This week Tesshin Roshi continued our koan study with case 30 from the Book of Serenity. The case is called Dasui’s Aeonic Fire. The case is short and is provided below …
A monk asked Dasui, “When the great kalpa fire bursts out, the whole universe will be destroyed. I wonder if IT will also be destroyed or not.” Daizui said, “Destroyed.” The monk said, “If so, will it be gone with the other?” Daizui said, “Gone with the other.”
The same monk later asked Longji, When the great kalpa fire bursts out, the whole universe will be destroyed. I wonder if IT will also be destroyed or not.” Longji replied, “Not destroyed.”
The monk asked, “Why is it not destroyed?”
Longji replied, “Because it is the same as the Universe”
Goroshi next wanted to provide the background story for this koan and ensure that we understood some of the key terms. First, the term ‘aionic’ means “lasting for an immeasurably or indefinitely long period of time” In fact some translations of this koan use the Tibetan term “kalpa” which is measured as the total time in any “universe system.” So basically, a really, really long time! Second, Roshi pointed out that the monk keeps asking about a specific “IT” – this “IT” is key to our understanding what is going on in this case.
Roshi next mentioned that koans are typically based on an interaction between masters and monks or on sutras. In this case, it is the latter as this case is based on a very old Hindu sutra dating to a time before Buddhism. The sutra, or teaching, describes a benevolent king who desired to safeguard his kingdom. One day a Hindu god approaches him and states to preserve the kingdom, the king must sacrifice one thousand nobles and lesser kings in his territory. Desiring nothing more than safeguarding his people, the king rounded up all the lesser kings and nobles and prepared them for execution. One of the lesser kings pleaded for a single day reprieve to take care of some important business. This was granted, and during this one day, this lesser king gathered one hundred dharma teachers and fed them. Feeding monks is a time-honored tradition. During the meal, one of the holy men chanted the phrase, “In the raging fire the entire universe is destroyed.” The host was so impressed by this “turning phrase” that he chanted it as he was led to his execution. However, the high king was also impressed and impacted by the “turning phrase” and decided at the last minute that the cost of executing one thousand people was not worth the cost to gain the promise of safety. In fact, at this point, the king renounced his kingdom and became a mendicant monk. Why would he do this?
At this point, Tesshin Roshi stopped and observed that this ancient sutra is very relevant for us today. There seems to be so much violence in our world today. We have this belief that we can utilize violence to protect those who are important to us. We see this in individual interactions and in the interactions between countries. This cycle of violence has been going on forever and forever. Is there another path? Can we break this cycle? Our practice and this koan offer a clue as to how we can do this.
Roshi continued with the koan. The monk asks the first master that at the end of the universe does “IT” also get destroyed? The “IT” is bare existence or suchness. Dasui says that it is in fact destroyed. He goes to another master and askes the exact same question and that master says not destroyed. Huh? Is that not a contradiction? It is no surprise that this sounds very much like another case discussing the Buddha nature of a dog. That is a clue!
We may ask which master was right and which was wrong? Right/wrong is missing it. This is why the masters give differing answers. It does not matter. The answer at any moment is based on our karma. All we do is think and think and try to solve the problem! “Blah, Blah, Blah” we flood our mind with ideas which break everything down into tiny fragments, all the while existence marches on while we are distracted.
The high king in this story was fixated on safety. He was willing to sacrifice one thousand innocents to this idea. Do you see the delusion? Do we die? Do we not die? Mu! Can we be safe? Mu! We are willing to kill and kill our own lives for some sense of security. This is a hopeless endeavor. The only thing which matters is our experience right here and now. Wake up, stop wasting time, transcend your fear, and live your experience!