PZI Teacher Archives

Fall Sesshin 2021: Mysterious Tasks & Impossible Problems – The Stone


John Tarrant gives an evening dharma talk on the incalculable value of descent and return. We take up the task set by the ancestors: that’s what we came here for. As recorded in Fall Sesshin, October 21, 2021.



In the Sea of Ise, ten thousand feet down, lies a single stone.
I want to pick up that stone
without getting my hands wet.

Here is the stone, inscribed with three lines:

1.   The top line is a signature.
2.   The right line reads, “Cannot get wet.”
3.   The left line reads, “Cannot get dry.”     —Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans, Case 27

This koan is from an 8th century C.E. imperial Japanese song. The Shrine at Ise is the most sacred site of Shinto, Japan’s indigenous religion. It is sacred to foxes. This is one of the few Japanese koans in the PZI curriculum.

This is a task set by the ancestors. This task has value beyond what we could imagine. It takes place in no-time. It is the story of the descent and return. At the bottom of the sea, it’s marvelous—you’re free. All your crimes are wiped away, all your karma.

What is the stone? The core of being. Just pure, not asking anything. Buddha nature is like the well in the I Ching, it has a bottom-of-the-sea quality.

There is a solitary aspect of the journey, and also an aspect of relationship; of meeting. In the dokusan room, the ancestors are present. There is no need to impress your teacher.

Don’t keep lifting the lid on the rice pot. Things have to cook. There is the pressure of the journey as well as dissolution of the pressure. It is a vast journey—take the ride.

Psyche’s mother sets her a task, to sort the sesame seeds by morning. Think of your own problem, then go to the bottom of the sea. Are your mistakes mistakes? They got you here. You’ll never be more holy and sacred than this. We will be very individual in our choices.

That’s what we came here for: for you to be you.


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