A student asked Shitou, “What am I supposed to do?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“Where else can I find what I’m looking for?”
“Are you sure you lost it?”
In this conversation between Shitou and a student, I can hear echoes of the conversation he had, as a student himself, with Qingyuan—the teacher he went to after studying with Huineng (the six patriarch), after Huineng died.
Qingyuan asked, “Where have you come from?”
Shitou said, “From Huineng’s in Caoxi.”
Qingyuan asked, “What did you bring with you?”
Shitou said, “That which had never been lost even before I went to Caoxi.”
Qingyuan said, “Then why did you go there at all?”
Shitou said, “If I hadn’t gone there, how could I have realized that it had never been lost?”
In his conversation with this monk, Shitou knew very well himself about the experience of thinking that something had been lost, missing, or lacking.
As I have been sitting with this koan, others have come to keep me company, like this one from Doushuai:
People go to wild places to search for their true nature.
When you do this, where is your true nature?
And this one from Linji:
In your life right now, what is it you lack, what is it that practice must mend?
It feels a bit like playing dominoes, or more accurately, like dominoes playing itself. Each koan is different, like each domino tile, but they share something in common, like we do.
Doushuai was the head monk at Dahui’s temple when he led a group to visit another teacher named Zhi. Upon arrival at Zhi’s temple, the conversation between Doushuai and Zhi went something like this:
Zhi said, “Have you seen Zen master Dongshan Wenhe?”
Doushuai said, “His disciples don’t have any brains. If you put on a cotton garment that smells like piss, what good is it?”
Zhi said, “You should go and practice at that place that smells like piss.”
Finding myself in Doushuai’s shoes at that moment, I can’t help but feel that although I am the head monk at a famous teacher’s temple, when hearing my own harsh assessment turned back on myself, in that wild place I don’t know where my true nature is.
As I think about Linji, and how he was literally kicked out of his teacher’s interview room the only three times he went in for a conversation, how could he not think there was something lacking in him?
What we are drawn to teach reveals what we need to learn.
What do you need to learn?
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