In Zen practice a koan is a phrase, a conversation, or a saying that a mediator reflects on in order to point to a way of being in the world. The phrase in held in mind – sometimes for months or years at a time – to unravel an openness in practitioners, allowing them to enter into inner regions beyond knowing.
I like keeping this one in mind, which is presented here in a commentary on a saying of Ummon, an 8th Century Zen Master. It challenges my normal commentary and takes me out of the thoughts I buy into every day. Maybe I already have everything I need right now:
Ummon introduced the subject by saying:
I do not ask you about fifteen days ago. But what about in fifteen days time? Come, say a word about this.
He himself replied for them: Every day is a good day.
Commentary by Suzuki : Today does not become yesterday, and Dōgen states that today does not become tomorrow.
Each day is its own past and future and has its own absolute value.
From a transcript of a talk by Suzuki-roshi, Thursday, November 1st, 1962
Suppose a king might hear the sound of a lute and say “What is that sound – so delightful, so tantalizing, so intoxicating, so ravishing, so enthralling?” They would say “That, sire is called a lute…” Then he would say “Go and fetch me the lute” They would fetch the lute but he then said “Enough of the lute. Fetch me just the sound”.
They had to explain that the sound could not exist independently, but was created by the separate strings, box and arch, all elements working simultaneously.
Just as the king could not find the sound of the lute, so we cannot find our self. When we investigate, any thoughts of ‘me’ or ‘mine’ or ‘I am’ do not occur.
Based on the Buddha, Vina Sutta
The “10,000 is things”expression for all that happens in a life, or in the world of our experience. They arise and pass away, continually rearranging themselves, and we have to learn how to work with this reality:
The ten thousand things arise together;
In their arising is their return.
Now they flower, and flowering sink homeward, returning to the root.
The return to the root is peace.
Peace: to accept what must be
and to know what endures.
In that knowledge is wisdom
If to enjoy even an enjoyable present we must have the assurance of a happy future, we are “crying for the moon.” We have no such assurance. The best predictions are still matters of probability rather than certainty, and to the best of our knowledge every one of us is going to suffer and die. If, then, we cannot live happily without an assured future, we are certainly not adapted to living in a finite world where, despite the best plans, accidents will happen, and where death comes at the end.
Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity
A thought prompted by the traditional fires lit on this important Celtic feast day of Samhain which marks the start of winter or the “darker half” of the year and which have transferred over into the celebration of Halloween.
When you do something,
you should burn yourself completely,
like a good bonfire,
leaving no trace of yourself.
photo janne karaste
A similar thought to that seen in the last two posts, but this time from the Western tradition, showing a corresponding understanding of the need to stay in the present moment and not in some thought about how an ideal life or an ideal day should be.
You seek perfection, but it lies in everything that happens to you.
Setbacks, actions and impulses are the mysteries under which God reveals himself to you.
He will never show himself in the shape of that exalted image to which you are attracted to.
Jean Pierre de Caussade, 1675 – 1751, a French jesuit, whose ideas Alan Watts compared to ones found in Zen Buddhism.