‘Take the backward step and directly reach the middle of the circle from where light issues forth.’ – Hongzhi

Hongzhi is remembered as the compiler and verse writer for the collection of one hundred kōans known as the Book of Serenity. Taking a step backward, reminds me of the practice of turning the light around. Both involve a change in perspective resulting in something becoming clearer. The practice of turning the light around is attributed to a female student of Laozi whose name was Wenshi. She characterized the practice as, “Our Way is like being in darkness. Those in the light cannot see a single thing in the darkness, whereas those who are in darkness can see everything in the light.”  The third chapter of the Taoist text ‘The Secret of the Golden Flower’ is entitled ‘Turning the Light Around and Keeping to the Center’. I believe that center is the middle of the circle from which light issues that Hongzhi is talking about.

About 100 years after Hongzhi, the Japanese teacher Dogen put ‘taking a step back’ and ‘turning the light around’ together when he said, ‘… learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate yourself and your original face.
Hongzhi’s quote also reminded me of a Latin palindrome, a word or phrase that reads the same backward as forward. The palindrome is: “IN GIRUM IMUS NOCTE ET CONSUMIMUR IGNI”. It means: “We enter the circle after dark and are consumed by fire.” It is only after we have exhausted all attempts of rational understanding and are truly in the dark that we come to the place where the light issues forth. It is then that our previous understandings are consumed by fire and we see who we really are.


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