Thursday Meditation with David Parks

Tracing the Tracks of Dragons Series
—Deshan Is Early for Lunch

Last week, we met young Deshan who was stopped by a Tea Lady. He made his way to Longtan and questioned him long into the night, and had an awakening. This week, we meet Deshan in old age, encountering Xuefeng and his friend Yantou.

This week’s koan is a bit of a drama. The characters, in order of appearance:

Deshan: Deshan is an old teacher of many years now. He is known for his harsh technique, shouts, and hits.

Xuefeng: Wumen, compiler of the Gateless Gate, describes Xuefeng as being of “great effort.” That is, he exerts himself towards awakening. It takes him a while, and through pure perseverance. In this, he is like Yunyan, who studied many years with Baizhang, to no effect. And, like Yunyan, Xuefeng has a dear brother in the Dharma, the renowned Yantou.

Yantou: Where Xuefeng exerts great effort, Yantou has great talent, awakening early in his practice. Yantou is younger than his friend, yet is the “elder brother” in the Dharma.

Koan Story (synopsis):

Xuefeng, the tenzo, (monastery chef), sees the teacher Deshan making his way down the hill for lunch, bowls in hand. Xuefeng calls to the teacher, telling him that the bell has not rung nor has the drum sounded—it is not time to eat. Without a word, Deshan walks back up to his room. I wonder, what does Deshan have on his mind?

Xuefeng, pleased with himself, calls out to his friend Yantou, telling him what happened, capping off the story with, “The old man, as good as he is, still does not know the last word of Zen.”

Hearing of this, Deshan calls Yantou to his room. He asks, “Don’t you approve of me?” Yantou bends over and whispers something in his teacher’s ear. Deshan says nothing. I wonder what Yantou said.

The next day, it came time for Deshan to address the assembly. His talk was different this time. Yantou got up, laughing, ran to the front, and said, “The old man gets the last word of Zen. Now no one can touch him.”

This great drama played out for Xuefeng and his “last word.” I wonder how he felt? No awakening was to come on this day. That was for a winter day, holed up in an inn with Yantou—but that is another story.

Both Xuefeng and Yantou go on to become great teachers, Shitou’s line to be passed through Xuefeng to the great Yunmen, whose teachings and style became the foundation for the Yunmen school.

—David Parks

Next week: Yunmen

About this Series

How does one trace the tracks of a dragon?

A bear? Well, that’s easy. You know what bear feet look like—you’ve seen molds of footprints left in the mud. Your knowing will guide you. But a dragon? Dragon tracks exist in the realm of not-knowing—accessible to intuition, coming forth, and never expected.

These dragon signs are disguised as the everyday: landscapes, trees, dogs, horses, the sound of the crow letting you know she is here. Our hearts open to dragon sign, and maybe, as did the great Shitou, we call out, “Interwoven and not interwoven!“ or, with Yunyan, “Just this is it!”

David Parks Roshi

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David Parks Roshi: Director of Bluegrass Zen

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