Last night, for perhaps a half an hour, I began reading the introduction to "Dialogues in a Dream: Muchu Mondo," a book containing the words of a 14th century Zen teacher, Muso Soseki. The book was a gift from a Zen monk internet friend in Japan. Tom Yuho Kirchner was the translator and the gift was lovely.
The introduction tells of the life of Muso Soseki -- his training and adventures. As Kirchner explains in the introduction, knowing something of the master's life is perhaps a good place to begin, a good way to place his words in context. The introduction is written in clear English and I could not fault Kirchner's reasoning.
But after a half an hour and perhaps half of the introduction, I realized I wasn't learning anything I wanted to know. Yes, it was nice to have a framework within which to appreciate what would follow, but what really interested me lay in what people have to say or do. I simply don't care much if someone is a gas station attendant, a stock broker, a shrink or a holy person (past or present) -- what does this person say and how much sense does it make?
So tonight I'll probably take another half an hour and begin reading the text from the beginning. I have already skipped around in the book and know that Muso Soseki has the capacity to light my lamps. And that's what interests me ... not when or where or how he lived. I don't need a background check. Does what he says make any sense to me? I plan to find out.