Zen: Lin chi, Or Shouts and Strikes

Lin Chi, Zen Master.
Shouts, sticks and strikes
Oh, his poor students

For Zen class this week we discussed/are discussing about Lin Chi, an early chinese Zen Master. Coincidentally, the kanji his name are read as rinzai (臨在) in Japanese, which happens to be the name of the stricter school of Zen in Japan.
Old Lin was an aggressive teacher, who spoke plainly and struck his students a lot. They probably deserved it.

The problem with Zen, as I may have said before is that there is no path really. Which makes sense because there isn’t a destination, you are already there.
You just don’t know it yet. That confusing? His students thought so. They probably came from a more traditional, ‘gradual’ school of Buddhism and would expect some sort of path to follow. Like, ‘copy these sutras to get further on the road to enlightenment.’ A true Zen practitioner would say that doesn’t get you closer to enlightenment, but it will improve your handwriting.

So, when his students would ask, “what is the main point of Buddhism?” or “How should I meditate?” Lin would hit them, or shout at them.

I am not really clear on why he would do that, but after having read a bunch of stories and koans about Zen Masters, I think it fits. There is a pretty strong tradition in Zen of hitting people it would seem.

Today though, it has been pretty heavily ritualized. In both Soto (the lighter more gentle Zen) and Rinzai (the stricter one that is more confusing) while you meditate (a foolish act which doesn’t prepare you for enlightenment) a monk carries a paddle around and hits people from time to time. The difference between the two sects is that in Rinzai, the paddle holder gets to choose who to hit. Where as in Soto, you need to ask him (or her, there are female Zen practitioners, dunno if they want to hit people though…) to hit you.

Or so Kenney Sensei said.

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