How does the bodhisattva of compassion use all those hands and eyes? In some way, through the vastness of hands and eyes, the koan speaks of the vast currents of the universe that carry and hold us. John Tarrant’s morning meditation & talk, Part 1 of this two-session Dragons of the Blue Cliff 1-Day Retreat. In the PZI Digital Temple, as recorded June 6, 2021.
The one-day retreat tradition is an old thing. It gathers and refreshes the soul, it gives you energy.
What is it like to be alive? What is it like to be here, what is it we came for? Wondering what is the purpose of your life? It’s this!
We think, “I should be different,” well—life isn’t like that. In the forest things pile up and start to talk to each other through the roots, through the leaves. Trust whatever comes up, trust it—not to refuse what’s being given. Enter there.
The Koan, Case #89:
Yunyan asked Daowu, “How does the bodhisattva of great mercy use all those hands and eyes?”
“It’s like reaching behind you for a pillow in the night.”
“What do you understand?”
“All though the body are hands and eyes.”
“That’s about 80%.”
“Brother, how do you understand it?”
“All through the body are hands and eyes.”
What do you do with all those hands and eyes?
These images take us right away into the realms of magic and wildness characteristic of The Blue Cliff Record.
This koan is from The Blue Cliff Record, one hundred koans collected by Chan Ancestor Xuedou 1000 years ago in Tang Dynasty China. One hundred years later, Yuanwu, a teacher who lived at the Blue Cliff, gave talks on these koans, which became a commentary on Xuedou’s collection—altogether, this is The Blue Cliff Record.
The koan is something to experience, rather than to stand back and think about. The mysterious quality of being alive.
The koan is always here! It is already there wherever you go. You are the source of the universe right now. It reminds you that you are part of the mystery. Everything is included.
Whatever appears is not a mistake, it’s a feature of the journey.
Let the love of life pour from your heart, the joy of it. In some way, through the vastness of hands and eyes, the koan speaks of the vast currents of the universe that carry and hold us.
The old Asian images describe consciousness, a mind and body at odds with itself. Being born human is an attention deficit path! So you pick up the koan path and walk the path.
Guanyin, the bodhisattva of great mercy with 1000 hands and eyes, is the embodiment of the integration [of mind and body] and takes many forms. This empathy is a fundamental feature of consciousness. The koans show us how to be human.
Guanyin is everywhere, and her compassion is profoundly important in Zen. To have compassion is not to be overwhelmed by the dark, but not to shut out the dark either.
If you use your hands and eyes to reach, you are being immersed in the uncertainty and peculiarity of things. Reaching in the dark, the mystery, is something to trust. We work in our local conditions. Life is enough!
The infinite joy of Guanyin doesn’t come from trying to control things. The discontinuities in our minds are allies; they show us how small our opinions are! The mind is rambling, and then it just stops, and Avalokitesvara [Guanyin] appears.
I’m just appearing for a brief moment and I’m reaching—this is life. Resting in the mystery, Guanyin can be anyone or anything appearing before you, like Bodhidharma who came to Emperor Wu bearing the mind seal of the Buddha. Who was that? I do not know.