Qian was the beloved only child of a merchant who one day announced he had found a good husband for her. But her cousin was her secret lover and they had known each other since childhood.
That night the cousin, distraught, set out off leave up the yellow river, but he saw running along the banks a form in the moonlight, and it was Qian, and she joined him. They settled up river and had two children, and made a life, but she longed to see once again her home and her father. They returned and Qian waited in the boat while her husband approached the house to see what sort of a reception he would get.
To her husband’s surprise, the father was delighted to see him. The young man confessed, “Qian ran off with me that night, and we lived together and had two children. She is waiting in the boat, eager to see you.” And the father said, “Is this a joke? Since the time you left, she has been sick in bed, unable to arise or speak.” The father told the woman in the sick bed what he had heard, and at this, she rose to her feet and stepped out the door. At that moment, the woman from the boat herself arrived at the garden gate. The two women walked towards each other, embraced and became one.
—Gateless Gate, Case 35
Art Sensei Allison Atwill presents on the koan “Ch’ien is separated from her soul” at the Winter 2011 Bare Bones Sesshin. Allison describes her creative process and how the koan becomes a work of art. January 19, 2011.