Village Zendo Home
October 08 Contents

Politics and the Way
Going to Jukai
Buddha Kids
Body Politic
But Why Poetry?
Science as Koan


Case Number 75, Ruiyan's Constant Principle:

Ruiyan asked Yantou, "What is the fundamental constant principle?"

Yantou said, "Moving."

Ruiyan said, "When moving, what then?"

Yantou said, "You don't see the fundamental constant principle."

Ruiyan stood there thinking.

Yantou said, "If you agree, you are not yet free of sense and matter: if you don't agree, you'll be forever sunk in birth and death."

Attention and welcome, it's really great to see you all. This summer, I've had the privilege and honor to serve as Shuso during Ango. It's been quite a powerful experience. Over this short time, so much...

Seijin's mom passed away during Ango. The support that Roshi and the Sangha showed for Seijin, for her family, and for me was incredibly deep and genuine. I can't express how much it means. With this support, leaving the Grail, flying out to Michigan, going through the wake and funeral, the Polish beer hall, the tears, the laughter and the stories of growing up in their crazy household of twelve kids, was all Ango—not the least separate. It was just amazing to experience that deep, deep loss in this context. I don't think we could have asked for a more held place, time, or community to support us through this stage. Thank you.

While I could spend hours trying to express my thanks, I still couldn't do it fully. Gratitude is the overwhelming feeling for me right now. I will say that I am grateful to you, Roshi, for taking me as your student, putting your trust in me, and for supporting me over the years. I remember first meeting you when I crashed a Zen Peacemaker event in Yonkers. I was asking you all these questions and you just said, "Come practice with us, come sit." So I did. That was a crucial juncture, a turning moment in my life.

We're constantly growing new edges and rubbing them off. It's the movement that's key...not getting stuck here or there, but flowing, moving, swinging.

I'm also deeply grateful to my dharma brothers and sisters who have shown me so many different ways of freely living the dharma. I think that you can really get a good sense of a teacher's quality by seeing who stays with her. And I'm especially grateful to Seijin—for everything. Thinking about it this morning, I realize that I feel grateful in so many ways and to so many people and things that it just goes on and on and on. For all of us, infinite circumstances bring us together today. It's truly wonderful, amazing, and...nothing special.

I'd like to start by quoting the great sage, Frank Zappa. He once said, "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture." I have to admit that I did once write music for a dance about architecture, so it's not impossible. But it's strange and sticky business. Replace the word "music" with "dharma" and we get a good reminder of the limitations of talking about dharma, of dharma talks. They are also strange and sticky business.

My favorite dharma talks tend to begin with a reminder of how difficult, or perhaps impossible it is to really get "it" through logical discourse. I once heard a talk by Zen Master Hyong Gak Sunim in which he sat down, held up his teaching staff and said, "Do you see this?" He then hit the ground with the stick and said: "Do you hear this? That was my dharma talk."

Shakyamuni Buddha's raising the flower is even more beautiful. All the monks had gathered at Mt. Gutakutra to hear the Buddha give a talk. Apparently Mt. Gutakutra was like Black Rock Mountain here: not huge, but not a joke either. So the monks all climbed up there and were waiting. Some were probably thinking, "What's up? We came all this way, it's rainy season, it's hot, travel's difficult, etc..." Eventually the Buddha raises a flower. That's it. He doesn't teach them anything—no truth, no dharma, no Buddhism. Then Mahakashapa smiled and, bam, he got it!

Earlier in the summer, during precepts week, Roshi came in to give a talk. Just then, one of the amazing storms we've had out here began. These storms come on suddenly and intensely: crack, boom, lightning, thunder, wind, rain and then a few minutes later the sun shines. So we were waiting as this storm rolled in. Roshi just sat there listening. And because she was paying attention, we were all paying attention. If she had just started her talk, we would have all been thinking, "Man, that damn noisy storm, we can't hear you." But she turned us on to the world around us. Roshi said, "I had prepared some comments, but... booooom." And we all just listened.

Krishnamurti said:

The truth has no path, and that's the beauty of truth. It is living. A dead thing has a path to it because it's static. But when you see that truth is something living, moving, which has no resting place, which is in no temple, mosque or church, which no religion, no teacher, no philosopher, nobody can lead you to, then you will also see that this living thing is what you actually are.

Krishnamurti urges us to see that this living thing, which is moving and never resting, and which nobody can lead you to, is actually what you are. Like Krishnamurti, our Zen teachers "get in the mud" and dirty themselves in trying to help us. They talk about things that can't be talked about, and teach us about what is beyond words, language, and ideas by using words, language, and ideas.

Returning the Shippei

Yet we can't even hold onto the idea that words, language, and intellectual understanding are muddy, indirect expressions of the dharma. We can't say they are not directly Buddha. The very speech and language that we use to talk about it, are also it.

As Dogen says in the Shobogenzo, "The paints for painting rice cakes are the same as those used for painting mountains and rivers." To me, this means that our teaching and dharma talks are also opportunities to wake up. It's like the analogy of the menu not taking care of our hunger. Even so, the menu is also it: it's the menu. Our study of dharma is our practice-enlightenment.

Shakyamuni Buddha said, "I have the all-pervading true dharma, incomparable nirvana, exquisite teaching of formless form" and so on. Muman, in his comments, brings him down to earth by saying, "Yellow-faced Gautama sells dog flesh disguised as sheep's head." Either way it sounds disgusting.

And Roshi, in concert with one of the most beautiful sounding days of Ango, went on to give us a wonderful talk on precepts. Like Miles Davis, she knows when to leave space. That particular talk was so hip because she had her say and the weather had its say, and together they were the true dharma.

With that in mind, I'd like to turn to Ruiyan's constant principle. I've loved working with this koan. So for the next little while I want to hold it up and take a look at it, see how the muted light of this great day shines on this koan.

Of course this is already a huge mistake. Holding it up to look at it isn't how we get "it." In fact this is the main obstacle in this koan. Instead, we have to really get intimate, rub it on, feel it, taste it, eat it and shit it out, and just be it. As I've worked with that, I've found layers peeling away, and sometimes, new ones growing. Living this koan, but not quite getting to the point where I can say I know it. It still feels alive and vital in my life.

So Ruiyan was Yantou's student and later, his successor. They lived in 9th century China and both of them show up in various parts of the Zen literature. Ruiyan later became an important teacher and abbot of Ruiyan, or Zuigan monastery. Later in his life, the teacher Yantou would only answer questions about the dharma with a sigh. Maybe Ruiyan wore him into the ground with questions like the one we're looking at now. "Ah, shit, not again...."

Ruiyan asked Yantou, "What's the fundamental constant principle?" Doesn't this sound familiar? Ruiyan is asking what is it? What is Buddha, what is truth? What do I need to know to be free, happy, and fulfilled? Or, how do I fill this void, this hunger, this sense that things aren't quite right in my life—this dukka? I think Ruiyan was living with that, was dealing with it. The phrase "fundamental constant principle" is a dead giveaway. There's no mistake that he's searching, he's searching for a principle.

Like Ruiyan, I came to meditation because I was searching. Searching for something to hold onto, something to escape into, to believe in, to trust. Little did I know that Zen training is like a sledgehammer, smashing things away over and over, bam, bam, bam. Make it again and, bam, it gets crushed. That's our practice, I'm sorry to tell you.

Early in this Ango, Myoko brought up the question of searching when she asked us to explore ourselves. I began thinking about searching versus exploring. I've started to think that I can only search for something I already have in mind, an idea of what I'd like to find. You can't search without searching for something. Something known. Krishnamurti's "static, dead thing".

It gets murky, though, because we often use the word "explore" to describe what may be closer to searching or seeking. Searchers and seekers have an idea of what they're looking for. After this Ango full of Hakuin, we might search for kensho, or the mind of enlightenment. What are we after?


Exploration, on the other hand, requires a kind of deep looking. It takes openness to explore, because you don't know what you'll find. At night in this hall it's these sounds times twenty. Imagine that. Doing slow walking meditation late at night, the smoothness of the floorboards. Running on these marvelous hills, three turkeys run right out in front of you. Seeing a tiny little caterpillar in the sun. It just comes up—you don't know what you're looking for, and here it is.

And can I explore being really pissed about the mosquitoes while waiting in line for dokusan? Why is she taking so long? I thought the Shuso just walked right in!

How about exploring these sounds—this sound [birdsong in background]. There are so many levels of sound going on. Can we do it without making anything in our heads, any categories, any stories, or even any names? Can we just explore without making anything? Without getting stuck. And how do we explore our stuck places?

Ruiyan, in this case, was stuck. He was searching for a principle to hang onto, something to hold his world together. And the trouble with principles, especially the fundamental constant kind, is that they're sticky and often hard to detect. Unfortunately, they also obscure our relationship to what's happening and make us dead and static: i.e., unresponsive. Philip Kapleau said, "To respond fully to every situation that comes your way, ... this is responsibility." When we cling to principles, Kapleau's kind of responsibility is impossible.

This clinging puts us in the "why do you always do (name your grievance) to me?" space. Now we're really in trouble. We address this over and over again in our practice. Yunmen said, "You make it, you have it." Make a principle and you have it. Better yet, it's got you. I make fugan, I make drummer, I make monk. I make Seijin, Roshi, and Zen. Then what? I'm stuck and can't see a thing around me, or in me.

So in a lot of the Zen literature Ruiyan's question, his looking for something to hang onto, would get answered with a hit from the staff (and I'm within Roshi's range so I'm keeping one eye out). But Yantou's not like that, he's more "grandmotherly." To the question, "What's the fundamental constant principle?" Yantou says, "moving."

This reply hit me very hard. Moving. With one word and he explodes Ruiyan's dead static question. BOOOOM!! Body, mind, thinking, and the world: in constant motion not getting stuck or hung up on things, on concepts, or on ideas.

Moving, motion, alive, listen, look, smell, taste. Don't make anything.

With "moving," nothing is stuck. He didn't say, "change," that would imply from this to that. And Yantou didn't say "impermanence," even though this is so key in Buddhism. Moving. This puts it right into the body. Makes it personal. This body is moving.

When I read moving, I thought of Roshi's first talk here at The Grail, when she riffed on about swing. As in, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that..." I happened to stop by her place when she was working on that talk, so I got to hear Ella singing it. That was wonderful.

Here in the states, swing is associated with jazz, and we have a lot of people in the room who could speak to that very well. For me, I also think of swing in terms of Brazilian samba. Working as a musician in Brazil opened me up to an embodied perspective on swing that may have gone out of North American thinking when people forgot about the New Orleans second-line band's place in jazz history. On the way to the cemetery musicians played dirges; on the way back, the second-line bands, the brass bands, swung the people home and back into the world of the living.


Scholars and many non-Brazilians often talk about the swing of samba as a time-feel. Like swing vs. straight time in jazz. They try to figure it out, lay out some principles, notate it, describe it. I once heard a paper titled "Micro-rhythmic variation in Brazilian Samba" in which the author tried to analyze the samba swing by taking it apart with exact measurements, examining it under a microscope and quantifying what's there.

The best description I've heard of the swing in samba was from Bob Moses, a great drummer. He said playing samba is like an egg rolling down hill. He's closer than the micro-rhythmic variations approach, but is still mountains and rivers away from it.

Only by playing pandeiro did I realize the swing in samba is way more intimate than a thought, description or notation. It comes from how you hold and play the drum—and on another level in how you dance it. It is how the instrument and playing technique have evolved in the hands, in the body. In my body. It's a type of swing that is fully related to the physicality of playing samba. It's living the music in the context.

On this retreat we've probably all fallen in and out of the groove, the swing, the body here and now—sitting, walking, running, cleaning, etc. Roshi encouraged us to stay in it. "Body and mind fully committed." And, of course, Hakuin's wholehearted commitment inspired many long nights and shook us out of a stupor more than once. Shaking us up and waking us up, this is the way to swing, because swing is in the body. It's a body-mind thing, and it's moving.

Apparently, Ruiyan isn't ready for it because he asks, "When moving, what then?" As my mrdangam teacher often says, he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Like the fundamental constant principle he's searching for, he makes moving into something outside, an idea, an object.

In the Identity of Relative and Absolute we chant, "When you walk the way it is not near, it is not far." Moving. "If you are deluded, you are mountains and rivers away from it." Stuck. Ruiyan reduces the wonderful freedom of "moving" to his idea of moving and his search for something to hold. Because of his search, he doesn't connect with Yantou's answer. He and moving remain separate.

"When moving, what then?" Big-hearted Yantou says, "You don't see the fundamental constant principle." Wow. For me, this is the big turnaround. How can you see it when you are it? Or, as we chant "It is actually you." Yantou gives him his heart and answers the original question. But he doesn't go where Ruiyan was, but brings him here, into life. Yantou brings the corpse of Ruiyan's dead fundamental constant principle to life. How? By putting the principle into the experience of moving.

"When don't see it." It's you. Nothing is left out. Even here at the beautiful Grail, nothing is left out of our moving. Moving is our greed, anger, and ignorance, woven into our enlightenment: Hakuin's titans in the lotus stem that Roshi pointed out.


The round pearl, in the first line of the verse, may be making a similar point. In my understanding of pearls, a little piece of sand gets into an oyster and irritates the oyster. So the pearl is the oyster's response to the sand's agitation. It is the result of this seed of discomfort. Perhaps this oyster dukka which results in the pearl is not so far from our own discomfort, anger, and greed that are woven into our enlightenment.

Dogen tells us "The Way is never separated from where we are now." But we can separate ourselves from where we are now. Then we can't act, but only react. And we react to our principles, our ideas, and we get tight and rigid, and we lose that swing.

In the beginning of Ango I mentioned Zen Master Seung Sahn's potato metaphor: when we come to community, even for five weeks, we can feel like dirty potatoes thrown into a pot of water. We rub together, bump into each other—wait for the bathroom, wait for food, eat what someone else has chosen, live in a space determined by the needs of the group, and so on. Through this friction, we make ourselves clean. I think Yantou is pointing to this rubbing, this moving together. All the shit that comes up as well as the bliss and everything in between.

But I don't think Yantou's so concerned with becoming clean. Rather, in this koan, and in our lives, we're constantly growing new edges and rubbing them off. It's the movement that's key, not the shiny pearl or rough diamond. Just not getting stuck here or there, but flowing, moving, swinging. It's the dance that we've done here this summer. A dance, which includes everything: the sticking and the swinging, the flow and the stumbles. Moving in this space, together.


The round pearl has no hollows,
The great raw gem isn't polished.
What is esteemed by people of the Way is having no edges.
Removing the road of agreement, senses and matter are empty:
The free body, resting on nothing, stands out unique and alive.

Douglass Fugan Dineen has been sitting meditation since the mid-1980s. Before joining the Village Zendo, he practiced with the Kuan Um School and was part of the Order of Interbeing. Fugan has been a member of the Village Zendo since he met Enkyo Roshi in 2000. He took tokudo with Roshi in August of 2004 and was the Shuso for the 2008 summer Ango. Fugan is a professional drummer/percussionist, performing and teaching in various settings in the US and abroad, and is working on a dissertation in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University.

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