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After the wild geese experience, Baizhang expressed his deep thanks to Mazu and returned to his quarters and sobbed, beside himself with joy.
When one of the other monks asked him why he was crying. Baizhang told him to ask Mazu.
The monk went and asked Mazu and Mazu told him to ask Baizhang.
The monk returned to Baizhang and found him wildly laughing.
More perplexed than ever, the monk said, “A few minutes ago you were crying; now I find you laughing. How strange you are!”
Baizhang answered, “Before I was crying, now I’m laughing.”
This is the sequel to the koan we sat with on Wednesday. In that koan a flock of wild geese flew overhead and Mazu asked Baizhang what he had seen. Baizhang said, “Wild geese.” After they had flown away Mazu asked, “Where have they gone?” Baizhang said, “They flew away.” Then Mazu twisted Baizhang’s nose and when he cried out in pain Mazu said, “They haven’t flown away at all.”
The experience of putting down the burden we carry is one of relief. The greater the burden, the greater the relief. The diminishing of the burden that we have carried for a long time can bring tears of joy. They can also bring tears of sadness and compassion for how long we carried the burden unnecessarily.
Whether sadness, joy, or anger, whatever emotion we are experiencing it is more important to experience the emotion than to understand it. In the same way that the miracle of Zen is to eat when hungry and to sleep when tired, it is to cry when sad and laugh when happy.
There is another story about a female Zen teacher that comes to mind. When a loved one had died, she went out into her garden and cried inconsolably. A neighbor happened by and heard her wailing. He called out to her, “You are a Zen teacher how can you cry like that?” To which she replied, “How can I not?”