Today’s koan is “Bells and Robes” by Unmon (Case 16)
Zen Master Unmon said: “The world is vast and wide. Why do you put on your robes at the sound of a bell?
A monk in a Zen temple lives a regulated life—much more rigid than our professional lives—or is it?
The koan refers to the meditation hall bell. When it sounds, the monk puts on his robe and goes to the hall.
But Unmon asks, “Why?” Some background: There is a Buddhist saying that whatever comes in through the gates is foreign. The gates are the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.
As the story goes, if we move and act guided only by the senses, we are following foreign commands. If we see with our eyes only and hear with only our ears, we are living at the command of something other than who we really are—our authentic self.
Some commentators remark on this koan that to really understand our self, we need to see sound. See sound? This is where you need to break the chains of concepts and free your mind to see what that means to you.
How can you use this koan in everyday life? The best way to put this koan to work is to use Unmon’s question as a mantra for a while. Why? Ask yourself, “why?”
Are your days lived following the ‘commands’ whispered to you by social norms? Other people’s professional or personal expectations of you? The siren call of commercialism? The need to be acknowledged or liked through habitual Facebook or Instagram posts and comments … and instant text message responses?
In response to those ‘bells’ in your environment, are you regulated to move, speak, or react without thinking? Without asking, “Why?” Do you frequently feel pressured, nervous, frustrated, or angry? Do you think it may be because you’re doing things based on foreign commands?
Maybe those foreign commands are the only ones you’ve ever heard. Maybe you haven’t looked to see the sound of what’s inside you in a long time—or ever!
Try this: Before the next thing you are about to do … or the next words you are about to say, ask yourself, “Why?” Then look inside to see the sound of the answer. YOUR answer.
I will end with Rev. Gyomay Kubose’s ending comments on this koan:
“…if one settles down firmly in one’s inner life, all actions, feeling, and deeds come from deep within. The unenlightened one does things because he MUST do them; the enlightened one acts because he wants to. Freedom lies in the center of life. Unmon points to the center.”
About these blog posts
A mix of older posts I wrote for the blog, Suchness: It's All Good - Buddhist Ramblings, LinkedIn articles, and Career Coaching blog posts.