Koan: 

Yuanwu thought that his teacher, Wuzu, didn’t understand him. As he was leaving, the teacher said, “Remember me when you are sick with fever.”

Later when Yuanwu did become sick, he remembered this and returned. The teacher laughed and made him his assistant. A treasury official retired and came home to Sichuan where he sought out Wuzu to learn about Zen. Wuzu said, “When you were young, did you read a poem which went something like:

“She calls to her maid,

‘Little Jade!’, not because she wants something but just so her lover will hear her voice.”

The official said, “Yes, I read it.” 

Wuzu said, “That is very near to Zen.”

Just then Yuanwu arrived. He asked, “I heard you mention the poem. Does the official know it, or not?”

Wuzu said, “He only knows the words.”

Yuanwu said, ” ‘Just so her lover will hear her voice’. If he knows the words, why doesn’t he understand it?”

Wuzu said, “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?
The cypress tree in the garden!”

At these words Yuanwu was suddenly enlightened. He went outside the cottage and saw a rooster fly to the top of a railing, beat his wings and crow loudly. He said to himself, “Isn’t this the sound?”

Full of gratitude, Yuanwu then took incense back into Wuzu’s room. He told of his discovery and said:

The golden duck vanishes into the golden brocade,

with a country song the drunk comes home from the woods,

only the young beauty knows about her love affair.

Wuzu said, “I share your joy.”

I’ve been hanging out with this koan for a couple of weeks now. In a way, I feel like I’ve been living inside it…or maybe it’s living inside of me. There’s a lot to it, a koanic Smörgåsbord, and I’ve been making my way up and down the buffet table. Not sure what tidbit I’ll be chewing on next Sunday when we meet, but what’s been most interesting over the past couple of days is what it feels like to be misunderstood, by others and even by myself, and how often I am the author of these misunderstandings. There’s a song titled “Misunderstood” by Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane. The first two verses are:

Just want to be misunderstood
want to be feared in my neighborhood
Just want to be a moody man
Say things that nobody can understand
I want to be obscure and oblique
Inscrutable and vague
So hard to pin down
I want to leave open mouths when I speak
Want people to cry when I put them down

Why on earth would anyone want these things for themself? The rooster flies to the top of a railing and crows loudly!
See you Sunday…Jonathan

 

 Image- A painting by mysterious graffiti artist Banksy in his hometown neighborhood.

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