Dude Koans / Lebowski & OD Precepts

by Jeff BridgesSeveral years ago Roshi Bernie Glassman met Jeff Bridges and thus began a long-term friendship. Bernie said to Jeff, “You know, a lot of folks consider the Dude a Zen Master.” Jeff replied, “What are you talking about … Zen?” Bernie said that quite a few people had approached him wanting to chat about the Dude’s Zen wisdom. Jeff said that he had never heard of that.

 

Bernie has started a koan study using the Big Lebowski as source material and featuring Koans by the Coens. These koans are posted here with comments by Bernie and the Dude Himself.

Koryu Roshi is quoted frequently in this page. Roshi Bernie calls him his “heart teacher.”  Koryu Roshi approved Bernie’s presentation of his first koan and also for his subsequent first one hundred koans. He finished his koan study (around 1000 koans) with his root teacher, Maezumi Roshi.

 

THE KOANS

What to do?

Lebowski Koan:   “What do you DO Mr. Lebowski?

A Harvard student asks:   “How do I choose my vocation?”

Koryo Roshi* says:  “Why do you put on your patchwork robe at the sound of the bell?”

KoOn’s interpretation:   “What will Gandhi do when he grows up?

Roshi Bernie replies: The vocation chooses You!

 

Knowing and Not-Knowing

Lebowski Koan:   “Shut the f**k up Donny, You’re out of your element!”

A Harvard student asks:   “How do we reconcile not knowing with the need to know?”

Koryu Roshi* says:   “Why has the western barbarian no beard?”

KoOn’s interpretation:   “True or false? This statement is false.”

Roshi Bernie comments:   Not-Knowing is most intimate.

 

I Am

Lebowski Koan:   “You’re Lebowski, Lebowski.”

Mark’s Life Koan:  Who Am I?

Traditional case koan from The Book of Equanimity, Case 38:   Linji said to the assembly: “In this lump of red flesh there is a true person of no rank. He  is always going in and out of the face of every one of you. Those who have not yet witnessed him: Look! Look!”

 

Not Knowing

Lebowski Koan:   “I’m Not Mr. Lebowski. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude.”

Mark’s Life Koan:   Who is this Stranger Looking Back at Me?

Traditional case koan from Blue Cliff Record, Case 1:   Emperor Wu of Liang asked the great master Bodhidharma, “What is the main point of this holy teaching?” “Vast emptiness, nothing holy,” said Bodhidharma. “Who are you, standing in front of me?” asked the emperor. “I do not know,” said Bodhidharma.

 

Tying it together

Lebowski Koan:   “That rug really tied the room together, man!”

A Harvard student asks:   “How can the five buddha energies be used to help all creations?

Koryu Roshi* says:   “Opened Buddha Wisdom, Shown Buddha Wisdom, Enlightened Buddha Wisdom, and Entering Buddha Wisdom”

KoOn’s interpretation:   “Birds Swim, Fish Fly, What do starfish do? (Hint: use your head—as a fifth limb.)

Roshi Bernie replies: “Don’t use your head!”

 

Aaaauuggghh!

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan: “Jerome has been in residential treatment for three years and has made little progress… he should be released from the program because he is now 18 and no longer eligible for services…. But if he leaves here, he has no family and will just end up on the street and become homeless!”

What should you do?

Traditional case koan from Gateless Gate, Case 5: Kyõgen’s “Man up in a Tree”

Kyõgen Oshõ said, “It is like a man up in a tree hanging from a branch with his mouth; his hands grasp no bough, his feet rest on no limb.

Someone appears under the tree and asks him, ‘What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?’ If he does not answer, he fails to respond to the question. If he does answer, he will lose his life.

What would you do in such a situation?”

Lebowski Commentary:   Walter Sobchak: “Hey f**k it Dude!… Let’s go bowling.”

 

Happy Chinaman

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   After struggling with Samantha about doing her math, a special education teacher confronts the school psychologist, “Samantha refuses to do her math … what does her treatment plan say we should do NOW!!?”

The school psychologist replies. “I can’t understand why she isn’t complying with the directions you are giving her? The plan encompasses everything!”

After silently observing the interaction between the teacher and the school psychologist, the teacher’s aide goes over to Samantha’s desk and quietly helps her with her math problems.

What can you do to help?

From 101 Zen Stories: Happy Chinaman:   Hotei lived in the T’ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples around him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him in play. He established a kindergarten of the streets.

Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: “Give me one penny.” Once as he was about to play-work another Zen master happened along and inquired: “What is the significance of Zen?” Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer. “Then,” asked the other, “what is the actualization of Zen?” At once, the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.

Lebowski Commentary:   Walter Sobchak: “Dude, the chinaman is not the issue here!”

 

Far from it

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   “Nurse did you give Mariah her meds this morning?” “Yes, doctor why do you ask?” “Yesterday she was calm and focused but today she is really out of control?” What now?

The Blue Cliff Record, Case 3:   Great Master Ba was seriously ill. The temple steward asked him, “Master, how are you feeling these days?” Great Master said, “Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha.”

Lebowski Commentary:  The Stranger: “Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes, well, he eats you.” The Dude: “Is that some kind of Eastern thing?” The Stranger: “Far from it.”

 

I wasn’t listening.

Lebowski Koan:    Malibu cop: “And I don’t like you, jerk-off! Do I make myself clear?” Dude: (after a pause) “Sorry, I wasn’t listening.”

A Harvard student asks:   “Is there a connection between zen meditation and one’s ability to “listen from the heart”?

Koryu Roshi* says:     The breeze is whistling through the old pine; hearing it closer, the sound is better. KoOn’s interpretation:   Doctor! I keep hearing voices outside my head!

 

Strikes and Gutters

Lebowski Koan:   “How’s It Going Dude?” “You Know, Strikes and Gutters.”

Mark’s Life Koan:    How Do I Make Sense of All This? Traditional case koan from the Gateless Gate, Case 19:    Joshu asked Nansen, “What is the Way?” “Ordinary mind is the Way,” Nansen replied. “Shall I try to seek after it?” Joshu asked. “If you try for it, you will become separated from it,” responded Nansen. “How can I know the Way unless I try for it?” persisted Joshu.

Nansen said, “The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the true Way beyond doubt, you will find it vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?” With these words, Joshu came to a sudden realization.

 

Whatever the cost!

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   A homeless man asks his friend, “Do you think we will ever work our way out of this?” His friend replies, “There is breakfast at First Church today.”

Blue Cliff Record, Case 12:   Tozan’s “Three Pounds of hemp.” A monk asked Tozan, “What is Buddha?” Tozan said, “Three pounds of hemp.”

Lebowski Commentary:   Big Lebowski: “Is it being prepared to do the right thing?… whatever the cost… isn’t that what makes a man?” The Dude: “Do you mind if I do a J?”

 

Beyond pacifism

Lebowski Koan:   He’s got emotional problems, man. You mean…beyond pacifism? A Harvard student asks:   “What would have been a suitable Zen Peacemaker response in Nazi Germany?”

Koryo Roshi* says:   Joshu’s unsheathed sword — glittering, severe frost illuminated. Asking what it is, the body is cut in half. KoOn’s interpretation:   You’re about to cut yourself in half when Manjusri and Avalokitasvara burst in. What do they do? A: Watch B: Beg you not to do it C: Fight about whether to help you D: Call Samatabhadra (immediately join forces to become Samantabhadra) Roshi Bernie replies:  BE Samatabhadra spontaneously immediately! Joshu’s sword is Mu.

 

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Billy had been assaulting staff on his psych unit all week long. During clinical rounds, the nursing staff, mental health workers, therapists and doctors were all arguing about what to do with him. Tired of listening to the arguing, the Program Director held up Billy’s file and said, “Someone provide a solution to Billy’s assaultive behavior or I will terminate his placement right now!” No one said a word. The Program Manager instructed the staff to discharge Billy from the hospital. If you had been there what would you have done to save Billy’s placement? Traditional case koan from the Blue Cliff Record, Case 63: Nansen Kills a Cat:   Once the monks of the eastern and western Zen halls in Nansen’s temple were quarreling about a cat. As he saw this, Nansen held up the cat and said, “You monks! If one of you can say a word, I will not slay the cat.” No one could answer.

Nansen cut the cat in two. Big Lebowski Commentary:   Voice: “Where’s the money, Lebowski?”, his head is plunged back into the toilet. “WHERE’S THE F**KING MONEY, SH*THEAD!” The Dude: “It’s uh, it’s down there somewhere. Lemme take another look.” His head is plunged back in. Voice: “Don’t f**k with us.” The inquisitor hauls the Dude’s head out one last time and flops him over so that he sits on the floor, back against he toilet. Beyond in the living room a young Chinese man unzips his fly and walks over to a rug. Chinese Man: “Ever thus to deadbeats, Lebowski.” He starts peeing on the rug. The Dude: “Oh, no. Don’t do that – Not on the rug, man.” Blond Man: “See, You see what happens, Lebowski? You see what happens?”

 

Loving Action

Lebowski Koan:   “Don’t Worry Donny, There’s Nothing to Be Afraid Of.”

Mark’s Life Koan:   What Object Are You Fighting Over?

Traditional case koan from the The Blue Cliff Record, Case 63: Nansen Kills a Cat Once the monks of the eastern and western Zen halls in Nansen’s temple were quarrelling about a cat. As he saw this, Nansen held up the cat and said,”You monks! If one of you can say a word, I will not slay the cat.” No one could answer. Nansen cut the cat in two.

 

Loving Action 2

Lebowski Koan:   “Where You Going Dude? I’m Going Home, Donny!”

Mark’s Life Koan:   What is Realization?

Traditional case koan from the The Book of Equanimity, Case 63: Joshu Asks About Death Master Joshu asked Master Tosu, “When a man who dies the Great Death revives, what then?” Tosu replied, “Going by night is not permitted. You had better arrive by day.”

More Loving Action

Lebowski Koan:   “The Bums Lost, Mr. Lebowski.”

Mark’s Life Koan:   How Do I Help Others When I Feel So Bad Myself?

Traditional case koan from the The Book of Equanimity, Case 94:   Dongshan is Unwell Dongshan was ill.  A monk asked, “Osho, you’re sick.  Is there someone not sick?”  Dongshan answered, “Yes, there is.”  The monk asked, “Does the one who is not sick look after you?”  Dongshan replied, “This old monk is able to look after others!”  The monk asked, “Osho, how about when you look after others?”  Dongshan said, “Then the having of sickness is not seen.”

 

A Penny For Your Thoughts

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Billy asked his teacher, “Why can’t my Dad just leave us alone? He gets drunk and threatens us all the time? Billy’s teacher responded by saying, “Try not to think about that.” What would you say?

The Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn:   So put down your ideas. Just sit, just hear, just smell, just taste, just touch, just think. An eminent teacher once said, “Without thinking, just like this is Buddha.” Without thinking, what is this?

Big Lebowski Commentary:   The Dude: “Yeah well, ya know, that’s just, like uh, your opinion, man.”

 

What is Compassion?

Lebowski Koan:   “Walter, They’re Going to Kill That Poor Woman!”

Mark’s Life Koan:   What Does It Mean to be Compassionate?

Traditional case koan from the The Book of Equanimity, Case 54: Yunyan’s Great Compassion Yunyan asked Daowu, “What does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion do with so many hands and eyes?” Daowu said, “It’s like someone reaching back for the pillow at night.”

 

Diversity

Lebowski Koan:   Dude: These are, uh… Brandt: Oh those are Mr. Lebowski’s children, so to speak. Dude: Different mothers, huh? Brandt: No… Dude: I guess he’s pretty, uh, racially pretty cool.

A Harvard student asks:   “What efforts have the Zen Peacemaker Order undertaken to address the problems of racism and lack of diversity within American Buddhism?”

Traditional case koan from the The Book of Equanimity:   Kyozan pointed to a snow lion and said, “Can anyone go beyond this Color?” Regarding this, Ummon said, “Right then, I’d push it down for him.” And Setcho later added, “He only knows how to push it down, not how to raise it up.” KoOn’s interpretation: Through the day, keep turning the kaleidoscope. Through the night, keep turning the kaleidoscope.

Roshi Bernie replies:  Simply pointing to sameness (the absolute) risks trivializing differences (the relative). As a matter of how you function, it’s essential to distinguish people’s differing needs. In the five Buddha energies, both black and white are colors of the Buddha field.

 

Question of life and death

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Greg had struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the age of sixteen after being stabbed by a nine-inch knife at a peace rally in the sixties. After years of intensive Zen practice, he was able to stop the horrific flashbacks that had tormented him for 35 years. Last week, Greg’s medical doctor told him he has terminal cancer and will die in a year. What will become of his body?

Traditional case koan from the Blue Cliff Record, Case 82:   Dairyu and the “Dharma-Body” A monk asked Dairyu, “The phenomenal body perishes. What is the Dharma-body which remains solid?” Dairyu said. “The autumn foliage of the mountains spreads like brocade; the water in the valley remains blue as indigo.”

Big Lebowski Commentary:   Walter Sobchak: “Goodnight, sweet prince.”

 

Bearing Witness

Lebowski Koan:    “Shut the F**k Up, Donny!”

Mark’s Life Koan:   Where Do I Fit in This World?

Traditional case koan from the Gateless Gate, Case 15: Tozan’s Sixty Blows Tõzan came to study with Unmon. Unmon asked, “Where are you from?” “From Sato,” Tõzan replied. “Where were you during the summer?” “Well, I was at the monastery of Hõzu, south of the lake.” “When did you leave there,” Unmon asked. “On August 25″ was Tõzan’s reply. “I spare you sixty blows,” Unmon said. The next day Tõzan came to Unmon and said, “Yesterday you said you spared me sixty blows. I beg to ask you, where was I at fault?” “Oh, you rice bag!” shouted Unmon. “What makes you wander about, now west of the river, now south of the lake?” Tõzan thereupon came to a mighty enlightenment experience.

 

How to know

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Mental Health Worker: “If Leroy doesn’t get a home pass this weekend, he is going to run away.” Therapist: “Are you sure?” Mental Health Worker: “Absolutely!” Therapist: “But how can you know that?” Mental Health Worker: “I just know.” Who is right?

Traditional case koan from the Collection of Vines and Entanglements:   Affirmation is not the answer; negation is not the answer; both affirmation and negation are not the answer.

Lebowski Commentary:   Walter Sobchak: Am I wrong? The Dude: No you’re not wrong. Walter Sobchak: Am I wrong? The Dude: You’re not wrong Walter. You’re just an a**hole. Walter Sobchak:  All right then.

 

Just do it!

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Johnny has just moved into his new foster home and is eating lunch. He asks his foster parent, “Are you going to teach me what I need to learn so I can be reunited with my Mom?” Pete, his foster dad says, “Are you done eating lunch?” Johnny says, “Yes.” Pete says, “Then please put your plate in the dishwasher.” Johnny thinks to himself, “What a jerk!” What did Johnny miss?

Traditional case koan from the Gateless Gate, Case 7: Joshu Washes the Bowl A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.” Joshu asked: “Have you eaten your rice porridge?” The monk replied: “I have eaten.” Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.” At that moment the monk was enlightened. Lebowski Commentary:   Brandt: “Well Dude, we just don’t know.”

 

Who’s on first?

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Shavon was adopted from an emergency shelter for children when she was two years old and went to live with her new adoptive parents. When Shavon was eight years old her adoptive parents put her in the custody of the state due to her unmanageable behavior. For the next four years, Shavon bounced around from one foster home or group home to another until she was finally placed in a residential treatment program. One day her therapist asked her, “Shavon … how do you see yourself.” Shavon answered, “I don’t know where I came from and I don’t know where I am going.” Who is she?

Traditional case koan from the Blue Cliff Record, Case 1: Bodhidharma’s Vast Emptiness Emperor Wu of Liang asked the great master Bodhidharma, “What is the main point of this holy teaching?” “Vast emptiness, nothing holy,” said Bodhidharma. “Who are you, standing in front of me?” asked the emperor. “I do not know,” said Bodhidharma.

Lebowski Commentary:   Lebowski: “Who the hell is he?” Walter Sobchak: “Who am I, Who am I?”

 

Giving 1

Lebowski Phrase:   “Put the Piece Away, Walter”.

Mark’s Life Koan:   What Does it Mean to Give?

Traditional case koan from the Gateless Gate, Case 41: Bodhidharma Puts the Mind to Rest Bodhidharma sat facing the wall. The Second Patriarch of Chinese C’han (Zen), Eka, stood long in the thick snow. Finally, he severed his own arm and presented it to Bodhidharma. He said, “My mind is not at rest. Please pacify it for me!” The First Patriarch replied, “Bring me your mind and I will calm it!” The Second Patriarch said, “I have searched for it everywhere, but I cannot find it!” Bodhidharma replied, “There, I have put your mind at rest for you!”

 

Giving 2

Lebowski Koan:   “Am I wrong?” “You’re not wrong, You’re just an a**hole!”

Mark’s Life Koan:   What does it really mean to give freely?

Traditional case koan from the Gateless Gate, Case 11: Joshu Examines the Hermit Joshu went to visited a hermit and asked him: ‘What is it?” The monk raised his fist. Joshu replied: “Ships cannot remain where the water is too shallow.” And he left. A few days later Joshu went again to visit the monk and asked the same question. The monk answered the same way. Joshu said: “Well given, well taken, well killed, well saved.” And he bowed to the monk.

 

Giving 3

Lebowski Koan:   “This is a Family Restaurant”

Mark’s Life Koan:   What does it really mean to give freely?

From 101 Zen Stories:   Hotei lived in the T’ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him to play. He established a kindergarten of the streets.

 

Giving 4

Lebowski Koan:   “What Do You Need That For, Dude?”

Mark’s Life Koan:   What Does it Really Mean to Give Freely?

From 101 Zen Stories:   Hotei lived in the T’ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: “Give me one penny.” And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach, again he would reply: “Give me one penny.”

 

Practice Without Believing

Lebowski Koan:   The Stranger: Now, Dude, that’s a name no-one would self-apply where I come from. But then there was a lot about the Dude that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. And a lot about where he lived likewise. But then again, maybe that’s why I found the place s’durned innarestin’.

A Harvard student asks:   Do you think one can practice a religion fully without completely believing in all of its teachings? For example, Buddhism without reincarnation?

Traditional Case Koan from the Record of Ma-tsu:   Once Huai-jang came upon Ma-tsu doing zazen. He asked – “What are you trying to attain by sitting?” Ma-tsu replied – “I’m trying to become a Buddha”. So Huai-jang picked up a piece of roof tile and started grinding it on a big rock. “What are you doing?” asked Ma-tsu. “I’m polishing it to make a mirror”. “How could polishing a tile make a mirror?”. “How could sitting in zazen make a buddha?”

KoOn’s Interpretation: The more you know The more you don’t know. The more you don’t know, The more you know, You know?

 

Selling Water by the River

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Tommy who had been placed out of his home and had not lived with his family for over five years ran away from the group home where he was living and got drunk. The cops picked him up and brought him back to his group home where Jeff, his houseparent, started to counsel him about drinking and running away. Tommy told Jeff that he was going to continue to drink and run away until he got kicked out of the program, forcing his family to take him back home. Jeff, who knew Tommy’s parents didn’t want him back home, asked him, “So you think that you can force your parents to love you enough to take you back home by acting this way?”

Tommy said, “That’s right.” Jeff then asked Tommy, “Has it ever occurred to you that they might not love you enough to take you back and that the only person you are hurting by doing this is yourself?” Tommy replied sadly, “No, not really.” Jeff then said, “Well what if they don’t love you enough to take care of you and take you back home … who is the one person you can count on to love and take care of you if they don’t?” Tommy looked up and said, “I don’t know.” Jeff replied, “It’s you. You have to start living life for yourself … it’s time for you to learn to love and take care of Tommy”

Traditional Case Koan from The Gateless Gate, Case 10: Poor Seizei A monk named Seizei said to Sozan, “I am alone and poor. I beg my teacher to bestow upon me the alms of salvation.” Sozan said, “Acarya Seizei!” “Yes, Sir?” replied Seizei. Sozan said, “Someone has drunk three bowls of the wine of Haku of Seigen, but says that he has not yet even moistened his lips.” Big Lebowski Commentary:   The Stranger: “Say, friend – you got any more of that good sarsaparilla?”

 

Giving 5

Lebowski Koan:   “What Do You Need That For, Dude?”

Mark’s Life Koan:   What Does it Really Mean to Give Freely?

From 101 Zen Stories:   Whenever he met a Zen devotee Hotei would extend his hand and say: “Give me one penny.” And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach, again he would reply: “Give me one penny.”

 

From Here to Here

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Denise started a statewide agency that provided foster care and intensive family-based services to children and families. She began the agency in the living room of a rented house and seven years later had built it into a highly regarded and innovative human service agency. When it was time to move on, she was asked to name the next Executive Director. She recommended Bill, who, along with his wife Sharon, were the first foster parents trained by Denise. He then became one of the first family-based service workers in the agency. He then became a foster parent trainer and consultant for the agency. Finally, Bill was promoted to the position of Coordinator of the Family-Based Service program. What did Denise transmit to Bill?

The Record of Transmitting the Light – Case 2: Mahakashyapa   The first patriarch was Mahakashyapa. Once, the World Honored One held up a flower and blinked. Mahakashyapa smiled. The World Honored One said, “I have the Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma and Wondrous Mind of Nirvana, and I transmit it to Mahakashyapa.

Big Lebowski Commentary:   The Stranger: “I guess that’s the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ itself, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands of time until we– aw, look at me, I’m ramblin’ again..”

 

Receiving 1

Lebowski Koan:   Malibu Cop: “Do I Make Myself Clear?” The Dude: “Sorry, I Wasn’t Listening”.

Mark’s Life Koan:   How Should I Receive?

Traditional Case Koan from The Gateless Gate, Case 6 – Buddha Holds Up A Flower:  &nbsp’Once upon a time when Shakyamuni Buddha was in Grdhrakuta mountain, he twirled a flower in his finger and held it before his congregation. Everyone was silent. Only Mahakashapa wholeheartedly smiled. Buddha said, “I have the eye of the true teaching, the heart of Nirvana, the formless form, the mysterious gate of Dharma. Beyond the words and beyond all teachings to be transmitted, I now pass this on to Mahakashapa.”

 

Receiving 2

Lebowski Koan:   “I’m Perfectly Calm, Dude. Calmer Than You Are”

Mark’s Life Koan:   How Should I Receive Something I Don’t Like?

Traditional Case Koan from The Gateless Gate, Case 13, Tokusan Carries His Bowls: One day Tokusan came down to the dining room, carrying his bowls. Seppo the cook called out to him, “Old Master, where are you going with your bowls when the bell has not rung and the drum has not sounded?” Tokusan turned at once and went back to his own room. Seppo told this occurrence to Ganto, who remarked: “Great master though he is, Tokusan has not yet grasped the last word of Zen”. Hearing of this, Tokusan sent his attendant to summon Ganto, and said to him, “Do you not approve of me?” Ganto leaned over and whispered his reply to him. Tokusan said nothing further. The next day, in his teisho, Tokusan was different from usual. Ganto, going towards the front of the hall, clapping his hands and laughing, said, “What a happy thing! The old man has now grasped the last word of Zen. From now on nobody will be able to get the better of him!”

 

The Road Home

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Katrina has been in her residential placement for the last eight months and has been working hard to get her parents to take her back home. Every day she asks staff if they will spend time role-playing her treatment skills with her so she will be considered for discharge home. One day, one of the staff asked Katrina why she is so adamant about role-playing all the time. Katrina responded by saying, “So you and the other staff will see me as a good kid and persuade my parents and my caseworker to let me go home.” What would you say to Katrina?

Master Dogen’s 300 Koan Shobogenzo – Case 8: Nanyue Polishes a Tile:   Zen Master Mazu Dayoyi was an attendant to Nanyue and personally received the mind-seal from him exceeding his peers. Before that, he lived in Kaiyuan Monastery and did zazen all day long. Knowing that Mazu was a Dharma vessel, Nanyue went to him and asked, “Great monastic, what do you intend by doing zazen.” Mazu said, “I am intending to be a Buddha.” Nanyue picked up a brick and started polishing it. Mazu said, “What are you doing?” Nanyue said, “I am trying to make a mirror.” Mazu said, “How can you make a mirror by polishing a brick?” Nanyue said, “How can you become a Buddha by doing zazen?

Big Lebowski Commentary:   The Dude: “I could be just sitting at home with pee stains on my rug.”

 

New Liturgy Comes to Light

Lebowski Koan:   Dude: Look, I’ve got certain information, certain things have come to light, and uh, has it ever occurred to you, man, that given the nature of all this new shit, that, uh… Lebowski: What in God’s holy name are you blathering about? Dude: I’ll tell you what I’m blathering about! I got information — New shit has come to light! …

A Harvard Student Asks:   Where do you get the authority to change traditional liturgy?

Traditional Case Koan from the Gateless Gate, Case 30: This Very Mind is Buddha Ta-mei once asked Ma-tsu, “What is Buddha?” Ma-tsu answered: “This very mind is Buddha” Years later, Ma-tsu sent a monk to see how Ta-mei was doing. Ta-mei asked the monk: “So what is Master Ma-tsu saying these days?” “He’s saying ‘Not mind, not Buddha’.” Ta-mei considered: “Great Master Ma is confusing people. I still say this very mind is Buddha.” Hearing of this, Ma-tsu, was delighted.

KoOn’s Interpretation: You’re under water and swimming for the surface You anticipate surfacing, and start exhaling… But the surface is still three feet away. How does that chant go?

 

Kind Speech

Lebowski Koan:   “Come on, you’re being very un-Dude.”

Mark’s Life Koan:   How Do I Speak With Kindness?

Traditional Case Koan from The Book of Equanimity, Case 93, “Luzu’s Not Understanding”: Luzu asked Nansen, “’People do not recognize the Mani-jewel. I picked it up myself in the Tathagata treasury. What is this treasury?” Nansen said, “Old Master O exchanges questions and answers with you. That’s it.” Luzu said, “How about when there is no exchange of questions and answers?” Nansen said, “That’s also the treasury.” Luzu said, “What is the jewel?’ Nansen said, “Reverend Shiso!” Luzu said, “Yes!” Nansen said, “Get out. You don’t understand my words.”

 

When the Wheels Fall Off

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Nadine is the finance director of a large behavioral health hospital. She takes her job very seriously and is always concerned about doing the right thing. As a result, she spends a lot of time working very hard to be seen as conscientious while she goes about her day judging her performance and the performance of others. Then one day, her brother who had been engaged in a life long struggle with behavioral health issues, including drug and alcohol abuse, took his own life. The death of Nadine’s brother affected her deeply and caused her to begin to question the meaning of her own life. In what direction is your life taking you?

Traditional Case Koan from The Gateless Gate, Case 8, Keichu’s Wheel: Gettan said to a monk, “Keichu made one hundred carts. If we took off the wheels and removed the axle, what would then be obvious?

Big Lebowski Commentary:   The Dude: “Well they finally did it. They killed my f*cking … car.”

 

Beneficial Action

Lebowski Koan:   “Her life was in your hands! This was our concern, Dude.”

Mark’s Life Koan:   What is Beneficial Action?

Traditional Case Koan from The Book of Equanimity, Case 86, “Linji’s Enlightenment”: Rinzai asked Obaku, “What is the great meaning of the Buddha-Dharma?” Obaku hit him. This happened three times. Rinzai then took his leave and went to see Daigu. Daigu asked, “Where have you come from?” Rinzai said, “From Obaku.” Daigu said, “What did Obaku have to say?” Rinzai said, “I asked him three times, ‘What is the great meaning of the Buddha-Dharma?’ and I got his stick three times. I don’t know if I was in error or not.” Daigu said, “Obaku was overly gentle like an old grandmother; he completely exhausted himself for your sake. Yet you come here and ask if you were in error or not!” With these words, Rinzai came to great enlightenment.

 

Talk, Talk, Talk, When Do We Eat?

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   Roshi Bernie took a number of Zen students on a bearing witness street retreat in Manhattan. Daigu, a Zen Peacemaker priest, took some money out of his pocket one morning and bought a copy of the New York Times and started to read it. Roshi Bernie confronted Daigu about purchasing the Times, as no one was supposed to bring money on the streets. Daigu felt embarrassed for breaking the rules of the street retreat and threw the newspaper away. Later that week, Daigu got up enough nerve to panhandle enough money to buy another edition of the Times. What did Daigu realize?

Traditional Case Koan from 101 Zen Stories, Case 43, Zen in a Beggar’s Life:   Tosui was a well-known Zen teacher of his time. He had lived in several temples and taught in various provinces. The last temple he visited accumulated so many adherents that Tosui told them he was going to quit the lecture business entirely. He advised them to disperse and go wherever they desired. After that no one could find any trace of him. Three years later one of his disciples discovered him living with some beggars under a bridge in Kyoto. He at once implored Tosui to teach him. “If you can do as I do for even a couple of days, I might,” Tosui replied. So, the former disciple dressed as a beggar and spent the day with Tosui. The following day one of the beggars died. Tosui and his pupil carried the body off at midnight and buried it on a mountainside. After that, they returned to their shelter under the bridge. Tosui slept soundly the remainder of the night, but the disciple could not sleep. When morning came Tosui said: “We do not have to beg food today. Our dead friend has left some over there.” But the disciple was unable to eat a single bite of it. “I have said you could not do as I,” concluded Tosui. “Get out of here and do not bother me again.”

Big Lebowski Commentary:   Walter: “This is not Nam. This is Bowling. There are rules.”

 

Identity With Others

Lebowski Koan:   “We’ve been frantically trying to reach you, Dude”.

Mark’s Life Koan:   What is it to Identify with Others?

Traditional Case Koan from the Book of Equanimity, Case 72, “Chuyu’s Monkey”: Kyozan asked Chuyu, “What does buddha-nature mean?” Chuyu said, “I will explain it for you by allegory. Suppose there is a room with six windows. Inside there is a monkey. Outside, someone shouts, ‘Monkey! monkey!’ It immediately responds. If someone calls, ‘Monkey!’ through any of the windows, it responds just the same. It is just like that.” Kyozan said, “How about when the monkey is asleep?” Chuyu descended from his Zen seat, grasped Kyozan and said, “O monkey, monkey, there you are!”

 

Name Calling

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   At an all staff meeting, the topic of how to refer to the people served by the program became a hot issue amongst the staff as they were sensitive to the pernicious effects of labeling and how folks in the program might easily be stigmatized. Some staff thought they should be called “clients.” Other staff felt that calling people in the program “clients” was demeaning and wanted them to be called “program participants.” Some of the nursing staff didn’t understand why they couldn’t be called “patients” as that was basically what they were to them. The Program Director remarked, “If you were in this program, what would you want to be called?

Traditional Case Koan from The Gateless Gate, Case 43, Shuzan’s bamboo spatula: Master Shuzan held out his bamboo spatula and asked, “If you call this a bamboo spatula, you give umbrage (to the principle of Zen). If you call this no bamboo spatula, you violate the law (of common-sense). What will all of you call this?”

Big Lebowski Commentary: Blond Treehorn Thug: (holding up a bowling ball) “What the f*ck is this?” The Dude: “Obviously you’re not a golfer.”

 

Poverty

Lebowski Koan:   “Nothing is f*cked here, Dude”.

Mark’s Life Koan:   What Does it Mean to be poor?

Traditional Case Koan from The Gateless Gate, Case 10, “Poor Seizei”: A monk named Seizei said to Sozan, “I am alone and poor. I beg my teacher to bestow upon me the alms of salvation.” Sozan said, “Acarya Seizei!” “Yes, Sir?” replied Seizei. Sozan said, “Someone has drunk three bowls of the wine of Haku of Seigen, but says that he has not yet even moistened his lips.”

 

Do You Mind?

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:   During a weekly clinical case conference on the children’s psychiatric unit, Tammy, a psychotherapist, remarked that Kenyatta’s mental illness prevented him from making progress in the program. Sam, a behavioral psychologist, replied, “Kenyatta’s problem is not in his mind, it arises as a result of the interaction between the staff and him. “His” behavior IS the interaction between himself and the staff … beyond that we can say nothing.”

Traditional Case Koan from The Blue Cliff Record, Case 37, Banzan’s “Not One Thing in the Three Worlds”: Banzan, giving instruction, said, “In the Three Worlds, there is not one thing. Where should one seek the mind?”

Big Lebowski Commentary:   The Dude: “Walter–what f*ck are you thinking man?”

Poverty 2

Lebowski Koan:   Walter: “I See What You’re Getting At. He Kept the Money. My Point Is, It’s Shabbas, Which I’m Allowed to Break Only if it’s a Matter of Life and Death”.

Mark’s Life Koan:   What Does it Really Mean to be Poor?

Traditional Case Koan from The Book of Equanimity, Case #27, Fayan Points to a Blind:   Fayan pointed to the bamboo blinds with his hand. At that moment, two monks who were there went over to the blinds together and rolled them up. Hogen said, “One has gained, one has lost.”

 

The Good Doctor

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan:    Pat had an RN in nursing and a Ph.D. neurological psychology. She was well known for her ability to perform psych tests to determine what level of reimbursement insurance companies were willing to pay for services to children and adolescents. She decided to give up her testing practice and work directly with kids in a residential treatment program for very difficult children who had experienced severe trauma in their lives. One of the girls in her program kept running out of her residential cottage into ongoing traffic in an attempt to take her own life. Pat tried everything she knew to stop this girl from doing this but was unable to keep her safe without placing her in a locked children’s psychiatric unit. Who is Pat’s doctor?

Traditional Case Koan from The Book of Equanimity,Case 83, Dogo’s Nursing the Ill:   Isan asked Dogo, “Where have you come from?” Dogo said, “I come from nursing the ill.” Isan said, “How many people are ill?” Dogo said, “There are some ill, and some not ill.” Isan said, “The one who is not ill isn’t that you, dear Chi?” Dogo said, “Ill or not ill it has nothing to do with ‘that’ matter. Say it quickly! Say it quickly!” Isan said, “Even if I could say it, it would have no connection with that matter.”

Big Lebowski Commentary:   Maude: “Here’s the name and number of a doctor… he is a good man and thorough.”

 

Abundance 1

Lebowski Koan:   “These are good burgers, Walter.”

Mark’s Life Koan:   What is Wealth?

Traditional Case Koan from The Book of Equanimity, Case #4, The World Honored One Points to the Ground: When the World-Honored One was walking with his assembly, he pointed to the ground with his hand and said, “This place is good for building a temple.” Indra took a stalk of grass and stuck it in the ground and said, “The temple has been built.” The World-Honored One smiled.

 

Name Calling

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan: At an all staff meeting, the topic of how to refer to the people served by the program became a hot issue amongst the staff as they were sensitive to the pernicious effects of labeling and how folks in the program might easily be stigmatized. Some staff thought they should be called “clients.” Other staff felt that calling people in the program “clients” was demeaning and wanted them to be called “program participants.” Some of the nursing staff didn’t understand why they couldn’t be called “patients’ as that was basically what they were to them. The Program Director remarked, “If you were in this program, what would you want to be called?” How about you?

Traditional Case Koan from The Gateless Gate, Case 43, Shuzan’s bamboo spatula: Master Shuzan held out his bamboo spatula and asked, “If you call this a bamboo spatula, you give umbrage (to the principle of Zen). If you call this no bamboo spatula, you violate the law (of common-sense). What will all of you call this?”

Big Lebowski Commentary: Blond Treehorn Thug: [holding up a bowling ball] “What the f*ck is this?” The Dude: “Obviously you’re not a golfer”

 

You Are What You Eat

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan: Kevin had been diagnosed with potentially fatal cancer. His doctor told him he needed a life saving operation. Kevin researched his type of cancer and discovered over 30 varieties of organic vegetables that contained nutrients that could counteract the growth of his cancer. While Kevin was home for three months convalescing from his operation, he planted an organic garden containing these cancer fighting vegetables while waiting to hear if his operation had been successful. Each day, Kevin toiled in his garden bringing forth new life from the earth. One day he realized, “I’ve been growing my own medicine chest right here in my backyard.” What is Kevin’s disease? – what is his medicine?

Traditional Case Koan from The Blue Cliff Record, Case 87, Unmon’s “Medicine and Disease”: Unmon, instructing the assembly, said, “Medicine and disease correspond to each other. The whole earth is medicine. What is your true self?”

Big Lebowski Commentary: Walter: “…some burgers, some beers, a few laughs. Our … troubles are over, Dude.”

 

Abundance 2

Lebowski Koan: Walter: “You want a toe? I’ll get you a toe. There are ways, Dude.”

Mark’s Life Koan: What does it really mean to be wealthy?

Traditional Case Koan from the Blue Cliff Record, Case #50, Yun Men’s Every Atom Samadhi: A monk asked Yun Men: “What is the ‘every atom’ samadhi? Yun Men answered: “Water in the bucket, food in the bowl”

 

Gate of Sweet Nectar

Ryudo’s Social Action Koan: Rich was given the responsibility of putting together a prisoner re-entry program, knowing that the inmates who would be returning from jail had been treated for drug and alcohol problems prior to release. Rich was trying to determine if it would be better to build a community-based re-entry support program based on the AA model of complete abstinence or whether it would be better to use a harm reduction model which would tolerate some forms of “controlled” drinking. Some of Rich’s staff are heavily in favor of the abstinence model and some favored the harm reduction model. Which way is the true way?

Traditional Case Koan from 101 Zen Stories, Case #13, A Buddha: In Tokyo in the Meiji era there lived two prominent teachers of opposite characteristics. One, Unsho, an instructor in Shingon, kept Buddha’s precepts scrupulously. He never drank intoxicants, nor did he eat after eleven o’clock in the morning. The other teacher, Tanzan, a professor of philosophy at the Imperial University, never observed the precepts. When he felt like eating, he ate, and when he felt like sleeping in the daytime, he slept. One day Unsho visited Tanzan, who was drinking wine at the time, not even a drop of which is supposed to touch the tongue of a Buddhist. “Hello, brother,” Tanzan greeted him. “Won’t you have a drink?” “I never drink!” exclaimed Unsho solemnly. “One who does not drink is not even human,” said Tanzan. “Do you mean to call me inhuman just because I do not indulge in intoxicating liquids!” exclaimed Unsho in anger. “Then if I am not human, what am I?” “A Buddha,” answered Tanzan.

Big Lebowski Commentary: The Dude: “Hey, hey, hey careful, man! There’s a beverage here!”

The Three Refuges:  I take refuge in the:

Buddha

Dharma

Sangha

The Three Pure Precepts:

Do No Evil

Do Good

Do Good for Others

The Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers:

Not Knowing

Bearing Witness

Loving Action

The Three What Have You’s:

I’ve dabbled in Pacifism myself, though not in Nam of course.

The Dude Is Not In

The Dude Abides

Enjoyin’ My Coffee

THE TEN GRAVE PRECEPTS

This is not Nam; there are rules!

 

1. Not Killing.

Bodhidharma: Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the everlasting Dharma, not giving rise to the ideal of killing is called the Precept of Not Killing.

Dogen Zenji: The Buddha seed grows in accordance with not taking life. Transmit the life of Buddha’s wisdom and do not kill.

Zen Peacemakers: Recognizing that I am not separate from all that is. This is the precept of Non-Killing.

Big Lebowski: This aggression will not stand man!

 

2. Not Stealing.

Bodhidharma: Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the unattainable Dharma, not having thoughts of gaining is called the Precept of Not Stealing.

Dogen Zenji: The self and things of the world are just as they are. The gate of emancipation is open.

Zen Peacemakers: Being satisfied with what I have. This is the precept of Non-Stealing.

Big Lebowski: The old man told me to take any rug in the house.

3. Not Misusing Sex.

Bodhidharma: Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the ungilded Dharma, not creating a veneer of attachment is called the Precept of Not Misusing Sex.

Dogen Zenji: The Three Wheels are pure and clear. When you have nothing to desire, you follow the way of all Buddhas.

Zen Peacemakers: Encountering all creations with respect and dignity. This is the precept of Chaste Conduct.

Big Lebowski: She’s not my special lady friend; I’m just helping her to conceive.

 

4. Not Lying.

Bodhidharma: Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the inexplicable Dharma, not preaching a single word is called the Precept of Not Lying.

Dogen Zenji: The Dharma Wheel turns from the beginning. There is neither surplus nor lack. The whole universe is moistened with nectar, and the truth is ready to harvest.

Zen Peacemakers: Listening and speaking from the heart. This is the precept of Non-Lying.

Big Lebowski: I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.

 

5. Not using intoxicants.

Bodhidharma: Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the intrinsically pure Dharma, not giving rise to delusions is called the Precept of Not using intoxicants.

Dogen Zenji: It has never been; don’t be defiled.  It is indeed the great clarity.

Zen Peacemakers: Cultivating a mind that sees clearly. This is the precept of Not Being Ignorant.

Big Lebowski: Careful man there’s a beverage here!

 

6. Not Discussing Faults of Others.

Bodhidharma: Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the flawless Dharma, not expounding upon error is called the Precept of Not Speaking of Faults of Others.

Dogen Zenji: In the Buddha Dharma, there is one path, one Dharma, one realization, one practice. Don’t permit faultfinding. Don’t permit haphazard talk.

Zen Peacemakers: Unconditionally accepting what each moment has to offer. This is the precept of Not Talking About Others Errors And Faults.

Big Lebowski: You’re not wrong Walter; you’re just an asshole!

 

7. Not Elevating Oneself by Blaming Others.

Bodhidharma: Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the equitable Dharma, not making any distinction between oneself and others is called the Precept of Not Praising myself while blaming others.

Dogen Zenji: Buddhas and Ancestral Teachers realize the empty sky and the great earth. When they manifest the noble body, there is neither inside nor outside in emptiness. When they manifest the Dharma body, there is not even a bit of earth on the ground.

Zen Peacemakers: Speaking what I perceive to be the truth without guilt or blame. This is the precept of Not Elevating Oneself And Blaming Others.

Big Lebowski: The bums will always lose!

 

8. Not Being Stingy.

Bodhidharma. Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the genuine, all- pervading Dharma, not being attached to one form is called the Precept of Not Being Stingy.

Dogen Zenji: One phrase, one verse – that is the ten thousand things and one hundred grasses; one dharma, one realization – that is all Buddhas and Ancestral Teachers. Therefore, from the beginning, nothing has been withheld.

Zen Peacemakers: Using all of the ingredients of my life. This is the precept of Not Being Stingy.

Big Lebowski: Where’s the money shit-head!?  It must be down there somewhere, let me have another look.

 

9. Not Being Angry.

Bodhidharma: Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the selfless Dharma, not thinking of the self is called the Precept of Not Being Angry.

Dogen Zenji: Not advancing, not retreating, not real, not empty. There is an ocean of bright clouds. There is an ocean of solemn clouds.

Zen Peacemakers: Transforming suffering into wisdom. This is the precept of Not Being Angry.

Big Lebowski: Calmer than you are.

 

10. Not Speaking Ill of the Three Treasures.

Bodhidharma: Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the sphere of the One Dharma, Not holding a dualistic view of sentient beings and Buddhas is called the Precept of Not Speaking Ill of the Three Treasures.

Dogen Zenji: The teisho of the actual body is the harbor and the weir. This is the most important thing in the world. Its virtue finds its home in the ocean of essential nature. It is beyond explanation. We just accept it with respect and gratitude.

Zen Peacemakers: Honoring my life as an instrument of peacemaking. This is the precept of Not Thinking Ill of the Three Treasures.

Big Lebowski: That rug really tied the room together, did it not!?

Da three treasures

  1. Disorder
  2. Humor
  3. Love

 

Da three tenants

  1. Not even not knowing (forgged about it!)
  2. Just wait
  3. Belly Laughter

 

The Ten Guidelesslines

  1. Don’t kill anything by taking it seriously
  2. Don’t steal anything unless you can get away with it (and you can’t).
  3. Don’t worry about promiscuity; no one would look at you twice.
  4. Don’t lie by pretending to know anything.
  5. Forget about intoxicants, you are already a mess
  6. Laugh at yourself at least as often as you laugh at others.
  7. If someone makes a fool of themselves, pay your respects and join in the fun.
  8. If you can, smile. If possible, giggle. Whenever there is a chance laugh with all your might.
  9. Have fun.

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