In the old days there were sixteen bodhisattvas. They all got into the bath together and realized the cause of water. They called out, “This subtle touch reveals the light that is in everything.”
—Blue Cliff Record Case 78
I just got back from a couple of weeks in Japan where there was a lot of “entering the bath together” for me. The place where we stay has two communal baths, one for men and one for women, that open at six am and close at midnight. Often, I would see the same people at nine or ten at night and then again at 6:00 the next morning. Though there was a fair bit of scrubbing that went on, for me and for the others that I spoke with, getting into the bath wasn’t about getting clean.
The same was true for the sixteen bodhisattvas in the version of this story that appears in the Surangama Sutra. In that version of the story, it goes on to say, “We did not wash off dirt, did not wash the body. We achieved peace of mind and obtained the state of no-possession.”
If you have ever entered a bath so hot that once you were in you didn’t want to move because each movement renewed the experience of first entering the water, which was no easy matter, then I think you have some idea of what obtaining a “state of no-possession” is like. As if to emphasize the point, Xuedou, who first collected the one hundred cases of the Blue Cliff Record, commented about it in his verse about this case, “If the sixteen ancients said they were enlightened, let them emerge from the scented water, and I would spit at them!”
We don’t do this practice to purify ourselves, to rid ourselves of impurities like delusions. If you are, watch out for Xuedou’s spit.
David Weinstein Roshi,
Director of Rockridge Meditation Community