Allison relays the story of the encounter between Manjushri and Vimalakirti. Manjushri, among the 32,000 Bodhisattvas sent by Buddha to Vimalakirti’s , and asks him on his sick bed: ‘How do the Bodhisattvas enter the gate of non-duality?’ The response is an intimate silence. Allison’s story includes the karmic path that his daughter, Moon Like Beauty bore on her way to enlightenment.
We have such a passion to know and to be certain but, in practice, much of what we think of as knowledge is just untested thoughts. As the Heart Sutra says, even thoughts are empty, and if we are willing not to know, willing to walk through life without believing every thought that rises, then we’ll find a path out of suffering.
Roshi John Tarrant gives the third of three koans for Bare Bones retreat. The head of the koan is: “What is the sharpest sword or the sword which will cut even the finest piece of hair in two?” The response to the question is, “Each branch of coral holds up the moon.” February 22, 2013.
Allison Atwill Sensei describes the making of her amazing art piece inspired by the koan, “Each Branch of Coral Holds Up the Moon.” January 24, 2013.
One of the places I think this really appears for me that I find interesting is, if I take that koan view of there’s not really a ground for this, it’s all coming up out of the vastness, it appears like the moonlight, it’s just there. I didn’t make it appear.
Yunmen said – “Even after the full moon, every day is a good day!” The light of sesshin infuses us. In a “good day” the light is in you, just how it is. This is not an achievement, you are in the gift of the universe. The tenderness of the good day and our whole lives opening to now. You can’t bully the Tao! it’s bigger than you. Not getting in the way of life, dreams, Linji’s death and more.
Yunmen said – Even after the full moon, every day is a good day! The light of sesshin – how it infuses us. In a ‘good day’ the light is in you. Just how it is, not an achievement, you are in the gift of the universe. The tenderness of the good day and our whole lives opening to now. You can’t bully the Tao! it’s bigger than you. Not getting in the way of life, dreams, Linji’s death and more.
So we’ve been talking about old poems that are also a map of the path, but they’re a map of the kind where you have to see what rises in your meditation to meet them to find out how useful they are to you. Today we’re on the fifth of the ranks, the fifth poem. Five ranks by an old Zen teacher, and this is the final one, so you now know conclusively that there are only five stages to the path. And it goes:
Tonight I want to talk about another aspect of the koan about who’s hearing, who am I, what am I. There’s a spectrum I’ve been talking about so far for all of one previous talk. And I wanted to get at it slightly at an angle by going in through dreams, and the idea of is there a difference between what we’re doing and dreams anyway, which is certainly relevant to who we think we are.
The practice part of it is that it doesn’t matter if you think you lost the coin and start to be unhappy about life. That is another theory. And it doesn’t matter how many times that theory rises. Even that theory is the coin. A koan practice means that you go back to the river over and over again and you can trust that process.
This is from an old Chinese poet, and koans and poems were always, poems, koans, koans, poems, they’re always somewhat intertwined in their history. And so often poems were used as koans and vice versa. This is a series of five poems by an old Chinese teacher called Dongshan, who kind of did a map of the Way in five stages, because everybody knows there are five stages for the Way [laughter].
..a practice is different from a plan. You know what a plan is; you’ve probably made a few of them. A practice has more love in it, because a practice is something you’re doing without being sure of the outcome..
The koan of the Autumn Moon retreat is from one of the great teachers Yun Men. The student asks the teacher, “What is a teaching that will last a whole lifetime?” and the teacher responds, “Say something in response.” October 14, 2012.
“How to deal with difficult times is fundamental for a spiritual practice, and really, for any human life. There’s birth and death, to start with, and then there is all the conflict and uncertainty that happens in between.” January 2017.
Those who have used koans have described them as a poetic technology for bringing about awakening, a painful but effective gate into the consciousness of the Buddha, an easy method of integrating awakening into everyday life, the most frustrating thing they have ever done, an appalling waste of time, a tyranny perpetrated by Zen masters… Well, you get the idea — about koans, opinions differ.
On day two of Autumn Moon retreat, John continues with the great Koan from Yun Men. He focuses on the tail of the koan: “The teacher says to the student, ‘Say something in response.'” Yun Men or Cloud Gate is at the center of the tradition of Koan study, and this Koan is presented in the Blue Cliff Record. October 5, 2012.
John opens the Harvest Moon retreat at the Angela Center with an ancient Koan about a buffalo passing through a lattice window. “To give an example, it is like a buffalo passing through a window. Its head, horns and four legs have all passed through. Why is it that its tail cannot?” Meditate on the tail and the question of the tail. What is the tail, why could a huge buffalo enter but the tail cannot? October 13, 2013.
“It’s passed midnight, the moon has not risen, in the thick, deep dark, you meet a face from long ago: but you don’t recognize them. No need to be surprised by this.”
John Discusses koan tradition, the “five steps” of enlightenment, and communication between student and teacher.