Wednesday, January 25, 2006

When I grow up, I wanna be a rooster

While I was living in Japan, my eldest sister e-mailed the following anecdote to me. She thought it would help me in coping with the stresses and challenges of adapting to a different culture, and it did.
I find its lesson even more valuable now.
It is from the book "Zhuangzi," written by the Taoist master of the same name who died about 275 B.C.:

"Chi Hsing-tzu was raising a fighting cock for his lord. After 10 days, the lord asked, 'Is he ready?' Chi answered, 'No, sir. He is still vain and flushed with rage.'
Ten days passed, and the prince asked about the cock. Chi said, 'Not yet, sir. He is on the alert whenever he hears another cock crowing.'
When the prince's inquiry came again, Chi replied, 'Not quite yet, sir. His sense of fighting is still smoldering within him.'
When another 10 days elapsed, Chi said to the lord, 'He is almost ready. Even when he hears another cock crowing, he shows no excitement. He now resembles one made of wood. His qualities are integrated. No cocks are his match -- they will at once run away from him.' "


Justin said...

Shouldn't you have called the post 'I want to look as if I'm made of wood'?

I'm not sure its a good idea since people (and roosters) will run away from you.

Justin said...

In a cunning dharma-combat-move I counter your koan with a counter-koan:

There was an old woman in China who had supported a monk for over twenty years. She had built a little hut for him and fed him while he was meditating. Finally she wondered just what progress he had made in all this time.

To find out, she obtained the help of a girl rich in desire. "Go and embrace him," she told her, "and then ask him suddenly: 'What now?'"

The girl called upon the monk and without much ado caressed him, asking him what he was going to do about it.

"An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter," replied the monk somewhat poetically. "Nowhere is there any warmth."

The girl returned and related what he had said.

"To think I fed that fellow for twenty years!" exclaimed the old woman in anger. "He showed no consideration for your needs, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he should have evidenced some compassion."

She at once went to the hut of the monk and burned it down.

Michael said...

Hi Justin,

I honestly never thought of the account I posted as being a koan. I just thought it was a neat account.
This teaches me that anything can be a koan.
As for scaring away people through one's appearance (metaphorically speaking) and/or inner qualities, I think I'd like that. Those who would waste my time would quickly recognize the futility of doing so, whereas those motivated by sincerity and compassion would hopefully approach for a chat.

Michael said...

P.S. Even a wooden rooster can make an excellent mirror.

Justin said...

Well I don't know whether it is officially a Koan, but a Koan is just a Zen story and regarded itself as continuous with Taoism, so I made a not unreasonable assumption or blurring of boundaries.

Who am I to send you nuggets of supposed wisdom? But I suppose I wanted to challenge a sense that that a state of unfeeling indifference is a desirable goal, which was the impression I was getting of the story.

Michael said...

Gotcha, Justin. I missed the intent of your post.
There is a time and a place for indifference (which needn't necessarily be unfeeling, by the way), and there's a time and a place for its opposite.
When I learn the difference, I'll know.

Beth said...

michael: i love this story. i read it this morning, and i have been thinking of the great line "his qualities are integrated." thanks.

g said...

The first story I really didn't understand, but then I have never seen a cockfight, and wouldn't know how to train a bird. The second story I've heard before, and thought the monk, the girl and the old woman were all out of line.

Michael do you have any koans you like that you could present?

Michael said...

Yes, Kim, it's a neat story. My sister sent it to me at a time when I really needed to hear its message (and still do).

Hi g,
I really don't know anything about koans. I have the "Mumonkan" and the "Blue Cliff Record" on my bookshelf, but I've never read more than a couple pages in either. They may as well be paperweights or doorstops.
The sanghas to which I've belonged were in the Soto tradition, so I always took the shikantaza route.
The last sangha to which I belonged was in the Maezumi lineage, which combined Soto and Rinzai elements. Each member was given the option to work with koans, and to use as koans such things as the precepts.
I always chose shikantaza.