Emperor Wu asked the great teacher Bodhidharma, “What is the first principle of the holy teaching?”
Bodhidharma said, “Vast emptiness, nothing holy.”
“Who are you, standing here in front of me?” asked the emperor.
“I don’t know,” said Bodhidharma.
The emperor didn’t understand.
—The Blue Cliff Record, Case 1, & Book of Serenity, Case 2
Predicament koans give a nod to the perilous, loony nature of life right now. It is the dangerous situation of being alive—anything can happen. Linji said, “We can’t stay here long,” so relish it! Even in the middle of a disaster you can have a marvelous time. What constitutes a predicament? You oppose what is happening, by overlaying what should be going on. Music for meditation from Jordan McConnell & Michael Wilding. Recorded in the Sunday Temple on September 11, 2022.
Brilliant Zen student Dahui’s teacher, Yuanwu, sees his student can’t quite let go of his hold of the precipice and gives him this koan. There is something underneath everything: it is vastness. The old character was ‘sky.’ Haiku was hailed as a perfect snapshot with eternity in it. Haiku from John Tarrant, Masaoka Shiki, and others. Complete session recorded February 13, 2022.
It’s easy to forget to be curious, and to grab an off-the-shelf knowledge, something like “This is awful.” Not reaching for off-the-shelf understandings, though, is an important skill.
The small self is always trying to hold off the world. But we are really a kind of flow. We feel the warm empathy at the bottom of all things. All things have Buddha nature. Not opposing reality is the beginning of all awakenings.
Why did Bodhidharma come from the West, and return to the East? Why are we born, and why do we die? Emperor Wu regretted his interview, but no one could bring Bodhidharma back. We all come and go. Jon’s talk, meditations, and student comments & stories. As recorded August 2, 2021.
What is the journey for? What is it to have this life? We’re in it—it’s so marvelous, so overwhelming and so incomprehensible. You’ll find, I think, that you can’t stand back from it and answer that question. So the “good day” is just how it is. It’s like the gift of the universe, and you’re in the universe, having received the gift. Transcript of John Tarrant’s dharma talk in Winter Sesshin 2020.
Jon Joseph Roshi, Director of San Mateo Zen, considers the 8th Ox-herding picture along with a verse from 12th century poet Kuon Shihyuan. What happens if Ox and Self disappear? PZI Zen Online. As recorded May 3, 2021.