In yesterday’s background noise I heard two YouTube personalities speaking on zen and koans. Both fellows have a bias toward demystifying zen, often giving concrete “this is what it means”-type explanations. One fellow will giggle, grin, and play along if he senses a challenge; the other is surly, rolling his eyes and decrying use of patterned zen-like language from other teachers whom he says just don’t get it.
Honestly, I couldn’t have been more amused. I’d kind of like to see the pair from different lineages in the same room, then sit back with a big bowl of popcorn, tossing in a question here and there to fuel the debate between the two different views of oneness.
At dinner the other night, we mused over the notion that each formal religion seems to have an esoteric subset. We speculated that the “mystics” of those subsets could find themselves in the same room and get along just fine. After all, they start with a shared understanding of something in particular and can explain how it is manifested in their religion’s different practices. Take any others and, more likely than not, they will gravitate toward the differences even if they do seek common ground.
So, who’s right? Once, it’s said, after a protraced, academic debate on the merits of this approach or that, a student asked directly:
Once a student came to the Venerable Ch’an Master Pa-Lung and asked, ‘Are patriarchal teachings and doctrinal teachings the same or different?’ The Ch’an Master Pa-Lung answered, ‘When a chicken is cold, it climbs to the top of the tree; when a duck is cold, it goes under the water.’ (From the ‘Dialogue on the Doctrinal and the Patriarchal Teachings’ Koan)
What does it mean? Who knows. As for me, I can tell you this: It’s a fun topic for everyone, asking your invited guests to share their different thoughts somewhere between dinner and desert.