|When I encountered this story with Xuedou, the first two lines of a verse composed by another teacher as a response to another koan came to mind. In typical Zen fashion, they are, “Seeing the face is better than hearing the name; hearing the name is better than seeing the face.” I say typical Zen fashion because it includes a contradiction, as does Zen practice, as does life. I imagine Xuedou would not argue with adding a second line to what he said, something like, “Seeing it once is not as good as hearing it a thousand times.”
Hiding your body in the Big Dipper requires the ability to both see the face and hear the name, something that is cultivated in koan practice. The invitation to hide our body in the Big Dipper is not a theoretical proposition. We are being invited to do so right here, right now. What do you do? Being able to articulate eloquently about the meaning of the koan, or even what it is in your life is one thing, but demonstrating that, here and now, in this moment, is another thing.
I can hear echoes of Xuedou’s own question, early on in his practice, about a different piece of scripture. That scripture pointed to the arising of thought as being responsible for obscuring the mind’s original clarity. Though we don’t know exactly what Xuedou’s question was, I believe it had something to do with the difference between hearing and seeing. The solution to the way thought obscurs the natural clarity of our minds is to appreciate that thoughts are part of the natural clarity of our minds.
But as Xuedou says, hearing it, or even saying it a thousand times is not as good as seeing it once. Being able to demonstrate how to hide in the Big Dipper is to give someone else a glimpse, as well as ourselves, of that clarity.