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Excerpts from Shunryu Suzuki lectures - 2014-5
[laughs] = Suzuki laughs [laughter] = students laugh

Fire Seeking Fire with a humorous interruption

In this excerpt Suzuki starts off repeating a story of Dogen's in which a priest asks "Why don't you ask me a question?" and at that point a student, possibly not paying complete attention, thinks Suzuki has just asked for questions. Watch how Suzuki rolls with it. And then we'll finish the story. For more go to 69-04-08 in the Suzuki lecture archive found on Shunryu Suzuki dot com

In Shobogenzo, in the first chapter, Dogen Zenji refers to an interesting story. There was a priest called Gensoku who was taking care of Hogen Zenji's temple. And he thought he understood Buddhism very well, so he didn't ask any question to the master for three years. At last, Hogen Zenji asked him, “It is already three years since you came here. Why don't you ask me some question?” And Gensoku said--


Student A: [raising hand] Excuse me? The Lankavatara Sutra said-- says that, like, that there are two different classes of beings. And one class-- one person is called a “non-returner,” and one person-- one class is called the-- the “returners,” “the once-returners.”


SR: Mm-hmm.


Student A: I would-- I would imagine that the former are the ones who would maintain or keep their selfish desires, whereas the latter would-- would not keep their selfish desires.


SR: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah.


[Here Suzuki continues his story]


And “Why don't you come and ask some question?” the master said.


That acolyte said, “I studied for a long time under Seiho Zenji, and I think I understand what is Buddhism completely."


“How do you understand Buddhism, and what kind of teaching did you receive from him?”


And the priest said, "My old master said, 'to study Buddhism is like a man who was born in the Year of Fire seeking for fire.' Fire seeking fire. Buddha study Buddha. That is my understanding of how we study Buddhism.”


But Hogen did not accept it. He said, “That is what I thought. You don't understand [laughs] what is Buddhism is at all."


So Gensoku was very much upset and he went away. But before he had traveled so long, he thought, “Hogen is a famous Zen master. There must be some reason why he said that when I said to study Buddhism is fire seeking for fire.” So he thought, “This may be a good chance for me to have a real understanding of Buddhism. He must have some good understanding of our way.” So he came back to him and asked him, “What is the way to study Buddhism?” And Hogen said, “It is like fire seeking fire” [laughs, laughter].


[And later he says that the monk was thus enlightened.]

from 69-04-08. Suzuki tells the same story in 69-04-19 and calls the master Isan. Is one of them mistaken or are they both correct as in if his name were Isan Hogen? Maybe he'd looked it up between the two and found he'd used the wrong name.

Edited by DC and posted 12-24-14