Keizan Roshi’s New Year Message

Best Wishes for the New Year from Keizan Scott Roshi

Dear Fellow Practitioners,

The theme of the present SWZ Newsletter just posted out is ‘What is my favourite koan and why?’ This newsletter is a really good issue with fine contributions and especially from Karen/Shoji and Jez/Yushin with their commentaries on a favourite koan. (you can find the Winter Newsletter here).

In the introduction to the Newsletter I would have normally commented on a koan that has special meaning for me, however, given the time of year, I thought I would instead include it in this end of year posting. The koan I have chosen is “Seijo’s Soul Is Separated”. It is Case 35 from the Mumonkan collection.  Interestingly this koan has been put to music by a friend of the sangha and long term Zen practitioner, Gordon Tyrrall, who is a folk singer.  Gordon has kindly provided a recording of this song and this can be found on the SWZ website here.

Following my comments on the koan and why I like it is a copy of an inspiring message from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, one he used to conclude his wonderful book “In Love With The World”. I hope you enjoy the koan and the Rinpoche’s message .

Kind wishes and may you have a happy and fulfilling year ahead. I look forward to seeing you either in Liverpool or on one of our other sesshin in Crosby or the Lakes.

Very best wishes for Xmas and 2020!

Kind regards,

Keizan Roshi
Seijo’s Soul is Separated

Koan: Goso asked a monk, ’Seijo and her soul are separated; which one is the true Seijo?’ The koan is based on a story taken from a T’ang dynasty (China) legend told in the novel called Rikon-ki “The Story of the Separated Soul”. It is a love story and a ghostly tale.

In Koshu in China in that dynasty there lived a man named Chokan. He had two daughters, but as the elder one died young he loved the younger daughter Sen-jo all the more and made much of her. Since she was an unusually beautiful girl, many young men wished to marry her. Sen’s father selected a good youth named Hinryo from her many suitors and decided to give Sen-jo to him. Sen-jo, however, had a secret lover named Ochu, who was Chokan’s nephew. When Ochu was a child, Sen’s father had told him in jest, “Ochu and Sen-jo will make a well matched couple. You two had better get married when you grow up.” This remark made them believe that they were engaged, and in the course of time they found that they were in love with each other.

Sen-jo, who had suddenly been told by her father to marry Hinryo, was greatly cast down and depressed. As for Ochu, when he heard of it he was so distressed that he decided to leave the village, for he could not bear to live anywhere near her. One evening he secretly left his homeland by boat without even telling sen-jo. At midnight he noticed a vague figure running along the bank as if to follow his boat. He stopped to see who it was, and to his great surprise and joy he found it was his beloved. He was overcome with joy at the truth of her heart, and they embraced each other in tears. As they could not now dare to return to Sen-jo’s father, they travelled to the remote country of Shoku, where they were married.

Five years passed after they had left home. Sen-jo, who was now the mother of two children, could not forget her native country, and her longing for her parents and home increased day by day. One day, in tears, she confessed her painful longing to her husband. “Loving you and following you, I left my home without permission, and I have stayed with you in this remote country. I wonder how my parents are getting on. Having left home as I did, against my parents’ wishes, an ungrateful daughter like myself might never be able to return home!” Ochu, who was in fact also longing for his homeland, calmed her saying, “Let us then go back to Koshu and beg your parents’ pardon.” Immediately they hired a boat and returned to Koshu, their dear old home.

Leaving Sen-jo at the port, Ochu first went to Chokan’s house by himself, apologized for their ungrateful act, and told him the whole story. Chokan was astonished and asked Ochu, “Which girl are you talking about?” Your daughter Sen-jo, Father,” replied Ochu. Chokan said, “My daughter Sen? From the time you left Koshu she has been sick in bed and has been unable to speak.” Ochu was equally taken aback and tried to explain, Sen-jo certainly followed me and we have lived together in the country of Shoku. She has borne two children and is physically very well. If you do not believe what I say, please come with me to the port, for she is there in a boat waiting for me.”

Chokan, mystified, sent an old servant to the boat to check, and he returned to report it was unmistakably Sen-jo. Chokan then went to her room in his house, and sure enough, his daughter Sen was still there sick in bed. In bewilderment Chokan told the sick Sen-jo the whole story, whereupon, looking extremely delighted, she got out of bed still without saying a word. In the meantime the Sen-jo who had come ashore arrived at Chokan’s house in a cart. The sick Sen-jo went out to meet her, and just as the Sen-jo from the boat alighted from the cart, the two Sen-jo’s became one.

Chokan, the father, spoke to Sen-jo, “Ever since Ochu left this village, you have not uttered a word, and you have always been absent in mind as if you were drunk. Now I see that your soul left your body and has been with Ochu.” To this Sen-jo replied, “ I did not know at all that I was sick in bed at home. When I learned that Ochu had left this village in distress, I followed his boat that night, feeling as if it were a dream. I myself am not sure which was the real me- the one with you sick in bed, or the one with Ochu as his wife.”

From a traditional perspective though the two Seijos were living apart separated by distance and circumstance, their two individual appearances were of one essential nature.

The sadness of one and the happiness of the other was their felt reality but nevertheless, from a traditional absolute perspective, empty of any first cause and thus without substance. My fear of this approach is that it can give us the impression that we can bypass our emotions and go straight to the idea of emptiness/sunyata as a solution to life’s problems! However, for most of us my experience is that we need to make an intimate connection with all our feelings and emotions in order to be inwardly free and live a more authentic life. For example in the story of the koan one Seijo was sick in bed, she fell ill because she had split off a vital part of who she was.

 As each of us knows experientially  we are not one permanent single self but instead a collection of different selves and they themselves are being slowly changed with life and circumstance. To embrace all the aspects of our nature and to also see that they are not fixed can allow us to feel both real and more fluid in our life choices. For me it’s interesting to question my sense of myself and my view of how the world works and my role in it. Is it true? Which one was the real Seijo? Thinking  of all the roles you play, the variety of thoughts and feelings you have about yourself.

Which is the real you? If we can have the courage to be vulnerable in this process then uncertainty can become an ally rather than a fear.

Here is the quote from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche from his book  “In Love With The World”

In parting, I would like to give you one small piece of advice to keep in your heart. You may have heard me say this before, but it is a key point of the entire path, so it bears repeating: All that we are looking for in life – all the happiness, contentment, peace of mind – is right here in the present moment. Our own very awareness is itself pure and good. The only problem is that we get so caught up in the ups and downs of life that we don’t take the time to pause and notice what we already have.

Don’t forget to make space in your life to recognize the richness of your basic nature, to see the purity of your being and let its innate qualities of love, compassion, and wisdom naturally emerge. Nurture this recognition as you would a small seedling. Allow it to grow and flourish. 

Keep this teaching at the heart of your practice. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, pause from time to time and relax your mind. You don’t have to change anything about your experience. You can let thoughts and feelings come and go freely and leave your senses wide open. Make friends with your experience and see if you can notice the spacious awareness that is with you all the time. Everything you ever wanted is right here in this present moment of awareness.” 

PS Don’t forget this present moment may also include joy and sadness, doubt and faith, fear and courage and all the ways of being that make up who we are. (Roshi )