A student said to Yunmen, ‘The radiance serenely illumines the whole universe…’ Yunmen interrupted him and said, ‘Aren’t those someone else’s words?’
The student replied, ‘Yes they are.’ Yunmen said, ‘You have misspoken.’

Abiding nowhere, the heart/mind comes forth. 

In this Covid world I am searching for real words, living words, signifying, pointing to something real. Instead, I get opinions. Politicians, leaders, the person down the street, the acquaintance across town are free with their opinions. As they speak they tell me what they have heard, explain to me the virtue of their opinion over others. They appeal to authorities, red, blue, right and left. In their appeal for loyalty, these opinions often leave the realm of evidence and ask for my fealty to a world of assumption and belief. All this reminds me of the the words of Yunmen in the Gateless Gate:

 A student said to Yunmen, ‘The radiance serenely illumines the whole universe…’ Yunmen interrupted him and said, ‘Aren’t those someone else’s words?’
The student replied, ‘Yes they are.’
Yunmen said, ‘You have misspoken.’

So much misspoken these days. So, I am looking for living words.

Location, Location, Location

In Real Estate these are the magic words. Location makes all the difference. What’s true of real estate is true of our social location. We tend to interact solely or mostly with people from similar location, class, race, clan, world view. Facebook knows this. Check out your newsfeed. How often do you receive posts from folks with differing perspectives? Not so much, right?

Location is more than our place on earth, it is our place in the social landscape, determined by the silos we live in. And each location, each silo, has its own narrative — other people’s words, words which invite allegiance and loyalty, that define our place in the tribe. Just to say, we will find ourselves here — humans crave community and this is one way we have of engendering community. And yet, the Chan masters ask us to speak for ourselves, to move from static words that don’t seem to move or breath to living words, words of heart that mysteriously come forth and touch others.

But how?

Koans: Postcards from Awakening

Let’s jump ship, abandon location, the worlds we cling to as we explain ourselves to ourselves and others, through which we find our place. For that we have koans.

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.

Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote of two relationships – I – It and I – Thou. I-It is the relationship of manipulation, of fixing, of moving something from point A to point B. I-Thou is the living encounter, a conversation and dialogue. I-Thou is the beginning of intimacy, an opening to transformation. It is the call and response of life to life, a movement towards awakening, towards the coinherence of things. In an I – Thou world, there is no room for the words of others, slogans or creeds. In the I – Thou relationship, heart/mind opens to heart/mind.

Dharma Talks in a Covid World

I have learned a great deal in the 9 or 10 weeks we have been Zooming. It has given me a chance to work on my Dharma talks, noticing my location as I speak. I have spent nearly 40 years speaking to groups of people. I have developed over that time a style that I am comfortable with and that seems to reach others in a meaningful way. I am grateful for this because it meets my heart’s desire to be there for others in a deep way. Yet…

With these Covid Zoom talks I have noticed how I take techniques I have learned over the years of public speaking to reach others — bring folks in easy, use plenty of illustrations and stories, use the element of surprise, body language as a simultaneous communication, etc…. This all came clear to me when a friend of mine asked me what I had talked about on Thursday evening. What I noticed is that my tone was more relaxed and conversational. In conversation with my friend I seemed more connected to the moment, to my own heart/mind and to that of my friend. I allowed myself to sense the vitality in my communication, the words that breathe and move, that shimmer as they flow from the lips and touch others. Covid Zoom talks have thus taken me deeper into my own practice and community.

The Japanese word for talk is teisho, which means “presentation of the shout.” A teisho need not explain anything, much less is it an exposition of a koan that might lead to intellectual understanding. Actually, it is not about anything outside of the presentation itself. The teisho is the moment, the shout, the hit, the sun rising at dawn, the horizon aflame. Life co-inheres, each reflected in the other, always changing. It’s alive, all of it. In deep conversation, we speak from right here and now.

Living Words

So, living words. Heart to heart. As we share with friends and neighbors, over Zoom on FaceTime and over the phone: Are those your words? Or the words of others? How are you feeling through this pandemic? How is your day? No, really, how are you today? Nobody can say it for us. As we give up the axes we have to grind, as we eschew location, and step off the pole into life, we find ourselves and one another. Right here. Nice practice in a crisis.