PZI Teacher Archives

Rising from Stillness Retreat: The Storehouse of Treasures


The storehouse of treasures opens by itself. You can take them and use them any way you wish. You just step into the storehouse of treasures and something comes to meet you. So you might realize you’re part of it too, you’re part of the mystery. It’s not that everybody else is cool and you’re outside it.


Welcome. Tonight I’m going to talk about a slightly different kind of koan. It’s a koan of the same kind we’ve been talking about, these short koans that open a gate into the world, and it perhaps has a different effect. It goes like this:

The storehouse of treasures opens by itself. You can take them and use them any way you wish.

The previous koans have been like: Go straight on a narrow mountain road with ninety-nine bends, or Stop the war, or Put out the fire, and they’ve had their own kind of effects. We started with Abiding nowhere, the heart comes forth, Abiding nowhere the mind comes forth.

So I would like to talk tonight a bit about what I’ve been noticing about the journey we’re on together in the ship of sesshin, and then to talk some about this koan the storehouse of treasures, and then we’ll see what happens then.

Being in sesshin

Sesshin has this effect that in a way we’re all in it together, although we may not notice that at particular moments, but I notice it particularly because people come through me and they talk, they can’t help but say something that’s going on with them and I notice how sort of wave forms and patterns go through. I also notice that it’s part of the whole notion of the great vehicle, there’s a notion of a path that we walk together that’s not purely selfish but we walk it together, and that as you transform internally, then that in some mysterious, well maybe not so mysterious way, helps me open and change. 

So we’re kind of attached by each other even if we’re not talking to each other, and so what I noticed with the Abiding nowhere the heart comes froth, abiding nowhere the mind comes forth koan was … you know, it seems like a harmless little thing. It has a sort of disassembling quality to it. For quite a number of people it started to disassemble their idea of who they were and I think that’s probably something to do with what it’s about really. If you’re not resting somewhere, you’re not resting in a “you.” So that was kind of interesting.

In a way, we might say that’s clearly one of the things we come to meditation for, really to drop our ideas of who we are, because in some way we know that most of my ideas about who I am I’m kind of bored with, and somehow they limit me. And even if it’s a big idea of who I am – I’m wonderful! – it’s kind of hard to live up to, as well as being untrue. We’re more wonderful than that, because sometimes we’re cranky and sometimes we’re impossible and sometimes we’re great and sometimes we’re loving, and all of it adds up to more of it than any verdict we can give about ourselves.

Then one of the things that happens as you start to open up and I suppose step free of your old versions of who you are – and a lot of those are also I can’t do X, or I’m frightened of something, or I need to be small might be it for some people, otherwise people will notice. If I stick my head up – it’s the poppy syndrome – if I stick my head up I will get cut off and put in a vase.

Starting to open up

So as we start to open up there’s a corresponding strange thing most people notice is that difficulties will come up, that for no good reason they just appear in the path. At first we think, Oh I must be doing something wrong, but then after you observe for awhile you realize, Oh, no it’s more like if I’m doing fine, it draws out some issue of my life to see how I’m doing with that. How am I doing with my fear, say.

You might be having incredible clarity and then fear might come up.

So how am I doing with fear? Am I still anxious about life? How am I doing with my childhood? How am I doing with the complicated relationship I have with a family member? How am I doing with my divorce? How am I doing with my ex-husband’s new wife? How am I doing with whatever it is? And it’s kind of clear. Maybe you’re doing great, or maybe you’re not. 

At that stage the whole notion of being very compassionate, it’s not just a strategy, it’s the only way you can breathe. So if you’re finding not only are you having a hard time because your fear’s coming up, but you’re also blaming yourself for your fear coming up, no wonder you hate meditation. So you’ll notice there’s just a practical intelligence about compassion.

We can’t avoid what comes up

So there’s that, and so the koan’s like… we have to go into that material. There’s no way to avoid – we take up meditation to avoid being afraid, being angry, being sad, being… and there’s no way we can avoid having to deal with that in meditation, because there just isn’t a way to avoid that in life, and after a while meditation gives us more life, not less, so it will give us that stuff. 

So when we do a koan like Stop the war, we’re going to have war. You’re going to have war inside you. And not only that, you’ll contaminate other people, and not only that, they’ll contaminate you, and not only that, I’ll feel it too, and I’ll be like – you better be careful what you say to me those times, and so on. Or you know everybody will have that slightly edgy, no you go first thing going on.

And then you can say, Oh I can have compassion with that too, and not only that, it’s not you that has the problem, it’s me. I’m tangled with you not because you’re nuts, which you might or might not be and I have no idea because I’m just dealing with my own stuff, but when I look at my flames, my war, then Oh, it becomes transparent and I think Oh I’m mad with you because you’re being a jerk, but I know a lot about being a jerk. In fact, I kind of have a certain mastery of it, I’m pretty good. [laughter] My friends think I’m pretty good at it. Yes, whatever it is. My ex-wife thought I was really good at it, or my ex-husband or whatever. 

So when we see that the flames are not out there, we can sit in them and they become transparent and funny and beautiful, in fact.

Less tied to ideas of who we are

And strangely enough, through that process we have a certain kind of forgiveness and kindness towards ourselves, and that’s a really big deal. Then we don’t have to manipulate other people to change, because we know we can do the changing from within ourselves. Then we start understanding, then the whole Abiding nowhere, the heart comes forth, Abiding nowhere the mind comes forth becomes even more spacious and we’re less tied into the idea that I’m this or I’m that or I have to be a certain way.

At this stage there’s a technical thing to notice, which is true right now in retreat, which is that you’ll get all these really interesting things start to happen with your mind, like the trees might start singing to you. And no you’re not crazy, the trees really are singing. Or you might look at the hillside and see, Oh, that’s my face. And these experiences are very touching, because we realize we’re part of it all and the heart opens. There’s a real loving quality to that. And so we start having that sort of experience, and then again that sort of oh, and how do you feel about your fear now, will again come up. And you don’t really have to then abandon your meditation to deal with your problem that has come up. 

Really at that stage you can just see that it’s you, but the koan will do that if you’re working with a koan like Stop the war or Put out the fire, because it’s intrinsic to the koan. Or if you’re working with Abiding nowhere, the heart comes forth, then the spaciousness will just appear, because it’s intrinsic to the koan, and so you don’t have to work to feel spacious, work to put out the fire.

Let the koan do the operation for you

You just hang around with the koan and it will do the operation for you. That removes the sort of scheming and strategizing and bullying quality that spirituality is so prone to, because you’re sort of trusting the universe more. You’re trusting to universe to supply what’s needed to hold you and embrace you, really. We’re in the arms of the deity of compassion, we could say that, Kanzeon, Guanyin.

When we were developing our ways of dealing with koans, we noticed how they open you up and we have these big experiences where we start seeing how we participate with the hillside and with other people, and that I am like you, I am you in some sense. So we started noticing that.

And we also noticed that the integration issue is always a question, and so that’s why these small, short koans are used, because they just throw you into your stuff if you’ve got stuff to be thrown into, and why not, because if you’re free, then somewhere where it looks like you might not be free becomes immediately interesting, because you’ll be very attracted by the possibility of more freedom and joy and kindness that might come from walking through that gate.

So if you can’t stand someone, it’s you, and so you can get free of not being able to stand yourself, and then you might or might not become best friends with the person you can’t stand. It’s hard to be best friends with everybody. Depends how paranoid you are about how many people you can’t stand. But it’s not about that. It’s not about literally changing your relationship, but you’ll notice that you do change your relationship with people, because you’ve changed your relationship with you, and you’re people. 

The problem might be your treasure right now

Then the next thing that happens, I suppose, is that the koans like The storehouse of treasures opens by itself. You can take them and use them any way you want … it’s kind of nice. You see that, you can feel that in your whole body, and you can feel like it’s kind of fun. It’s like walking into Ali Baba’s cave, and whatever’s in your cave, glow worms or pearls or … the other thing you might find is what the treasures are might change. It might be, the problem might be your treasure now.

If you’re inclined to be angry that might be a treasure. If you’re inclined to be afraid that might be a treasure, as well as the other, obvious things. You might fall in love with – you’re walking around the meditation hall and you fall in love with people’s feet. Anybody you look at looks beautiful. Then you realize – somebody said: I looked in the mirror and I thought: she’s beautiful.

You are included

So you might realize you’re part of it too, you’re part of the mystery. It’s not everybody else is cool and you’re outside it. Part of the whole thing about the great vehicle that we’re all included in that we’re doing … you’re inside it too. You’re not outside it. 

The storehouse of treasures opens by itself. You can take them and use them any way you wish.

And there’s a certain kind of, I don’t know, as if we get ashamed for existing, ashamed for being ourselves, ashamed for feeling what we feel, ashamed for thinking what we think, and a lot of what meditation does is it allows us to look, well is that really right, is that what I want.

Not needing to prove yourself

I suppose we could say we don’t have to carry that stuff. We don’t have to believe those little dark corners of the psyche where we’re always trying to prove ourselves. We don’t have to prove ourselves anymore. Because to whom are you proving yourself, and for whom?

I found a great word which somebody else probably knows pretty well and probably even knows how to pronounce, which I don’t, but: Atychiphobia. A fear of not being good enough. Isn’t that grand? Every kid has that, right? So you don’t need your atychiphobia, you can toss it out the window. 

There’s a kind of healing that happens, and when we do a – like we did a healing ceremony last night. When we do that, all of us are every person, we’re the sick person, we’re the wife of the sick person, we’re the person holding the sick person, we’re the person singing for the healing ceremony, the person hitting the drum, the person playing the music and doing the bells, and so we see, Oh, it’s not just that I’m part of the hillside, I’m part of you, like that.

And that’s what the whole thing about empathy and intimacy is about in meditation. The whole thing about the self opening up, I don’t think it’s very interesting to say there’s not a self, because it’s not very interesting to say there is a self, and so then you just get well there is, there isn’t, and that’s sort of boring. It’s more like it doesn’t matter, you just step into the storehouse of treasures and something comes to meet you. And the storehouse opens by itself is very nice. I like that bit.

There’s a line in the Book of Serenity that’s kind of similar that goes:

The peach trees, without words, open a path.

And then our feet just walk it and find it, and we’re at home wherever we are. 

Writing exercise

So with this in mind, The storehouse of treasure opens by itself, I thought we’d do a little writing exercise, and the question in the writing exercise is… Well, first of all let me say how to write, which is none of my business to say, so I apologize, but sometimes we can get into sort of trying to think of the right thing to write, and you can just skip all that, because there’s not a you anyway. Let your hand do the writing, so you don’t need a self to write. Just let your hand do the writing. Just write when you write. Ok? Don’t think about: oh, what does this look like or what will I do when they put this on my Facebook page. They’ll make me share it, it’ll be on video. Just write. In other words you’re not judging yourself for what you’re writing or trying to particularly shape it.

The storehouse of treasures opens by itself, so here are a couple of questions to write about:

What seems closed off to you, that you can’t get into?

What storehouse of treasures seems closed off?

What is a problem or an issue that you think still might be a problem or an issue, that might seem like it’s not opening up or won’t resolve itself or is leftover from the past and hasn’t resolved itself?

So what is a problem?

And the third question would be: What is a treasure?

And: One, two, three… Go!

Let your hand write. The storehouse of treasures opens by itself.
You can take them, you can use them any way you wish.

—John Tarrant

Winter Retreat