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The Tigers Cave

by Padmavajra

The Tiger’s Cave

By Padmavajra

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=OM698
Talk given at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, 2004

The tiger's cave, tangling eyebrows with zen masters; Bill Oddie's friend & the
tiger; the compassion of the Masters; the lion and the bull

So we’ve called this retreat – I’m told it’s one of the longest ever titles of a retreat –
Entering the Tiger’s Cave: Tangling Eyebrows with Zen Masters. It was my idea to have
a retreat on this theme, and I must admit that I must have been out of my mind [audience
laughter] when I suggested the theme to Padmadaka. What was I thinking? Well, I
wasn’t thinking, particularly. Padmadaka kept asking, “Well, what’s the theme going to
be?” and in the end I said, “Well, we’ll just do it on this sort of thing… like that.” Not
quite sure, not quite clear, what that would mean.

So, what was I thinking when I suggested that we devote ourselves this winter to a search
for the tiger’s cave, the tiger’s lair, the abode of the Zen master? Human footprints lead
there, but no human footprints are coming out. Men have gone in, but apparently no men
have returned. They’ve disappeared, presumably consumed by the tiger. To liken the
Zen master to a tiger is very striking indeed. As you all know, tigers are immensely
powerful. Dangerous - immensely dangerous, incredibly dangerous. Huge. Also
incredibly beautiful; orange and black, with incredible eyes. Huge, prowling with
immense dignity. Tremendously agile when they move. Marvelously tranquil when
lying at ease with all that latent power. So, it’s quite something to liken the Zen master to
the tiger in his cave.

And this was brought home to me quite strongly a few weeks ago. I was visiting my
mum and there’s a lot of TV on, and fortunately there were quite a few natural history
programmes, which I find are often the best programmes to watch. And this one was
about Bill Oddie – the ex-Goodie, for those of you who know that, but who’s now a quite
respected natural history person. And he’d gone to the Jim Corbett National Park in
northern India - this incredible jungle, which has been preserved – and he was going there
looking for tigers. But he was incredibly shaky and nervous. He wanted to see a tiger,
but he was very, very nervous about it, and eventually he told this story, a story of a
friend of his who, many years before, had been visiting and walking around the park with
a guide and a party. And as they were going back to the camp they saw huge paw prints
in the mud, and the guide said, “It’s a tiger, and the tiger’s nearby.” So, they were going
back to the camp, and Bill Oddie’s friend said, “I want to go back and take a photo of a
particular bird. Quite a common bird. I noticed one, I want to go and photo the bird.”
So he went back and suddenly the guide and the party heard this cry and shout and they
ran back and they found Bill Oddie’s friend dead in a clearing, mauled by a tiger.

What was peculiar was when he was taken home and they brought home his effects, they
developed his film from the camera, and the last shots on the film are of the tiger coming
out of the jungle, walking around the clearing – he’s taking shot after shot. The last shot
is of this huge face, the mouth open, the paws up. That was the last shot. You didn’t see
the photos, he described it incredibly vividly, but that was the last thing he did. It was
extraordinary hearing him relate this tale. And Bill Oddie thought that his friend had
actually returned not to photograph this bird, but to photograph the tiger. He really had
courted danger, and he didn’t return, but you have this weird photographic record.

So, Bill Oddie was actually very scared, but obviously fascinated too. He obviously
wanted to see a tiger, but terrified at the same time; going around on elephants and they
see the remains of carcasses where tigers have been, you know, deer and so on. And at
the end of his stay, at the end of his visit, there’s a kind of disturbance and a tiger’s come
up to the compound. And then you just see a shot of this tiger in the distance, in the
grass, walking away. The way they move, the way they walk, is just so incredibly
beautiful. Fascinating and dangerous, and he was really stirred up by this. So, when you
start likening a Zen master to a tiger - and of course the Chinese knew what tigers were,
knew what they could do - well you’re making a very strong statement indeed.

And, of course, this sort of fascination and this sense of danger can be like that for us in
the spiritual life, in the Buddhist life. Maybe even you feel this way about this retreat.
This retreat may have seemed fascinating to you, you’re drawn to it, you feel that there’s
something that you need here. Whether or not you noticed it was on Zen masters, you
felt, “Well, there could be something very good here, something important.” But maybe
at the same time it’s a little bit scary too. I know people sometimes feel that way when
they come on retreat, come to Padmaloka. They’re kind of attracted, but a bit scared at
the same time. There’s all those new people, maybe weird people, there. You know, and
you’re doing all that practice, living in a different way. It’s kind of attractive, but at the
same time feels a bit dangerous. And I have to admit, I feel a bit that way myself when it
comes to retreats, even though I’ve been doing these things for years and years and years.
I feel that way myself – very attracted, very interested too. Particularly following a
theme like this, where I’m a little bit out of my usual areas of thought, let’s say. And I’m
going to be meeting new people, different people.

I don’t quite know where we’re going. I’ve got an intuition where I want to go, and I’ve
got a practice, but I don’t know what I or what you will be entering. But nonetheless,
perhaps for that very reason, I want to go into it. I want to go towards the tiger’s cave, go
towards the tiger, follow the footprints that don’t return. Yes. So for some of you it
might come as something of a surprise that the Zen masters of India, China, Korea and
Japan are likened to tigers and that their abode, their state, if you like, is the tiger’s cave.

The enlightened master a tiger? Surely an enlightened man should be likened to
something a bit more gentle, like a dove or a lamb, or something docile and nice and
warm and cuddly. You know, like a good dog, a nice Retriever or Labrador, always
pleasant. Or maybe a Saint Bernard or something. The perfect father or mother,
perhaps; always understanding, always sympathetic no matter what we do, no matter
what we get up to, always there for us to stroke and caress. Certainly, the enlightened
man, the awakened man in Buddhist tradition of all schools is always said to be a man of
genuine love and compassion - of genuine empathy, of real love and compassion, the love
and compassion that springs from wisdom. That is the same, in fact, as wisdom. But we
need to take care when we hear this, that the enlightened man is a man of love and
compassion. We need to take care that we don’t confuse the loving-kindness of an
enlightened master with what passes for love and compassion in ordinary life, which is so
often more like pity and sentimentality. Something that indulges our every whim and
fancy, and that in fact shields us from reality, shields us from ourselves. The teachings of
the enlightened ones, the awakened ones, do not shield us or comfort us. In the end they
bring us to the way things are. That is what true love and compassion does – it brings
you to what you are and what’s actually going on. If you want an illustration of this,
there’s a very, very good film which we saw the other night in the community called
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring which is a genuinely Buddhist film set in
Korea about a Korean Zen master and his young charge, and you really get the
impression of what real love and compassion is.

So, for this reason, because we’re not talking about sentiment and pity, the Buddha is
frequently likened to powerful beasts. He’s likened to a lion, traditionally the king of
beasts, and his teaching is said to be “the lion’s roar.” Traditionally when the lion roars
the other animals are silent. So, the Buddha’s proclamation of truth silences our
opinionatedness, silences our false views, silences our petty-mindedness, opens up a vast
silence that calls us to walk into it and look at ourselves - look at our life - as it is.

Sometimes the Buddha is likened to the great bull elephant, or just the “Great Bull.” Last
summer I was really delighted, we were walking in one of the fields down the road by the
river, there were all the cows and calves coming towards me and then I realized that
behind them there was this huge bull, a great dung-colored bull, beautiful creature, and he
just kind of moved through the crowd of cows and calves with such dignity and power,
all in there in every ...

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