Çaoshan’s Dharma Body with Sarah Bender Roshi


Wisdom has no knowledge, but there is nothing it does not know. Therefore, purity pervades, with abundance.” This is a purity of inclusion and intimacy, not exclusion and definition. That’s abundance. You are this abundance.

Çaoshan’s Dharma Body
Notes for Sarah Bender’s koan meditation with Book of Serenity Case 52,
for PZI, April 17, 2020

In this ongoing koan conversation of a life, the koan that’s been tugging most at my
sleeve is one that evokes a kind of call and response, or we could say a mutual
calling forth, that seems the quality of this time for me.

Each day appears as a mystery. I wake up not knowing but wondering what it will
be like today, how it will appear, what it will present, what it will call forth in me.
Some days there’s a kind of vigor in it, a wonder that the day appears again at all and
a sense of going forth to meet it; some days (or parts of days) there’s a crushing
grief, a longing, a thirst, so the day progresses and everything is stained with that
longing. Some days there’s a feeling of being sat upon, being able to reach out a
hand or a foot and do some small thing, raise an eyebrow from under there, and
that’s about all. And yet, underneath, water running?

So I find myself wondering, in this time which could be my last days, who knows, or
not, certainly the last days of many, and the first days of my grandchildren born into
a world I can’t even envision—-if my allegiance is to all of this, if my foundation is
here in this wild world, what’s the good of me? The Buddha, in his final illness,
looked into the distance and said, “Splendid and many-colored is the Island of the
Jambu, and sweet the life of humans.” How do I celebrate this sweet and troubled
life? Am I enough?

So I wonder about the true reality body of this aliveness, the true essential body of
the aliveness of this, we might even say the through-line. What is this
fundamentally like, this incomprehensible responsiveness? This improv?
Fortunately, as Dogen reminds us in his gorgeous comment to our 10 th “grave”
precept, our final Heavy Vow, “Your expression of the actual body is the harbor and
the weir. This is the most important thing in the world. Its power comes from the
ocean of essential nature.” We don’t have to explain it, and can’t. But we can still
muse on it, wonder about it, celebrate it, be thankful for it. That’s what I think this
koan is doing. So I’d like to linger with it, with you, this afternoon.
(Book of Serenity 52)

Caoshan asked elder monk De, “The Buddha’s true
essential body is like space. It responds to things,
manifesting its forms the way the moon appears in the water.

How do you explain this responsiveness?”
De said, “It’s like a donkey watching a well.”
“That’s most of it, but not the whole thing.”
“What’s it like for you?”
“It’s like a well watching a donkey.”

I’ll be dropping a few musings into the meditation:

What’s it like if you sit and maybe are watching, are you watching for something?
Perhaps it’s right here already, and don’t have to be only focused on trying to see
clearly?  Is it so close already that you can smell it, hear its breath?
Perhaps it already sees you, knows you intimately from all around you?
Someone told me of a Native American song that just says “the sky likes to hear
my song.” What’s it like to be welcomed in that way?
What is the aliveness of you like just now?

What if your actual being right now is also already an expression of the whole
essential body as it shows up, response after response after response, not
needing goal or direction? Welcoming?
Just so?

Here’s another translation:
The buddha’s true reality body is like space: it manifests form in response to being,
like the moon in the water. How do you explain the principle of response?
De said, “Like a donkey looking in a well.”
Caoshan “You said a lot indeed, but you only said eighty percent.”
De: “What about you, teacher?”
Caoshan: “Like the well looking at the donkey.”

Here are a couple of notes about responses I found coming up for me:

When my attention is directed outward, looking towards, I’ll be missing something.
That’s the nature of the separation of looking. Drinking, on the other hand…..
But the well is not a well without the donkey. The sky may be in it, the moon, but
it’s not yet a well. As medicine is not medicine without sickness. So, what am I?
Somehow, the place where donkey and well are is a place of completion, the event of
it, not the location of it; the happening of that mutuality, a wholeness that’s happy
but not static. The wholeness of this is in the mutuality, not a completion that is a
stopping. So this moment is like this, the next is like that.

“Wisdom has no knowledge, but there is nothing it does not know. Therefore, purity
pervades, with abundance.” This is a purity of inclusion and intimacy, not exclusion
and definition. That’s abundance. You are this abundance.

Jiashan: “Producing understanding from hearing, you color it in your intellect;
although right before your eyes is fine, kept for a long time it becomes a sickness.
The blue mountain and the white clouds never reach each other.”

“With what meditation can one get to be like this? Just this, with no grip, nothing
can be done about.”
Nothing can be done about this meditation with no grip? No need to “get a grip?”
Whew, what a relief!

Then the verses at the end include:
The falling flowers consciously go along with the flowing stream.
The flowing stream mindlessly carries the fallen flowers along.

Ongoing-ness doesn’t move because it’s what is always here. Perhaps that is how I
experience the “mindlessly” here. Does the vastness flow?