18.

When I started practice, I was very interested in koans. I asked Nancy about them. She said, brusquely “Don’t concern yourself with koans. Your life is the koan”. At the time, I can’t say I found this an entirely satisfactory answer.

 

In Rinzai, koans are used as a teaching device to prod the student towards a different experience of reality. “Koan” originally meant something like an official pronouncement by the Emperor, something universal and unchallengeable.


Of the two characters which make up ‘koan’. ‘ko’ means universal and ‘an’ means wood or desk; so, something written down which has universal application.


Dogen uses a different character for ‘an’, which means something like ‘pushing with the hand’ [to heal]; so for him, Koan is both the universal and the personal, emptiness and form, and this is how he sees zazen too. So Nancy was right.


She wasn’t frightened of death, but she was frightened of her heart stopping beating. In her last moments she chanted the Heart Sutra over and over, fainter and fainter.


Her heart has never stopped beating.

 

 
17.

Nancy said that when we practice, it is as if we become aware of a huge underground river running through our lives. The desert does not bloom. The mirrors do not shatter. Yet something both very deep and very simple manifests itself.

 
16.

All Buddhist teachings, no matter how apparently esoteric, refer to our actual experience, particularly during zazen. If we cannot find them in our actual experience, then we cannot accept them.

 

The Second Noble Truth is that the origin of suffering is our attachment to desire, which is defined as greed, ignorance and hatred.

 

If we examine our actual experience during zazen, where is greed to adhere? Or ignorance? Or hatred? And if they have nowhere to adhere, surely this is the liberation of all things, all beings. Not at some imaginary future time, but this time.

 

 
15.

The foundation sutra for Zen is the Prajna Paramita Sutra, the teachings on Emptiness. The Heart Sutra, which we chant after sitting, is a very abbreviated version. In it we say that “form is nothing other than emptiness, emptiness is nothing other than form”. Emptiness is thus not another world, or something to aspire to. It is a way of describing this world, this experience.


It is infinitely faceted. One can say that it is dependent origination; nothing exists separately and independently of anything else. Equally, one can say that because emptiness cannot be grasped – one cannot seize space – it is a way of describing the ineffability of all being. The world eludes the web of words. And one can say that it is a way of describing our experience when self consciousness drops away. The world is empty of you, and so, is luminous.


The teachings on emptiness are themselves empty.

 

 
14.

Buddhism is full of metaphors of space. And space is not conceived in an abstract way, but rather as the absence of obstruction. Hence Buddhism being described as a path, or a way.

 

We are free, but not lost.


Likewise Emptiness.

 

 
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