The following excerpt, taken from Roshi Kennedy's book "Zen gifts to Christians", clearly illustrates that our practice matures when we grow "stronger in [our] determination to live [our] own true nature to the fullest extent possible".
"The 49th koan of The Book of Serenity expands the meaning of self-reliance. This koan teaches us that we should be self-reliant and never be satisfied only to follow the instructions of our teachers. We must grow beyond them. In this koan the author has Master Dongshan presenting a memorial offering before the image of his late teacher. Observing Dongshan do this, a monk asks him for which of his teacher's instructions does he revere him. The Master answers that although he was with him, he never received any instruction from his teacher. As a retort the monk asks, "Then why conduct a service for him?" Dongshan's reply to his monk should never be forgotten by either Zen teachers or students. He says, "I do not esteem my late teacher's virtues or his Buddhist teaching; I only value the fact that he didn't explain everything for me." Still not grasping the point of the extraordinary teaching he is receiving, the monk asks again, "You suceeded your late teacher; then do you agree with him or not?" Dongshan replies, "I half agree, half don't agree." The monk continues, "Why don't you completely agree?" Dongshan gives the monk another remarkable answer, "If I completely agreed, then I would be unfaithful to my late teacher's instructions." *
What Dongshan is telling the monk is that to be a student does not mean to become an imitator of one's teacher and that teachers must never clone themselves to their students; that is, different sprouts of the same tree (lineage) should not be identical; they should be luxuriant enough to make their spiritual roots dense and firm. The koan especially teaches that "Father and son change and get through" and underlines this wisdom with, "When one's view goes beyond the teacher, then one can handle the transmission." To "go beyond the teacher" does not necessarily mean to be better that the teacher. Such a comparison is not the point of the koan. Rather to "go beyond" in this koan means to stand on one's own feet, to be totally self-reliant so that while grasping one's master's teaching one still owns the personal expression of it. The koan's message is that no Zen teacher should ever demand that a student rigidly conform to the teacher's instruction and no student should ever simply conform to the teacher's directives. That is, adult men and women should never behave in a childish way toward their teachers. Teachers and students should mutually respect one another, be independent, and allow one another's spiritual roots to grow "dense and firm".
And in Roshi's words again, "If we can say anything about "god's will" for us surely it is that we grow to be serene and confident men and women taking our place at our parents' table."
Below you will find an excerpt of the introduction of "Zen Gifts to Christians" which explains how and why Roshi Kennedy chose to structure his book as he did.
" To enable my readers to comprehend fully the gifts Zen Buddhism has to offer Christians, I have structured this book to follow the process of human development that one undergoes in the practice of Zen Buddhism. This process is depicted in the ox-herding pictures, which date from the twelfth century in China when Master Kakuan drew pictures of ten bulls basing them on earlier Taoist bulls and wrote explanatory comments about each picture in verse. Since then many variations of these pictures have been painted and many verse interpretations have been written. No matter the illustration the ox in the pictures stands for our true nature; the ox herder represents those in search of the truth about their deepest self, and the ten pictures represent the successive steps one must take to realize one's true nature. Both the the pictures and the poetry are designed to inspire those who desire to practice the gifts, to become insightful, and to enlist in the compassionate service of others."
The excerpt on Self Reliance appears on page 36 and the excerpt from the introduction on page 5.
With thanks to Roshi Kennedy.
'Zen Gifts to Christians' is published by The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. You can read an insightful review of the book written by Peter Fennessy on Amazon.com. The review is entitled 'And not Just For Christians'.