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!”
With this Dongshan darkens life’s course, the path now a “dark passage” through which life’s events are lost to explanation and knowing. There is only this naked “Why?” an expression of pain which will not find an answer nor submit to explanation. As the path darkens, the heart cracks open and yields personal identity and preference, surrendering to “I don’t know.”
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.
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.
it seems to me that ghosts are almost always trying to be helpful like this: guarding the threshold between the places I know and am fine with and the places where I simply do not want to go, where I believe I will meet my doom. A ghostly, “Boo!” or a rattling of chains is just enough and I’ll be heading the other way. As I interact with these ghosts and keep away from what I fear the ghosts work to save me from something I have found to be a problem.
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.
Awakening is not something we can conceive of, we cannot think our way to it. One old teacher said, “Move towards it, you move away from it.” Ok. Well, then it is always a surprise. We don’t find it, awakening finds us. Peach blossoms find us. The Universe finds us. And we stir, foundations shake. Lingyun rounds the bend, there they are, the peach blossoms across the valley — they find him — no doubts, no opinions either — just the peach blossoms, the intimacy of awakening. Lingyun disappears in a moment of peach blossoms.
Life in its ecstasy and in its misery is agonizing, a contest. In other words, life comes forward to meet you, calls. This is Guan Yin in all her guises – love, hate, kindness, sadness, anger, grief, and on and on. Life’s call beckons response, a step off the pole. The teacher, echoing life itself, asks, “how do you step from the top of the hundred foot pole?”
…the patriarchs and matriarchs and my mind and your mind, the music playing in next room, the dog resting in her crate, the horses in the cold barn, the dishes dirty in the dishpan. This Supreme Way reaches everywhere and touches everything — no inside or outside and no special way to be chosen over any other way. This Way is not easy or hard, not even Supreme. It is right here, in every action, every thought, every emotion
In life the big questions are lived. Thinking might help, but that is about. It is in the living that we find awakening. Zhaozhou’s koan is often the first koan given Zen students. The traditional instruction is to become completely “No.” Live, breath, move as No. That’s good, but today, for me, it is about the dog, the wound, the grief — the intimacy that love calls forth.