If you get it the first time you hear it you can teach the Buddhas and ancestors.
If you get it the second time you hear it, you can teach the gods and humans.
If you get it thethird time you hear it, you can’t even save yourself.

When did you get it?

The moon sets at midnight, I walk alone through the town.
-Book of Serenity, Case 76.

Who’s on first?
Abbott and Costello

Who’s On First?

We live in a “who’s on first?” world.” Ranking makes a difference. Every week, coaches, sportswriters and statisticians give their opinion about who is the best basketball team in the nation, they rank all the contenders, 1 to 25 plus 1. Of course, that means a great deal to me now as a resident of Kentucky where basketball is a religion. I am pleased to report that “we” are currently ranked #4 with national title possibilities. That is how it goes, who’s on first? — basketball, football, lacrosse, etc… — who is the richest person in the world? The best chef? The fastest? The smartest? The most intuitive? When I was a minister colleagues would get together and compare — how large? how many in church? Total budget? Even Zen teachers…Good God! All of us clawing our way “Straight to the Top.” This koan with its three times hearing brings me to wonder: Who’s on first? How do I measure up? Recently, I took an intelligence test. It didn’t turn out like I would have liked, you know — 140 or higher. That is how it goes — with comparison and ranking comes self-judgement and criticism.

It Hurts Being Me

Comparing and ranking is painful, it just plain hurts. As long as there is first, first runner up and don’t measure up, I am constantly placing myself on the continuum, valuing myself according to rank — ok here, not so good there, and not even close when it comes to…math. My overall score, my worth? The other day a friend commented on this saying, “I just feel inadequate.” Not a good place to dwell, always needing to prove my self as worthy. When I feel like this I can sense life and possibility shutting down, I clam up and hide away from a world where I have come to believe that I don’t count. In the koan this despair is noted: “you can’t even save yourself.” My world is only as large as my limiting belief. It hurts being me.

Upside Down – On Not Saving Yourself

You are on a Merry-Go-Round, with all this the ranking and the comparing, reaching for the brass ring, a self you imagine, one you can live with, know and love. Ah!! You get it. But the painted ponies continue their circular course, and each time around you must try again, and again, and again. Your pursuit of a self is exhausting. Reach, grab, hold, fix and maybe you will measure up. For now. But, the teacher with this koan is tricky and correct: you can’t save yourself – once, twice, three, three thousand times. Last week’s number one crashes in this week’s polls. In life as-it-is you come to learn that you can’t live to a self manufactured image of your self. Instead, leave the brass ring and feel the pony in her up and down, the wind on your face, the laughter as it rises from deep in your belly, the touch of your friend as she reaches for you from atop her pony. And if you reach for the ring, just feel the excitement of grabbing hold, “yes!” Or missing it, “Darn!” It is all right here.

Not saving the self is to be in your life in accord with what comes.

The Moon Sets At Midnight

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.