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A monk said to Yunmen, “The radiance serenely illumines the whole universe…”

Before he had finished the line, Yunmen interrupted him and asked, “Aren’t those the words of Zhangzhuo?”

The monk said, “Yes, they are.”

Yunmen said, “You have misspoken.”
This quote from Yunmen, reminds me of a quote that is attributed to Picasso, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Picasso had an ‘African Period’, when he painted in a style which was strongly influenced by African sculpture, particularly traditional African masks. I wonder how Picasso would have responded had Yunmen asked him about his art being influenced by African sculpture and masks. I suspect Picasso would have answered in a way that would not have resulted in Yunmen  saying “You have misspoken.”

Last time we gathered, we sat together with Yunmen’s comment, “That’s it!”, about stealing the light. The time before that we sat together with Yunmen advising a student, “Forget about the light, show me the reaching.” In this koan about misspeaking, I can hear Yunmen once again encouraging us to reach. As Picasso was encouraging artists to reach beyond themselves, beyond stealing, or borrowing, or even creating.

There are unlimited commentaries on koans that can be read. Various people saying what they believe a koan is about. Looking to those commentaries as a way to become intimate with the koan is like trying to get to know somebody based only on what other people have written about them. You can’t really get to know somebody that way. However, having met the person, reading what someone else may have written about them can be interesting, as we agree or disagree with what someone else has to say, we become more intimate with what we know to be true for ourselves. When we know what is true for ourselves, it doesn’t matter where it came from, it comes from us and then we are not misspeaking.


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