2 thoughts on “Splitting Cats From Dogs With An Ox: Joshu, Zen & Koan Cases

  1. I don’t quite grok the significance of re-enacting of bodhidharma in Nansens cat case, but the sandal seems to be a pretty strong connection… I’ll have to think about it…

    Something that this case brings up to people’s minds is morality in Zen. I think it’s fairly important thing to talk about, and a hot topic today given all the scandals… but a slippery one. It is very few cases, if that, that morality is addressed. It always has to be sort of read into the cases. The closest I can think of is Hyakujo’s fox (or Baihzang? Can’t remember his chinese name), where the arguable crux of the koan is “A zen master does not ignore causation”, or something akin to that. I believe this case is the second case in the Mumonkan. There are also some possible references to morality in Foyans “Instant Zen” but it’s debatable, as always.

    More to the point, a friend of mine on the cast brought up an interesting interpretation that jives with some of your comments on the case. Nansen cutting the cat is sort of throwing himself in with his students in doing the wrong thing, as you said, the cat becomes synonymous with the sangah that is being split. The cool idea that I realized from listening to your lecture is that Nansen unites them, and therein the sangah, since all of them failed to save the cat with a turning word. I mean, if you can’t make a turning word, why are you arguing in a Zen Sangha? It damns them all at once.

    Anyway, my friends interpretation comes into play with Nansen talking to Joshu, suggesting that Nansen telling Joshu, a close friend/student/practically a fellow master at this point, was sort of a repentance or confession of the killing. The master reunited the sangha, sure, but, could it have been guilt that he asked Joshu about saving the cat? If the master holds the students responsible, who holds the master responsible?

    This is also brings up, how does holding one responsible, self or otherwise, look like in Zen?

    There is something to be said about Zen masters both acting beyond good and evil while being subject to it at the same time (“Zen masters do not ignore causation) – A good example of this is in the fourth case of the BCR “Te Shan carrying his bundle” (my translator is usually cleary).

    A rough paraphrase: Te Shan enters the teaching hall without acknowledging the master, saying, “Nothing no one” then exits. Before he leaves though, he remarks to himself, “Still, I shouldn’t be so coarse”, goes back and performs the full ceremony to meet the master. Again, and, it seems to be hinted at in the notes of this specific case, that Zen, while being beyond morality and convention at times, is also deeply subject to them.

    Any thoughts about morality in relation to Zen? Of course, it would have been cool if Nietzsche discovered Zen as opposed to Schopenhauer buddhism.. I wonder what he would think.

    1. I do think your friend is right that it seems Nansen was checking with Joshu to see what he thought. It isn’t clear why, if it happened, Nansen felt violence was OK, or how to police this with Zen. Returning to a natural, still state is meant to calm and extinguish violence, but even if the Zen folks don’t think we extinguish anything completely, as Joshu says, that doesn’t mean we use fire to fight fire. There is still much of this one I don’t get, but I did assert the Bodhidharma connection because, as you say, that seems safe to see in there.

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