Your Life Is Right Here

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John Tarrant talks about the great koan “NO,” and other koans that Hakuin and Hakuin’s friends have handed down to us. “They are a treasure for you, and they’ll keep you company. Don’t worry about how you’re doing it. It doesn’t actually matter how you’re doing it. It is doing you, and the koan world is doing you, and the light is doing you. It’s going to be okay, and the light will appear and dawn in your own heart.” Transcript of an excerpt from Fall Retreat 2018.

John:

Instead of treating what’s going on in your life as something to get through, recognize that it’s here. And however you disapprove of it, it doesn’t really matter; it’s still here. So your disapproval is really disapproval of your own life. When you really stop disapproving of your life, and think maybe, “What if I’m living the right life, right now, with
everything I’m complaining about?” If I’m living the right life, right now… hey, it’s not so bad! [laughs]

I was in the zendo recently and somebody was saying how terrible her life was. I noticed that she had incredibly good nail polish, and her toes especially were splendid. I just said that to her: “Hey, you’ve got really great nail
polish!” I just said that to her, and she just laughed, because, you know, that’s it, right? What we call emptiness in Zen, you know, where things fundamentally don’t rest on anything. Including our complaints! [laughs] It’s not such a bad day, I’ve got good nail polish!

And so Hakuin’s great koan path—which he really made sure to revive and hand down to us, just as we are making sure to revive so that we can hand it down to other people now—was about that, that there’s a life and a joy here, now. It doesn’t wait until you’ve improved yourself, improved your partner, improved your enemy, lived in a different
colored state. [laughs]

The joy and the light is here, with what we have. And that’s really something, eh? Not only are you not living the wrong life, you’re not doing the wrong meditation—and what’s interesting. If meditation is fundamentally about
showing up, and not finding fault with what’s here— that means not finding fault withwhat’s in your mind – then something will happen, you’ll start noticing, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with what’s in my mind; I’m not fighting with it.” And then it will naturally do things I wasn’t expecting, like joy might appear in spite of my efforts to be depressed and worried. Or I might just be restless, and then there’s the thing of, well, I guess, restlessness is here, and it’s still not the wrong life, and it’s still not the wrong meditation.

And what do you do, in meditation? Basically, you just come back to your koan. Actually we gave you a whole smorgasboard of koans in the ending ceremony. What are they?

“Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?” and the teacher said, “NO.”

What else; who is next?

Step by step in the dark, if my foot’s not wet, I’ve found the stone.

So there they are, take your pick! The great koan “NO” is a good one to start with. Just “No.” Whatever comes up in your mind, “No.” “I’m not doing this right, am I?” “No.” “I’m doing it right.” “No.”

So you get beyond good and evil; you get beyond… and underneath that, there’s life and there’s you, and there’s a texture and feeling of your own life. You’ll be okay because you’re here.

Everything in a retreat is set up to support us. The sounds are set up, the quiet. And the sunrise is set up, after the long nights. The companionship of just sitting with friends is such a deep, deep thing. And you know how you can tell how a friend is feeling—you know, the permeability we have as humans, that our psyches pick each other up. We’re supporting each other in that way, you know. Even without words, we’re supporting each other. And there’s a kind of love in just being here together, and we’re just holding each other up in that way.

So, I guess that is what we are walking into. Those great koans that have just been mentioned:

The well that has not been dug. Someone with only a shadow of form is drawing water.

Things like that. Or,

Quickly, without thinking good or evil, before your parents were born, what is your original face?

Step by step in the dark, if my foot’s not wet, I’ve found the stone.

Hide in a pillar.

Everything shines with a great light.

Hide in a bell.

And so, you can tell that these are the great gifts that Hakuin and Hakuin’s friends handed down to us. So they are a treasure for you, and they’ll keep you company. Don’t worry about how you’re doing it. It doesn’t actually matter how you’re doing it. It is doing you, and the koan world is doing you, and the light is doing you. It’s going to be
okay, and the light will appear and dawn in your own heart.

Thank you. [bows]