The Zen koan or public case is always a kind of dialogue. Someone says something to someone else. Then a realization takes place.
In this 7th koan from the Blue Cliff Record, the monk has asked about the nature of the Buddha. The answer he gets is direct address: “You are Hui Ch’ao,” says the master. The key feature here is not only “Hui Ch’ao” but above all, “You are.”
To address someone is to bestow existence on them – the very nature of the Buddha about whom the monk asks. Still, his using the fellow’s specific name is important: it is a person, not (only) the person.
We know this to be a practical, everyday truth from studies of child development. Children raised with scant or no language beamed toward them never reach their full capacity.
In yesterday’s group, we looked at the question of who we are from three standpoints.
First, we practiced the negative way. Since all the known characteristics of ourselves will wither in time, we said, they cannot be our true or ultimate nature. So: language, gender, nationality, religion, occupation, body, relationships on earth, all will go. Everything we have already thought and known will go – it has already gone. What is left of you when you take away everything that has already faded and that will fade? We’re left with a blank -- which might turn out to be the light/emptiness of our true nature.
Second, we practiced the positive or accretive way. We acknowledged that we are who we are now. Eternal or not, it is quite a confection: our relationships, our history, our culture, our bodies, our souls, our energetic auras, are all constitutive of who we are as incarnate beings walking the earth. We tried to sense and heft ourselves as this symphony of qualities and connections.
Third, though, we set aside all such considerations of subtraction and addition, and allowed ourselves to be addressed by another person in the group.
Finally, as a central meditation, we allowed ourselves to be addressed by a divinity, or by the totality, the world as a whole. We asked for a meeting, then, without necessarily choosing in advance the precise being whose regard would call us into relational existence, which is existence. As David Steindl-Rast once put it, we avoided being “unduly specific” in our request to be addressed -- though once addressed it might be by quite a specific entity.
These three methods of discovery (subtraction, addition, address) yielded various fruits for all of us. After reporting our meditation results, we practiced a brief metta, which ended with sending goodwill to a public enemy of the moment, the perpetrator(s) of the Manchester bombing.
This last was hard for some of us. Still, it filled the room with a sense that almost can’t be located in space or time, something too kind and too brief to be sullied with description. Yet it was there and it was then: peace.
Next week, we continue with this same case.
Can you say to someone (perhaps not in words), “You are,” and be favorably shocked by the fact of this person? Or, with the shoe on the other foot, can you allow yourself to be addressed by a person, a divinity, a thing, a situation, in such a way as to be more intensely? These powers are called on by the koan.
All blessings to all,