Today if you join a Zen retreat, you will enjoy a peaceful holidays for a few days and come back home refreshed. Probably you will be come back after another year of hard (and sometimes frustrating too) work. And you’ll be most welcomed! I read one program that read like this, “Each retreat begins with meditation instruction and a talk introducing the relationship between Zen training and the featured program. We then enter the ongoing monastic schedule, beginning and ending the day with zazen. The still mind cultivated in zazen is carried into all activities: walking meditation, chanting and bowing in liturgical services, working together in silence, and participating in the workshop sessions. The retreat concludes on Sunday with a formal talk by one of the Zen teachers or senior students, followed by lunch.”
To be frank, for some at least, it is less tempting than a yoga retreat where they might include a good massage at a spa, after all Indians are more sensuous people and won’t avoid some feel-good physical touch in pursue of spirituality. But of course I don’t intend to compare the spirituality of Chinese/Japanese Zen and Indian Yoga here, I’m more interested about debates between Tao and Zen masters.
In the past, Zen masters in China were usually great debaters too. I find the Platform Sutra a most interesting read, not only because it wrote about the dramatic life of Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng, but also of the many interesting debates between our masters and other Zen masters as well as with his own students. One such interesting debate was with young master Shen Hui that I mentioned in another post (check here). Nowadays, if you go to a retreat, and want to engage a teacher there for some serious Zen debate like the old timers did, probably they would black-list you for future applications!
Under this tradition and background, young Taoist master Lu Dongbin (呂洞賓) set about to challenge a famous Zen master Huang Long 黃龍禪師 (meaning: Yellow Dragon), for the objective of mutual learning and enlightenment. Their debates took place at Huang's Zen monastery (in front of other monks, it were the days when debates between Zen masters were quite open) were documented in different ways, oftentimes not without the influence of the writer’s religious belief or orientation. After studying a number of texts and judging from the then prevailing tradition of Zen masters’ willing to learn and engage in debates, I believe that these two masters certainly learned a lot from each others.
However modern pundits, especially from the Zen tradition, like to put a few more words of comments of their own when relating the debate. For example, famous Zen scholar Nan HuaiJin (南懷瑾) wrote in his “What says the Diamond Sutra” (金剛經說什麼) that Lu Zu was in fact a disciple of Zen master Huang Long and Lu got his ultimate enlightenment from the Zen master (and by implication not from any of his Taoist masters!). It looks like Tao and Zen debates continue up to this day, stayed tuned.