Setting Out, Climbing Mountains, Arriving Home
This week we continue with #19 of The No Gate Gateway. Last week we took the first two lines. Zhaozhou’s question, “What is Way?” and Nanquan’s response, “Ordinary Mind is Way.” This week we will follow those two as they continue their dialogue about Way,
Zhaozhou asked, “Still, it’s something I can set out toward, isn’t it?”
Nanquan said, “To set out is to be distant from.”
I live at where the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains begin. To my west the rolling hills of Bluegrass country. To my east a venerable old mountain range, at one time as high as the Sierras, whittled down over millennia by wind and water — time. I am right on the edge. Off in the close distance is Lily Mountain. This is something I can set out toward isn’t it? And I did just that a few months ago. But you don’t just set out — You need:
- the Vision
- The Preparation
- The Journey
A life’s journey is an interesting thing — we confront landscapes, meet interesting people, find strange lodging, encounter demons, angels and monsters along the way. Think Odysseus, or Dante, or the migrant worker traveling across borders. Or to pay a visit to our local peak.
It was a journey to and up Lily Mountain: the walk along the country road to the trail, the territory that does not match the map, the wild flowers, crows and vultures, steep hills, jagged rocks, poison ivy, mosquitos, snakes. There is so much to a journey. Reaching the top of Lily Mountain, looking to the west, I see the farm, pond glistening, trees bordering and defining the fields. There’s the house, the chicken coop, the horse barn. Tears come in response to the beauty. Home. Maybe this is what the gods feel looking down from Olympus/Fuji/Tamalpais: that’s where it is at, where I want to be.
To Set Out is to Be Distant From
To set out for a distant truth, you get distance.You find yourself apart from heart’s desire. We reach the mountaintop and notice that the ideal is still far out in the distance. And yet, it is by taking he trip, by committing our selves wholly to the journey that we begin to notice heart’s true home in the right here of honeysuckle growing along an abandoned fence row, the sound of the cows calling for breakfast, the back of the head of someone ahead of you stuck in traffic, the stirrings in your own heart for home. Nanquan shows Zhaozhou that though he will set out, life is not found in the setting out, in the distant ideal, in the God out there, the tablets on Sinai, the pantheon on Olympus. Life is found as he takes the next step and the next and the next. It is here. Right now!
In Zen we do not hold out for the truth in the distance, in the far off and away, distant in space and time. We find there is enough right here. So, we immerse ourselves in our lives. For us, if there is a journey, the journey is home. As Nanquan tells Zhaozhou truth is not in the delusions that we hold about life, nor is it in simply turning away from life.
“If you truly comprehend this Way that never sets out for somewhere else, if you enter into it absolutely, you realize it’s exactly like the vast expanses of this universe….”
We dive in and life will come to us as it comes. And as the very life that is us comes, we act, we move, we respond, participate. There is no me and life that I have. It is all seamless and joined. Later In life, as a teacher, Zhaozhou responds to a student’s big question, “It’s alive! It’s alive!