Xuedou woke his teacher up four times in one night with a question about the meaning of this line: “Mind is originally awake, it is because of the arising of thought that people are set adrift, going in circles down the river of life.”

Can you imagine waking your teacher up four times in one night to ask them a question? While I can imagine being up all night thinking about what question I might want to ask, or thinking about the answer I might give to a question that I might be asked, I have a hard time imagining waking up one of my teachers four times in one night to ask a question. This was at the very beginning of Xuedou’s meditation practice and it speaks to the intensity of the burning desire he had for clarity. There are a number of images that have been put forth describing that state of mind. One image is to imagine yourself being in a house that is on fire and needing to get out, that kind of sense of urgency. Or, to practice with the urgency of your hair being on fire. Having a red-hot iron ball stuck in your throat, that you cannot swallow nor spit out is another image that is used. In the Tibetan tradition, the uncertainty of the time of our death is used as an encouragement to practice and not waste time. In a time of pandemic, like now, that sense of uncertainty is heightened and the subsequent energy arising from that can be plowed back into our practice.

We don’t know what Xuedou’s questions were, but we do know that his teacher at the time, though Buddhist, was not a Zen teacher. That teacher’s comment to Xuedou at the end of that night is revealing.  He told Xuedou, “You are not a person who is hindered by the teaching of the Buddhist scriptures. I have heard that there are people like you in the South. You should go study with them”. Those people in the South that he was referring to were people practicing Zen.

Are you one of those people “not hindered by Buddhist teachings”? What do you imagine Xuedou’s questions were that night? David

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