Song of the Grass Roof Hut

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Thank you all for spending this holiday Sunday in the pursuit of the Dharma here today. We may chase it and we may not catch up to it or we might, who knows. So we have two study sessions and maybe we'll take a break after about 45 minutes so you can you can refresh yourselves in whatever way is immediately necessary. And this afternoon I think we'll meet in the community room, which to my mind is a little more intimate setting. But tomorrow the cooks have stuff going on in the kitchen and we didn't want to have what might be a distraction.


So the subject of our study today is this poem, which I think you all have a copy of, Sawanka, or the Song of the Grass-Roof Hut, by Zhito Zhichen, who is, in our lineage, Sekito Kisen. So he's He's several generations, two generations, I think, after the sixth ancestor, one of the earlier. And it's one of the places where, at least in our official lineage, begin to diverge into a Soto stream and a Rinzai stream. Although, at this point, it's not certainly not formalized and not distinct, but what I'd like to do is to read the poem and then talk a bit about Chitou and then begin on the poem.


And also, if you have questions, please bring them forth anytime. I want to have this to be as dialogical as it can be. So if there's something I say or something we read that brings up something in you, please ask about it or comment on it and I'll try to also leave some spaces to inquire from you what you think. The yellow light is flashing a little bit and I'm wondering if the power pack still on, so it's OK. What does that mean? Well, when you flip on the mic, then the yellow light comes on. OK. All right? And so while you're talking, a couple of times, the light went off.


Yeah. I saw, I mean, I heard it go kind of flick on and off. It seems as you turn sometimes. Anyway, let's do the best we can. Gary. OK. As you do it, could you, I don't know if this is normal work, I know, I read it while I was sitting here, and many of the items are metaphors, right? Yes. Reads, for example. That's the commentary on the poem which we will talk about at length. OK. But I wanted to point it out as you go. No, I don't. No, I want to read it. This is one of the modes that we have for understanding something, is just first of all to absorb it and let it work on us. And then we also have time for explication. But let's just read it first and then we'll have a lot of time to go into these things.


So let's read this out loud together. So it's Samanka, Song of the Grass Roof. I've built a grass hut where there is nothing of value. After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap. When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared. Now it's been lived in, covered by weeds. The person in the hut lives here calmly, not stuck to inside, outside, or in between. she doesn't live. Realms where more people live, she doesn't love. Although the hut is small, it includes the entire world. In ten square feet, an old man, luminous forms in nature. A great vehicle, Bodhisattva trusts without doubt.


The middling or lowly can't help wondering Will this hut perish or not? Perishable or not, the original master is present, not dwelling south or north, east or west, firmly based on steadiness, yet it can't be surpassed. A shining window below the green pines, jade palaces or chameleon towers can't compare with it. Just sitting with a cup covered, all things are at rest. Thus, this mountain monk doesn't understand at all. Living here, he no longer works to get free. Who would proudly arrange seats trying to do the tightest guests? Turn around the light to shine within, and then just can't be faced or turned away from.


Meet the ancestral teachers, be familiar with their instructions, bind grasses to build a hut, and don't give up. Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely. Open your hands and walk, innocent. Thousands of words and myriad interpretations are only to If you want to know the undying person in the hut, don't separate from this skin bag here and now. I can't remember what prompted me to study this. It was a few months ago when I was teaching in Santa Fe. I must have read something that got me to read the poem, which I had read before, but I hadn't really remembered, and it seemed very vivid and alive when I read it, and it seems that way now when I read it again.


The language is beautiful. Shito is also the author, and these are the only two works that we can identify with him, of the sanghaka, same person, which we read as part of our liturgy and we study and Suzuki Roshi has taught on and Sojourner has taught on, which is the merging of difference and unity. And so you can hear echoes of that in this and you can hear resonances with both of the Sandokai and then a little later, about a hundred years later, the Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi, which we also studied by Tozan, who was three generations later. And


I want to talk about Chateau and his lineage, but just to say it's interesting because we think of this as so long ago. It was written in the early 8th century, which is 1,200-1,300 years ago, which we think of as the old days, and we think of you know, the Tang Dynasty, these Zen masters as, you know, we think of that as the good old days. But it's interesting to know, to see that Chitou is also talking about, he's referencing for him the good old days. You know, the whole scheme of this poem is the context is a kind of reminiscence for this Taoist and early Zen hermit tradition and that's already, in a sort of formal way, that's already passed because he's writing this in a time of large monasteries


and sort of group practices and he's here valorizing this hermit tradition and this is a tension and we can talk about it later, this is a tension that runs throughout, as I was thinking about it, throughout the history of Buddhism going back to India. In Indian religion before Buddhism and after Buddhism, you had two wide streams of spiritual practice. One was the Vedic stream, which was a priestly stream, priestly scholarly, and it was temple-based, ritual-based, and caste-based also.


And so that's a lot of what we know of what's become, the Vedic stream has become sort of an orthodoxy of Hinduism. But there was always this other stream which is what we kind of visualized about Indian religion, these sadhus or sramana who were renunciates. They could be of any caste or untouchables and they were kind of individual wisdom seekers whose path was really an experiential one. And, you know, that's the sadhus that we picture, you know, naked or semi-naked, you know, kind of wild-eyed, doing all kinds of austerities and harsh practices.


That's when we think about India, or at least when I think about India, aside from what I've experienced in India, that's kind of a way that I think about Indian religion, because that's sort of the visual, we see that, whereas the Vedic or priestly rituals are more internal, we don't see them so much. Does that make sense? And so, in a way, what the Buddha did, at least my sense of this, is as he was formulating what he called the Middle Way, it was also a synthesis of these approaches. And quite structurally, he did this when he created the Sangha and he created the frame of practice for the Sangha.


They would spend most of the year wandering about in robes from village to village, begging, not as a group, not moving in a pack, not moving as a community, but as individuals. And that kind of expresses the shramanic tradition, the hermit or the wandering mendicant tradition. during the rain season for a period of three months or a little more, they would all come together in ashrams. I never thought about it until the last couple of days, so I don't have the exact derivation, but Shram in Tramana means effort.


It takes a lot of work to walk around village to village to collect your food. And then asram, the ah is a negation, usually like anatta, non-self, ahimsa, non-harming, and it's like no effort. the austerities of wandering through the dusty areas of North India.