I don’t ask you about before the 15th of the month, try to say something about after the fifteenth. Yunmen himself answered for everyone, Every day is a good day. Blue Cliff Record #6
The fifteenth of the month is the day of the full moon, signifying enlightenment. So, Yunmen’s question could be posed: I don’t ask you about before enlightenment, try to say something about after enlgihtenment.
Here is the story of Yunmen’s awakening:
Yunmen went to study with Mu Zhou. He was a difficult person and teacher. When people would come to his door, he would give them the bum’s rush — leave me alone. Yunmen came to his door, once and was not allowed to enter. Twice. The third time the teacher opened the door a crack and Yunmen jammed his foot in. He pushed the door open and jumped into the room. The teacher grabbed him, demanding, “What is it?” Rather dumbfounded he could say nothing. The 90 year old teacher threw him out. He was unable to get his leg out and Mu Zhou closed the door on his leg breaking it. Yunmen was enlightened at this. And he limped for the rest of his life.
There is a lot of pushing and shoving going on in Zen, 30 blows here, 30 blows there. One student gets his finger cut off and wakes up. A whole monastery of monks is treated to the sight of a cat getting cut in two. In that koan another student, not present when the cat was killed, is asked what he would do to save the cat. He places a sandal on his head and walks out of the room on all fours, like a cat. An enlightened response that would have saved the cat. And here in today’s koan Yunmen gets his leg broken by his cranky teacher. And gets enlightened. Later he poses this koan, “not before, what about after enlightenment?” finally answering himeself, “Every day is a good day.” The day his teacher broke his leg? A good day. The day a teacher cuts the cat in two? A good day. The day I sat in bed all day with fever? A good day. When my relationship ended? A good day. “Every day a good day. “
Yunmen is not interested in before. But we are. Who am I? is often answered by explanations and descriptions of where we have been, what we have done. I am this way because…; ever since a dog knocked me over when I was a child, I have been afraid of dogs; My father was not demonstrative, so neither am I. You know the drill…we explain ourselves by where we have been. We miss this moment as our reasons for being are mired in where we have been. We are lost to here, what is now. So, Yunmen is not interested in before, the stories that we indulge as we define ourselves. But we are.
Koans – Story Swapping
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. Interestingly, though, koans will take us through life as we believe it to be in order to get there.
I had a friend spending time on Yunmen’s “Everyday is a good day,” for whom each moment read as a review of all the bad days she had ever had: the dissatisfactions of her teen years, the concerns that she had about her weight, height, and shoe size; the trouble in her marriage, dissatisfaction with her job, the troubled relationships with her siblings, how her mother…and her father…. The list went on and on, as it does for all of us.
One day she was meditating and remembered the day a large dog killed her new kitten, picked it up with his teeth and shook it until it succumbed. As she sat with the memories and the images of her kitten’s savage death, tears flowed. The longer she sat the deeper the grief became – the sobbing shook her whole body, tears and snot streaming down her face. After awhile as she sat, a thought came, “it’s ok.” She asked herself, “How could it be ok?” And the thought came again, “It’s ok.” Inquire as she would for reasons, for explanations, she found none. Just so. Yet, she knew, her body knew that nothing was wrong. It was what it was. She could morn the little cat, AND she knew that deep down – the pain, the grief, the memories – all of it holds a “good day.”
Sometimes in the story switching that is koan study, the koan will take us into the life we believe in, identify in, invest ourselves in, even as it opens us to the mysterious vast, into the everyday, the good day that is here in each moment. Eternity.
So much for before, what about after? What is life like after enlightenment? Yunmen is a sly dog, calling forth prejudice and explanation, fantasies and ruminations of a life lived after “knowing what one needs to know.” This would be a pretty good question if enlightenment were about knowing or attaining a special state. Then there would be a sign post, a signifier of having arrived. Then, of course, the question arises, “what about after?”
Just the Dance
Fortunately, no one in Yunmen’s assembly has the nerve to speak up, so Yunmen makes a nod in eternity’s direction – “Everyday is a good day.” A koan-like expression once occurred to me, “When precisely does eternity begin?” This seems close to Yunmen’s “everyday is a good day.” Or Eliot’s Still Point in his poem, Burnt Norton,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.