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 Predicament Koan

In our Tuesday evening gatherings, after the twenty-minute breakout section where folks go off to small groups of three or four to talk about their experience with the koan, we gather again for ten minutes or so before closing. That’s when I encourage sharing in the larger group some of what was said in the breakout rooms. I usually say something like, “Repeating what was already said is okay, as it may come out differently and give you an insight into what you previously said that you hadn’t had before.”

Putting my money where my mouth is, I am bringing the stone crypt for further exploration on Tuesday. And will probably be saying much of what I said last Tuesday when talking about the goose in the bottle.

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, March 12th, 2024

David Weinstein Roshi


COME JOIN US on Tuesdays for koan meditation, dharma talk and conversation.
Register to participate. All are welcome.

David Weinstein Roshi, Director of Rockridge Meditation Community


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