John Tarrant begins with a wild Daoist story from the Zhuangzi, about a giant fish named Kun. The freedom is in your own breast and the koan path opens the way. Includes meditation segments, music from Michael Wilding, vows from Jordan McConnell & Amaryllis Fletcher, Cantor. PZI Zen Online. As recorded May 2, 2021.
It is spring, a time of transformation. We are feeling all the transformations of the universe in the season. We’ve had changes in covid quarantines and restrictions—now we are wearing masks, now not wearing masks, and then wearing them again and now we don’t know.
Silence begins when you don’t oppose what is in your own heart and mind. Listening to the dream of the universe.
This next series of talks and meditations I am doing will focus on an early Daoist teacher, Zhuangzi. There is a lot of freedom in the unusual instructions for meditation in his ancient text. [reads]
In the Northern darkness there is fish named Kun….
The ancient Chinese masters taught by story, snatches of dialogue, and poems. They found that the continual images and stories of the mind are each a kind of gate, and when you inhabit it, it becomes a whole world. There is a vast freedom in the psyche—the freedom is provided for you. You don’t create a foundation and cling to things, freedom is when you bless the world.
Stories are eternal, the themes are familiar, “a stranger comes to town,” “you’re alone in a strange land,” “you’re setting off alone on a long journey. The old teachers collected them. These stories were called “cases.” They were examples—not designed to keep you in line, but to give you an entry to the depth of your own life. They called them koans. So they were not special gates, but gates for the mind. They allowed a different approach. As you stay with koans—which might be a question, an image, a situation, a longer story of a journey—you fall into them.
Discipline and work are good, but won’t get you there. You need something else. Koans are a gift from the universe, a gate, given to you. A koan is a gate to the Now, and then you’re free.
There is a generosity in this tradition and of the old teachers. Zen says, “Fortunately, I don’t understand this!” (Therefore there’s a lot here for me.) That is what is alive and exciting about the koan tradition.
To trust the great stories is to trust your own capacity to accord with the vast forces in your own life.
Everything comes from your own breast. It’s not interesting unless it comes from your own heart.
What does “blue” mean anyway? The koan goes through changes. You can’t fix a meaning—you flow and move always.
Yuanwu, the compiler of The Blue Cliff Record—composed of 100 koan cases, including jokes, poetry, and insults—was a collaborative and cooperative person and teacher. He ran a whole monastery at the Blue Cliff. He said,
You do not establish views or keep any mental states. You enter into enlightenment right where you are. You penetrate to the profoundest source.
Freedom of mind = no grasping.
Love things yet don’t hold onto the loving of them. When you walk along the koan path you stop grabbing at things. Your mind is not as busy. You don’t find fault with what’s here. The silence, the free and easy wandering, is in your heart. You too come from the great source—there’s no help for it. All you can do is wander and dance with it.
Michael Wilding on Sax
Vows with Jordan McConnell & Amaryllis Fletcher