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Monday, February 06, 2006

From my Youth--Poem by Ancient Zen Master 

Once again, the poem which follows is from Ivan Granger's splendid poetry-chaikhana site. And once more, Ivan offers a most elegant interpretation of the poem. The method the writer recommends (by implication) is what Andrew Harvey advocates: "The Direct Path". This is the mystic's favorite mode of approach, experiencing the divine directly without aid of priest or other intervening figures. And Andrew, like Ivan, also pays homage to the proper use of sacred text and wisdom writers. But nothing, not even the most perceptive text, can replace the mystic's own immediate penetration of and by the divine reality as lived experience.

From my youth I piled studies upon studies, (from Shodoka)

By Yoka Genkaku (Yongjia Xuanjue)
(665 - 713)

English version by Robert Aitken

From my youth I piled studies upon studies,
In sutras and sastras I searched and researched,
Classifying terms and forms, oblivious to fatigue.
I entered the sea to count the sands in vain
And then the Tathagata scolded me kindly
As I read "What profit in counting your neighbor's treasure?"
My work had been scattered and entirely useless,
For years I was dust blown by the wind.

Hi Dorothy -

Yongjia Xuanjue (known in Japanese as Yoka Genkaku) is the author of the Cheng Tao Ko (The Shodoka in Japanese), a key scripture of early Zen Buddhism.

This verse is a powerful and devastating reminder for the seeker:

In sutras and sastras I searched and researched,
Classifying terms and forms, oblivious to fatigue.
I entered the sea to count the sands in vain...

Study of sacred scriptures ("sutras and sastras"), sacred traditions -- even sacred poetry -- can too often become a "vain" and "useless" act when we are merely "classifying terms and forms." When devotion is absent, when we ourselves in our essential presence are absent, the study of even sacred things devolves into a sort of spiritual materialism. Our study becomes a mere accumulation of data that allows us to proclaim, 'I have read this, I have memorized that. Look how hard I have worked to understand... I have acquired it; it is MINE. Surely I am now more spiritual and closer to God, closer to truth.' But what do we really have?

We are challenged by the question: "What profit in counting your neighbor's treasure?"

In studying sacred teachings and traditions, we are essentially studying spiritual truth as perceived and taught by others. That spiritual truth is "your neighbor's treasure." The goal is not to endlessly classify and categorize what others have said. The goal is to receive the treasure for yourself!

Now please don't think I am suggesting there is no value in reading sacred scriptures or in following sacred tradition. But we must understand their true purpose: They are maps pointing the direction. If we endlessly study a map without actually making the journey, then what is the purpose of the map? What does it matter if we can name every landmark but have never set a foot upon the road?

In other words, we must realize and not merely intellectualize. This is the only way to honor the sacred scriptures, traditions, teachings, poems we study. We honor the sacred not by acquiring but by becoming.


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Ivan M. Granger's original poetry, stories and commentaries are Copyright © 2002 - 2005 by Ivan M. Granger.
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