Sep 19, 2020
Martin Goodson

Everything Teaches Zen

Stories from the life of Zen Master Daiyu Myokyo (Myokyo-ni)

Myokyo-ni said that she had several 'Zen' teachers in her life before her formal training began in Japan. If we are open-minded then the world itself can point the way.

A closeup of a steel rule



Ven. Myokyo-ni made the point that she had known a couple of Zen Masters before Master Sesso, her official teacher. She often cited her old geology professor as falling into this category. One day he walked into the lecture room and drew a line on the blackboard. “There will be those who say this is a straight line and there will be those who say it is not.” Then he took the blackboard ruler and laid it along the line saying, “All that is necessary is to take this ruler and do this and then see for yourselves.” This is a lesson to be taken to heart by those of us who would rather speculate than jump in and find out for ourselves.

Ven. Myokyo-ni’s professor also taught her the importance of pacing oneself when making an effort over an extended period of time. On geology field trips his young students would dash ahead up the mountain paths. However, they would soon tire and the old professor, having set a steady pace from the start would catch up to them and like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable overtake his hares.

After university Ven. Myokyo-ni began working with mining communities. One of these was on the Austrian-Italian border where mining has taken place since Roman times. She was immediately impressed by their methods. They had found a number of clever low-tech solutions to mining problems regularly encountered during the extraction process. When she remarked on this to the guide who was showing her around the site he said that over the years they had developed a useful method of dealing with problems. They would take a lazy but intelligent miner and place him at just the point in the process where a particular problem had occurred. Within two weeks he would usually come up with a solution. Then it was simply a matter of recording it in the ledger and applying this solution more generally when necessary. We are often quick to judge our character traits and we seek to get rid of the ones we deem undesirable. Yet the Buddha after converting demons would put them to work as Dharma guardians at the gates of the temple. It’s not a matter of eradicating our traits but finding a useful way of employing them for the benefit of all.

Ven. Myokyo-ni used to type with only two fingers of each hand. At some point she decided that it would be more useful to type properly using all her fingers. This was before computer programmes so she used a book with finger exercises. They proceeded from the simplest to the more complicated ones showing how to use one’s fingers in the best way over the entire keyboard. The first time she completed the course she found that her old habits kept resurfacing. So she picked up the book and started over at the beginning. Again she found, upon completion of the exercises, that the old habits were interfering with the new skill, so she picked up the book and opened it again at the first page. Having done this three times the old habits refused to die. So she said to herself that she would give it ten more minutes and if her fingers had not switched over to the new way then it would be a matter of starting the book from scratch yet again. She set her timer for ten minutes and before the buzzer went the transfer to the new skill had occurred.

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