To take the meditation path is to get into the bath, fully immersing yourself in life. Meditation is a gesture of inquiry, a willingness to discover what is here, without needing to control, judge or manipulate it in any way. No scheming. Meditation is a cleansing and a putting down of what we think about life, what we believe, as we open to life itself. It is free of technique and program, a “free swim.”
The road down to the Blue Dragon’s Cave is narrow, on that path there are treasures and monsters, good friends and demons. Every possible emotion appears: Memories, hopes, sorrows and love of life. That sounds like our time. You will also get help that you had not foreseen.
this is a wonderful time to practice. We have protest and pestilence loosening our hold on things, and we have a tree, or maybe it is a tomato plant, or a weed, or feeling left out or frustrated. Whatever…. Opening to life is hope and it is simultaneously the realization of hope – right here.
Within the vast web which is life, we find refuge, solace, companionship in one another. Now, in this time of Pandemic, we have Zoom, the on-line meeting platform. The Pacific Zen Institute has created an online Temple. This means each week, Sunday through Friday, teachers from the Pacific School are convening spaces for refuge, teaching, meditation, koans and conversation.
Bluegrass Zen hosts its online Zoom meeting on Thursdays, 7 pm, EDT/4 PDT. Here you will sit with members and friends of Bluegrass Zen from around the country and across the world. Everyone is welcome and anyone may join our meeting via computer, tablet, or phone.
To access our Thursday meetings and the meetings of other Pacific Zen Teachers go to https://www.pacificzen.org/from-pzi-new-online-talks-meetings-with-pzi-teachers/
Koans are not things that fit into our belief system nor can they be used to manipulate others in support of a particular world view. Rather, they pull us out of our attachments and perceived certainties in deference to the moment, calling us to be “now” and right “here,” or nowhere. They guide us as we abandon location, the living words of the koan engendering living response, alive to the situation. Koans fit the moment. Moving and shimmering with vitality, like a postcard from awakening they call, “Wish you were here!” The universe calls out to us in the koan. Like the horse shining in the sun on my early morning walk, the koan calls me into relationship. They are living words that open to an encounter and relationship with life as it is, not as remembered or imagined. But, simply, as it is.
The world unfolds giving and I receive — the kindness of a friend, her smile a gift on a rainy day; the way the dog nudges against me, asking me to rub her ears; the phone rings, a friend calls; the sun as it rises – the horizon aflame; the trail rising to meet me as I walk the property; the Blue Heron rising from the pond, squawking as she flies. The hand that freely gives is the hand that receives. The hand that receives and declines to hold is already the hand that gives. Dongshan teaches this open hand. Good thing too.
Willing for the moment, we unclench and let go of wanting to shape our reality into what we know and want. We no longer find fault or enter into a quarrel with the life that is here and now. What comes comes. And if we find fear or anger or sadness or despair or loneliness, if we don’t grab hold, or as we unclench, the joy and love that is there before fear, anger, etc…, the spaciousness, comes into plain view. Outside of our objections to reality, lies the bird path.
The dark has a texture its own, a support that leads us into life, that will open us to each discrete and successive moment. This blessed way calls us forth, to feel our way as we experience life as it comes to us. Feeling our way along feels like a naked trust, as it can only be undertaken “in the dark,” from a place of not-knowing. Our trust is naked as we trust the uncertain and unknown, noticing and receiving the offering that the darkness brings, that is our’s in the mystery.
The koan is vast, encompassing and moves easily over boundaries. “Master!” There is a call. “Yes!” is a response. This practice is seamless, continuous and unending. Call, response — who calls? Who responds? As I write, the white pine trees outside the window dance in the wind. So, here is the voiceless voice, a mysterious call from I know not where. Out of the dark recesses, feels like the heart, there rising in me, equally mysterious, “Yes! Yes!”
This blessed way calls us forth, to feel our way as we experience life as it comes to us. Feeling our way along feels like a naked trust, as it can only be undertaken “in the dark,” from a place of not-knowing. Our trust is naked as we trust the uncertain and unknown, noticing and receiving the offering that the darkness brings, that is our’s in the mystery.
Koans are an invitation to the “here” of the moment, to our lives as they are. As we come into our lives we are healed, finding our home in the mysterious vast. Exchanging our ‘life stories” for koan story, the koan turns us around welcoming us as Buddha, as the one who comes thus, tathagata — just so. Here it is, life before story, before belief, before self. Thus.The sun rises pink on the horizon. The crows call to each other. I open the gate to let the horses in after a night in the field. This is Yunmen’s everyday.
it seems to me that ghosts are almost always trying to be helpful like this: guarding the threshold between the places I know and am fine with and the places where I simply do not want to go, where I believe I will meet my doom. A ghostly, “Boo!” or a rattling of chains is just enough and I’ll be heading the other way. As I interact with these ghosts and keep away from what I fear the ghosts work to save me from something I have found to be a problem.
The moon sets on your knowing, on your images and ideas of self, well known and worn and you welcome what you don’t yet know. You begin to experience the vast and seamless dark on its own terms. You walk alone, dark, and in the dark. Your walk is one of discovery. There is no separation between you and what is. You are at-one.You begin to live and move with deep appreciation of life as it unfolds. You are alone here, for at-one where is the other? Life meets you, here, in this dark town. Then the awakening — this is how it has always been, before rank, before the suffering, before a self.
Awakening is not something we can conceive of, we cannot think our way to it. One old teacher said, “Move towards it, you move away from it.” Ok. Well, then it is always a surprise. We don’t find it, awakening finds us. Peach blossoms find us. The Universe finds us. And we stir, foundations shake. Lingyun rounds the bend, there they are, the peach blossoms across the valley — they find him — no doubts, no opinions either — just the peach blossoms, the intimacy of awakening. Lingyun disappears in a moment of peach blossoms.
Life in its ecstasy and in its misery is agonizing, a contest. In other words, life comes forward to meet you, calls. This is Guan Yin in all her guises – love, hate, kindness, sadness, anger, grief, and on and on. Life’s call beckons response, a step off the pole. The teacher, echoing life itself, asks, “how do you step from the top of the hundred foot pole?”
…the patriarchs and matriarchs and my mind and your mind, the music playing in next room, the dog resting in her crate, the horses in the cold barn, the dishes dirty in the dishpan. This Supreme Way reaches everywhere and touches everything — no inside or outside and no special way to be chosen over any other way. This Way is not easy or hard, not even Supreme. It is right here, in every action, every thought, every emotion
In life the big questions are lived. Thinking might help, but that is about. It is in the living that we find awakening. Zhaozhou’s koan is often the first koan given Zen students. The traditional instruction is to become completely “No.” Live, breath, move as No. That’s good, but today, for me, it is about the dog, the wound, the grief — the intimacy that love calls forth.
Whether it is the slow trickle of summer or the deluge of spring, to wade in the water is to no longer hold yourself apart from life but to be in it, soaked through, no separation. Having stepped off the well trodden path you are life’s constant change. You move as life moves.
There is nothing you lack. The wholeness you seek you already have. The enlightenment that will fix things is already a fact of your life. You awaken to this wholeness by noticing the life that you are living. So, Yunmen turns this donkey’s head towards home — “give me the reaching, your longing.”
Our practice is to be vulnerable to life, to be willing for the slings and arrows as they penetrate the hard walls of belief, expectation and self image. We are wounded. A wound is an opening of thebarrier that separates inside from outside. Physically that can be a problem, infection might follow. But psychically, wounds can penetrate the hard exterior of the fortress of self. These slings and arrows can open us to life, to the one light.
Here we are in November. It is a cool day, the sun shines, the clouds above are light and puffy against the blue sky. This morning I let the horses out into the lower field. There the sweet grass is long and plentiful. In the same field I hear calves calling out across the pond. In moments like this gratitude is easy
In Zen the heart and mind are inseparable. As we awaken we open to the vastness, or as Dogen said, we “Become one with the ten thousand things.” This is half of it. There is another gate, another side of the one coin, Call this the embodiment gate which will have us respond to the world in love and compassion for the ten thousand things.
Zen is without belief. Zen is not about organizing life around some key concepts. Koans won’t participate in this project. If the concepts are the map, then the koans are the territory. If the map is topographical, one line indicating 10 feet in elevation, the koans are the surprise as the mountain begins to rise beneath your gait, as your thighs begin to burn, as you feel the exertion, your heart racing and your breath quickening.
The further we move into life and the more we trust the life before us, our hearts open and soften into connection, into deep comm-unity. Here we find a unity and integrity in things, an interpenetration of being where boundaries shift and the seamlessness of life/things/the world and universe becomes apparent. Life becomes one.
When Zhaozhou spoke of this he said simply, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
Koans in this deepest sense are alive.
Not knowing means that my mind is open and I am curious about what comes next. Not knowing feels the vibrancy of life, is responsive to the energy of what is here.
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