Dongshan said to the assembly,“It’s the beginning of autumn, the end of summer, and you brothers will go, some to the east, some west: You must go where there’s not an inch of grass for ten thousand miles.” And again he said, “But where there’s not an inch of grass for ten thousand miles, how can you go?”
Shishuang said, “When you go out of the gate, there is grass all over!”
Dayang said, “I would say: Even if you don’t go out of the gate, the grass is everywhere.”
—Book of Serenity Case 89
Dongshan is speaking to people who had gathered for a retreat. The retreat had lasted for ninety days, encompassing the rainy season during the summer when pilgrimage was not preferable. At the end of a retreat, whether it be ninety days or seven days, the question that is often asked is, “How can I keep this going after I leave?” How can I keep this way of experiencing when I go out of the gate?
Grass and weeds are often used as images of our ideas and concepts and delusions. Dongshan appears to be encouraging the assembly to go to a place where there are no delusions, no concepts. Perhaps they have had glimpses of that place during their long retreat. They might hear his encouraging words as a recommendation to hold on to those glimpses tightly as they go out of the gate, if they are attached to those glimpses. They might feel that inside the gate is such a place but outside the gate is not.
When we began to have retreats online, via Zoom, the question about bringing the place of no grass back home was eliminated, physically, at least. Sitting at home together with others sitting in their homes leads to that same place of no grass but I’m already home.
The whole question about inside and outside of the gate would seem to be eliminated. But rather than eliminated, it becomes clear that it’s not about my physical location, or what I am doing. There is no inside or outside of the gate.