It is the night of the new moon – dark, dark. Camping with friends deep in the forest, we sit around a fire and tell stories deep Into the night, feeding the flames, passing the jug, spinning our yarns. As the evening moves deep into night it is time to retire to tents for sleep. I turn away from the fire to walk into the thick black ink of night. Testing the dark, I hold my hand in front of my face. Nothing. Slowly, I make my way as my eyes adjust, opening to what is before me: the stars, the bioluminescent fungus. The dark has its own light.
Yunmen is a master of knowing where, and when to tap. One feature of his teaching style is to apply one word at precisely the right time. To one question he says, “Barrier!” When asked another he calls out, “sesame rice cake.” With his one word hearts open and worlds come together. In this koan he taps not with a single word, but with a phrase when he says “Say it upside down!”
To take the meditation path is to get into the bath, fully immersing yourself in life. Meditation is a gesture of inquiry, a willingness to discover what is here, without needing to control, judge or manipulate it in any way. No scheming. Meditation is a cleansing and a putting down of what we think about life, what we believe, as we open to life itself. It is free of technique and program, a “free swim.”
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.
The world unfolds giving and I receive — the kindness of a friend, her smile a gift on a rainy day; the way the dog nudges against me, asking me to rub her ears; the phone rings, a friend calls; the sun as it rises – the horizon aflame; the trail rising to meet me as I walk the property; the Blue Heron rising from the pond, squawking as she flies. The hand that freely gives is the hand that receives. The hand that receives and declines to hold is already the hand that gives. Dongshan teaches this open hand. Good thing too.
Willing for the moment, we unclench and let go of wanting to shape our reality into what we know and want. We no longer find fault or enter into a quarrel with the life that is here and now. What comes comes. And if we find fear or anger or sadness or despair or loneliness, if we don’t grab hold, or as we unclench, the joy and love that is there before fear, anger, etc…, the spaciousness, comes into plain view. Outside of our objections to reality, lies the bird path.
The dark has a texture its own, a support that leads us into life, that will open us to each discrete and successive moment. This blessed way calls us forth, to feel our way as we experience life as it comes to us. Feeling our way along feels like a naked trust, as it can only be undertaken “in the dark,” from a place of not-knowing. Our trust is naked as we trust the uncertain and unknown, noticing and receiving the offering that the darkness brings, that is our’s in the mystery.
The koan is vast, encompassing and moves easily over boundaries. “Master!” There is a call. “Yes!” is a response. This practice is seamless, continuous and unending. Call, response — who calls? Who responds? As I write, the white pine trees outside the window dance in the wind. So, here is the voiceless voice, a mysterious call from I know not where. Out of the dark recesses, feels like the heart, there rising in me, equally mysterious, “Yes! Yes!”
This blessed way calls us forth, to feel our way as we experience life as it comes to us. Feeling our way along feels like a naked trust, as it can only be undertaken “in the dark,” from a place of not-knowing. Our trust is naked as we trust the uncertain and unknown, noticing and receiving the offering that the darkness brings, that is our’s in the mystery.