‘Long ago a monk asked a master, “When hundreds, thousands, or myriads of objects come all at once, what should be done?” The master replied, “Don’t try to control them.” What he means is that in whatever way objects come, do not try to change them. Whatever comes is the buddha dharma, not objects at all. Do not understand the master’s reply as merely a brilliant admonition, but realize that it is the truth. Even if you try to control what comes, it cannot be controlled.’ (Shobogenzo Yuibutsu Yobutsu)

I was drawn to this quote while I was writing my post-election pieces; it is a koan that I often refer to, as I see how much people’s desire to control externals causes suffering. Instead, I counsel equanimity. In the end, I shelved the quote and thought I should try to identify the collection it came from – which was hard to do in the continued absence of my laptop, which has all my notes from my koan class this summer (now I have got it up and running again, I can say that it was Isan, quoted in the Shinji Shobogenzo – 1, 14).

As it happened, at a recent priest meeting at Zen Center, Steve Weintraub, who was presenting on the difference between practice discussion and psychotherapy, mentioned it. The context made it even more interesting: he was underlining how psychotherapy holds that we are operating with an unconscious mind as well as the conscious, something which was beyond the realm of the zen traditional understanding. As I was listening, I started to muse whether what is commonly referred to as the inconceivable or the formless was the zen way of signaling the unconscious.

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