

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In the West, the words pedagogy, methodology, didactics, structure the instructors’ and therapists’ training. When we ask a question, we are used to hearing an explanation from the one teaching a subject, an exercise; likewise, we expect the doctor, the psychotherapist we consult, that he explains the cause of our ill feeling, that he explains how to free ourselves from these symptoms and sufferance.

When you ask a Zen master a question (and I have experienced this situation for more than twenty years with Graf Dürckheim) you rarely obtain the answer that... you had imagined, that you expected or wanted.

An example:
You feel ill at ease, you suffer from insomnia, you are agitated, immersed in a latent anxiety, and, after reading a book on Zen you have the impression, the intuition, that a Zen master could help you. The Zen master, after having listened and heard what you had to say, will say “I cannot cure you and I have nothing to teach you. Because, in reality, there is no problem”.
Your impression is that this man has absolutely no compassion and furthermore, that he is doing everything in his power to irritate you. In reality, he is an honest man; he confesses there is no doctrine and he has nothing to sell.
If you insist, he will then offer, not a path to follow, but to make your own way, in order to liberate yourself from the identification to the ego which is the cause of most of our suffering. He will propose the practice of zazen. An exercise during which he will not transmit a knowledge or a know-how, but during which he will share his experience.
The Master? If it is a master, he will not impose a theory, he will not subjugate you to a dogma or a belief, the master shares his experience! Experience acquired all along a long life dedicated to a path of experience and exercise.

Another example:
It so happens that when you expect from a Zen Master a clear explanation to a precise question, he smiles and says “I don’t know! Truly I don’t know! But I would like to share with you what I did last night...”
“I spent last evening at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. One of the pieces proposed during this concert was Danse sacrée, Danse profane from Claude Debussy. Right when the music began my interior life seemed both nurtured and soothed. A sort of interior tremble liberated me from momenttomomentfrommyday’sworries.Thesoundscomingfromtheharpwerelikethewaves which, when you wade through water to your shoulders, will lift you and put you down a little further away, peaceful and joyful. The melody, undoubtably, liberated great calm from the deepest of myself. To say that it felt good, that it was beautiful would make no sense. It was much more than that... it was!

It was? It was an experience of plenitude! It was? The impression of feeling in order, simply in order and not having done anything for it to be. It was? An indescribable experience; all the more so, since I was experiencing being-one-with the music, - one-with the sounds, -one-with the harpist, -one-with each soloist, -one-with all.

I could also say, -one-with nothing; nothing being something. It is astonishing, surprising, to feel being ONESELF and no longer I.

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And then?

Once at home, smiling, I thought I had paid for my entrance, but that the musicians, the artists sold nothing. They offer and can only offer sounds. Sounds which are the fruit of their daily practice, the daily rework of the scale. Until the sound is no longer something exterior; the sound takes the shape of the one playing and the artist takes the shape of the sound played. This passing from opposition, separation to union also happens between the orchestra, its conductor and the auditors.

When they propose a piece of work, neither the orchestra, nor the conductor try and convert you in any way; they do not pretend Debussy’s music is better, truer, finer than Mozart’s or Beethoven’s. When proposing these sounds, they offer a moment of life which is outside of the grand questions about life: “Why am I born? Why shall I die? What is the meaning of life?” which are the source of anguish and the states that accompany them. What you are living at that moment, for that moment, gives sense to the simple fact of being alive and listening. Is that living fully the present moment? Yes. And when listening to “Danse sacrée, Danse profane” the moment flows, flows, flows during twenty minutes or so. What makes a piece of music is none other than... the passing. During this musical evening, the I which claims to be and to remain, was overwhelmed by... the passing.

Of course, some will say it is only subjective. You should be interested in the scientific discoveries; learn that the sound “DO” is 256 oscillations per second-! This is a quantitative, rational experimental measure. Mister Professor, the experience of quality, a quality of being like for example interior calm, is not only subjective; it is an experience which touches and transforms me; it is an experience lived as subject.

Do you remember the question to the Zen master? “Can you explain what Zen is, the exercise of the Zen monk, the life of the Zen monk, the experience called satori?”
Is it still useful to ask these questions after having heard the non-answer the Zen master gave?
If so, it is a good reason to practice zazen tomorrow morning.

If not, it is a good reason to practice zazen tomorrow morning.

Translation from French: Céline Jouenne