Householder Zen: Zen out of the Monastery

Sometimes lessons in practice can come in the strangest and most mundane places. Digging through my pile of books I came across a Zen cookbook that I never read but decided to flip through. I liked this passage…

How to Crack a Hard-boiled Egg

During one of Roshi’s formal talks, we were given a lesson in the matter of cracking a hard-boiled egg Zen style. In his inimitable fashion, Roshi demonstrated how most of us had cracked the shell of our egg that morning at breakfast, and then showed us how a Rinzai Zen student should crack an egg. Not as we have done, with multiple taps on a table, but with one loud thump. Pierce the silence and be done with it.

Next morning what a difference, Crack. Pow. Bang. And then quiet. No tentative taps. A tap sufficient to crack an egg, constasting with the silence and somehow not disturbing it. Simple. Elegant. Brisk. Determined. The Rinzai approach to cracking an egg.

Rinzai students crack an egg in one swift movement. Much like their practice. The ego is shattered by following the teachings of the Buddha, zazen and koans study. No bull-shit and no mollycoddling. Unlike an egg though which can be cracked quickly with one hit but no preparation; we require time and practice to prepare ourselves for our eventual “cracking” and then the silence follows.

But it begs the question – How would a Soto Zen student crack an egg? I would expect that they would coddle, hug and nuture the egg until the shell just sloughs off.

Two schools with similar practice but different views on the shedding and casting off of the ego.