A koan has been knocking on my heart/mind all week. It is a line from the Diamond Sutra which hard and sharp as a diamond, opens the heart/mind. The koan is a short one:

“Abiding nowhere, the heart/mind comes forth.” 

Before the Coen Brothers’The Big Lebowski,’ “abide” was a word seldom heard outside of church, faithful parishioners giving voice to the old chestnut, “Abide with me,” a plea for God’s presence in hard times. Then along comes Jeff Lebowski, “the dude,” who we are informed by a mysterious cowboy, “abides.” He waits, he hangs, he IS. But if one were to ask the Jeff Lebowski himself, you would hear, “the dude is not in .” That’s just how it goes with Zen — abides, not in. Nothing to hang onto there, one is left hanging in mystery. Which is it? Sort of like the koan, Abiding nowhere….


In Zen the heart and mind are inseparable. With awakening we open to the vastness the universe. Hakuin via the internet says, (I have not been able to corroborate his ever having said this), “Forget the self, become the universe.” 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, the embodiment gate, which as we open into the one will have us respond to the world in love and compassion for the ten thousand things.  This is the heart of our outreach, whatever it might be for you — feeding the hungry, protesting injustice, sitting and talking with someone, digging your hands into the earth to soil someone, sitting and holding hands with someone who is dying. When abiding nowhere, we are available as the universe calls to us and we embody that compassion to the world. One of our koans goes,

“Taking the form of Quan Yin, give shelter to the homeless person.” 

So two gates: into the vastness and out into the world in love. In the life of  the ancestors, those like Hakuin Ekaku you catch the two gates in action. Present to his own practice he is attentive to awakening. Lecturing all over Japan, Hakuin is tireless example of embodiment making his teaching available on the “preaching circuit” and writing, opening the eyes of those who came after him.

Thomas Merton, 20th Century Bodhisattva

Christian Cistercian monk and more than dabbler in Zen wrote this as he awoke from a dream in a hospital in Louisville, Kentucky:

There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity. Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility. This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator’s Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister. Wisdom.

Merton had his own name for the vastness, a “hidden wholeness.” For some this name might be “seamless,” for others, “The oak tree in our garden,” and for still others, “mind,” or “Buddha” or “way.” He may call it “hidden” but it is right there for him, in this case, in the soft words of a nurse in the hospital as he awakens from a dream. He calls it “hidden,” but it is there as the fount of action and joy. So good on Merton’s “hidden wholeness.” In another one of our koans by French philosopher Paul Eluard it says, “There is another world and it is inside this one.” Out there in plain sight, in the here and now, hidden only for our lack of presence.

Abides, Not In

So, Jeff Lebowski “abides” and yet by his own report, he is “not in.” (Just a side note: this echoes Jesus in the gospel of John, “in but not of the world.”) Must be that he “abides nowhere.” And, the “heart/mind comes forth.”

There are times in my life when deep down I am able to admit that I haven’t a clue. Seemingly I am “not in,”abiding nowhere, opiniions dropped, beliefs discarded. Those are the times when life comes close, my senses are primed as I meet the moment, see things that I don’t usually see (gate 1), find myself doing things that surprise even me (gate 2) Life is kind like that, revealing itself as I am ready, my senses wide open, my heart moved by the surprising generosity that meets me and calls me forth in compassion. And finally, two gates are no gate at all, just life — Abiding nowhere, it all comes forth.