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Sung-shan was chatting with the Layman Pang when he suddenly picked up a ruler and said, “What do you see?”
The Layman said, “Sung-shan.”

Two friends sitting around chatting, one friend picks up a ruler and asks the other, “What do you see?” The other friend says his friend’s name. A strange exchange. Perhaps it was the strangeness of this exchange rhyming with the strangeness of these days that led me to be spending time with this koan.

There is something that I have been noticing about this time of pandemic that resonates with the koan for me. Holding up a ruler and asking what do you see is an odd question. The time of pandemic is an odd time. On top of that, add social unrest and things get odder still. It has been a time when many people have found themselves asking odd questions. Questions like, “Why does this thing that I have known about for a long time and been experiencing distress about, but more or less had under control, now feels unbearable?” Or, “Why is this thing, this way of being, this other person, that I have enjoyed for so long, now, not giving me much pleasure?”

If the question is odd, the answer is no less odd. Looking at a ruler and saying he sees his friend. He is not saying that he sees his friend holding a ruler, he is saying that the ruler and his friend are not separate. I’ve also been noticing that feeling of not separateness during this time of pandemic. How we are all in it together, which is always true, but during times like this more noticeable and it feels good and that’s pretty odd, to be feeling good at a time like this. – David

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