You find yourself in a stone crypt.
There are no windows, and the door is locked from the outside.
How will you get out?

—PZI Miscellaneous Koan

Sitting with the stone crypt koan in our morning meditation this past week, another koan keeps coming to join the conversation: that one about getting a goose that’s trapped in a bottle out of the bottle without breaking the bottle (or hurting the goose). That kind of thing can happen in koan practice; a second or third koan can join the conversation. It can cause some confusion, as if the koans are in competition for my attention. With time it’s possible to appreciate how the koans are not competing but resonating with each other.

In both koans we are asked how to get out. In some translations we are asked, “How are you free?” which is interesting. The perspectives are different: In one, I am locked in and in the other, it’s the goose that’s locked in and I am outside the bottle observing the goose inside. But who is that goose, really? And who is the woman who raises the goose in the bottle, really? And what are the crypt and the bottle, really?

In the crypt there are no windows, it is dark, I can’t see my hand in front of my face. In the case of the goose, the bottle is clear, at least my bottle is—maybe yours isn’t. I can see out and the outside can see in.

Both resonate with places where I can sometimes find myself. Sometimes I’m in the dark about being trapped in my delusions. Sometimes I can see quite clearly how I am trapped. The term “conscious incompetence” comes to mind—knowing that I am trapped, but that knowledge being of no help. Seeing that can help, so long as I don’t judge myself for being an idiot, which makes it worse.

The koan says, “I find myself locked in a stone crypt.” I am in the dark about how I got there. The goose koan tells me that this was done intentionally, by a woman (who is me), for what reason I can only imagine. That’s what koans invite us to do: imagine. Imagine that I am the woman, imagine that I am the goose, imagine that I am the bottle, imagine that I am in a place so dark that I cannot see my hand in front of my face.

These koans are not hypothetical situations; they are mirrors reflecting us back to ourselves, an opportunity to see more clearly who we are and what life is. In each case there is something about getting out of our own way and being who we really are.

—David Weinstein on Sunday March 10th, 2024

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