As I think of the children that come to the Monastery, I think about the profound forces they are growing up within and are subject to every day—for instance, media and advertising—and how powerful they are. My heart goes out to all the parents who are trying to raise sane children in this mad world of ours—it’s a significant challenge. Further, to do that within the context of a robust, practice-based spiritual tradition is no small thing. So what does it mean to investigate the tradition that has come down to us over these 2500 years—which was based on a monastic model—and apply it within our modern context in a way that is meaningful and relevant?

 

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First of all, the dharma has to be present in our lives. We need to carefully maintain the integrity of these teachings and practices that are our inheritance, and we do this through our own efforts, our own realization, and through the ways we live our lives and take care of others. The need for different upaya—skillful means—that speak directly to lay students, might seem obvious, but how are these to evolve so that we keep alive the heart of Buddhism?

In this koan we have Master Juzhi, about whom little is known. Juzhi studied with a master named Tianlong, also largely unknown, in the line of Mazu. What is known about Juzhi is primarily this: whenever a student asked a question, Juzhi would raise his finger in response. That was his teaching.

Through the course of working with students, a teacher is asked a multitude of questions. I’m sure this is as true today as it was hundreds of years ago. So how is it possible that this master would always respond by raising a finger? What kind of action is this? What is Juzhi expressing? In Dogen’s fascicle Dotoku, “Expression of the Way,” he writes:

When there are buddhas and ancestors there is expression; therefore, when ancestors select their successors, they inquire whether they can express themselves or not, and this question is not merely verbal but is asked with the mind and body, with the staff, with the hosu, the fly-whisk, or with pillars and stone lanterns. If there are no ancestors, the question is never asked, nor is there any expression, because there is no occasion for it.

When a teacher asks a student a question, they are teaching, and as Dogen says, they do this with the mind and body, with the staff, the hosu, with pillars and stone lanterns—and with a finger. The road into this koan is to directly experience Juzhi’s teaching. What is the raising of the finger? Obviously it’s not just a finger, and yet you can’t say that it’s not a finger because that’s exactly what Juzhi did: he raised a finger. What kind of teaching is this that can bring someone to realization, to experience a most profound understanding about the nature of things? How does Juzhi’s raising his finger differ from anybody else doing the same?