Since finding out that we’ll next be hanging out with predicament koans in our morning meditations, this one about the goose in the bottle has been keeping me company. Actually, it’s been a three-way conversation between me, the goose in the bottle and finding myself locked in a stone crypt.
A woman raised a goose in a bottle.
When the goose was grown, she wanted to get it out.
How can you get it out without breaking the bottle?
—PZI Miscellaneous Koans, Case 63
You find yourself in a stone crypt.
There are no windows and the door is locked from the outside.
How will you get out?
—PZI Miscellaneous Koans, Case 20
In both koans we are asked, “How do you get out?” The perspectives seem to be different: In one I am locked in and in the other it’s the goose. But who is that goose, really? And who is the woman who raises the goose in the bottle, really? As with dreams, in the koan it is helpful to explore the ways that I am everything.
In the case of the crypt, there are no windows, it is dark, I can’t see my hand in front of my face. In the case of the goose, the bottle is clear, I can see out, and the outside can see in. Both situations resonate with places where I find myself at times.
Sometimes I’m in the dark about being trapped by my delusions. Sometimes I can see quite clearly how I am trapped. The term “conscious incompetence” comes to mind. Knowing that I am trapped but this knowledge is not helping. Seeing it can help, so long as I don’t judge myself for being an idiot, which can make it feel worse. Being in the dark is no picnic, but as the koan says, “I find myself locked in a stone crypt.” I am in the dark about how I got there.
The goose koan tells me that this was done intentionally, by a woman who is me, for what reason I can only imagine. That’s what the koan invites us to do: imagine. Imagine that I am the woman, imagine that I am the goose, imagine that I am the bottle.
In some ways they would appear to be the same koan, the same situation: I am confined and trying to get out. But just as “Hide in a pillar” and “Hide in a bell” appear to present the same situation, we take them as different and inquire into each one with that in mind.
With both the pillar and the bell, there is something to be explored about being the same and being different. Like you and me. With the bottle and the crypt, or bell and pillar, there is something about getting out of our own way and just being who we are.
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David Weinstein Roshi, Director of Rockridge Meditation Community