This is a response to Dosho Port's "Wild Fox Zen" blog entry Dragons and Snakes Intermingle Dosho is musing on the conundrum of Zen teachers who act like ordinary fools and how we respond to them. Its a topic that calls forth responses from the dragons and snakes of our own nature. Dosho is riffing on the koan Manjusri's Three Threes which is case 35 of the Blue Cliff Record. Here's my translation of the koan:
Raised: Wenshu (Manjusri) asked Wuzhu, "What place have you departed from recently?"
Wuzhu said, "The region of the South."
Shu said, "So how is the Buddha Dharma kept alive in the region of the South?"
Zhu said, "Recently, few of the mendicants of the Dharma respect moral discipline and the rules."
Shu said, "How many assemblies?"
Zhu said, "Perhaps three hundred, perhaps five hundred."
Wuzhu asked Wenshu/Manjusri, "So how is it kept alive in this space?"
Shu said, "The ordinary and sages reside together, dragons and snakes intermingle."
Zhu said, "How many assemblies?"
Shu said, "Three threes in front; three threes in back."
I appreciate the “dragons and snakes intermingling.” It is also a great expression for the feelings stirred up. People thought these fellows were dragons and “lo and behold” they acted like snakes. To paraphrase the Bodhisattva of the Levant, “Let those who have never acted like snakes throw the first stones.” Any adult who believes they have never acted like a snake is truly delusional. It is no excuse to say “I’ve just been a ribbon snake, not a king cobra.”
If nothing else, the venting of venom against these Zen teachers has shown that people are meeting on the common ground of being snakes. Three threes in front! Yet, to see only the dragon and not the snake; three threes in back!
I’ve been reluctant to say much about these controversies because I’m all too aware of past lives where I was a mass murderer or a wife-beater.
We can only make these events into Dharma food by the alchemical transformation of turning the three poisons into the three treasures. .People who criticize Genpo, Eido, and others for not living up to their dragon persona do no service to the Dharma by maintaining the mental apartheid of dragons and snakes. The lineage of awakening now called Zen, as Bodhidharma told us, is entering by the gate of principle in which we bear profound faith that the one true nature of beings is the same, without self and without other, with the ordinary and the sagely one and the same.
It is not someone else’s greed, hatred and ignorance that must be transformed. It is our own. It is not that the three poisons are jettisoned, discarded, or left behind and replaced by the three treasures. It is three by three: three threes in front. The greed itself is and becomes the compassion of the sangha, the hatred itself is and becomes the equanimity of the Dharma, the ignorance itself is and becomes the wisdom of the Buddha.
What is most difficult for the inexperienced to understand and accept is how the transformation works in the opposite direction: with three threes in back; where the wisdom of Buddha manifests as ignorance, the equanimity of the Dharma revealing aversion, and the compassion of the sangha showing our greed. What kind of topsy-turvey world is this?
Our Idealism wants a world where poisons become treasures, and not a world where treasures become poisons. But hey, it’s three threes in front, three threes in back, nothing amiss.
For the Dharma it is essential to be able to distinguish poisons from treasures, but it is just as essential to see their sameness, and to see in what way dragons and snakes intermingle within each of us.