A monk asked Xuedou, “What is your manner of teaching?”
Xuedou replied, “When guests come, one should see them.” (quoted in Zen Essence)

If you have been reading this blog from the very beginning, and have a good memory, or if you have read the Tenzokyokun a fair number of times, the name Xuedou will ring a bell. Dogen quotes his wonderful poem in that piece, and I recently dug out the three translations I have to look at with my students. I think what he is saying in this exchange is very much in line with the poem, though perhaps easier to grasp.


Sharon Salzberg

‘At times, reality is love’s great challenge. When our old stories and dreams are shattered, our first instinct may be to resist, deny, or cling to the way things were. But if we loosen our grip, often what fills the space is a tender forgiveness and the potential for a new and different kind of love.’ (Real Love)

I feel like I have managed before to open this book at a random page and find a beautiful passage to quote. It certainly happened this time.


‘You are trying to attain thusness, yet you already are a person of thusness. As you are already a person of thusness, why be worried about thusness?’

I think it is okay to repeat myself every now and again. This phrase came to mind while I was musing over what to say for yesterday’s quote – there seemed to be an echo in the line of thought, but on further reflection, the parallel was not quite so straight. How do you find the two together?


Sansheng asked Xuefeng, “The golden fish that’s passed through the net – what does it use for food?”
Xuefeng said, “When you come out of the net, then I’ll tell you.”
Sansheng said, “The teacher of fifteen hundred people, yet you don’t even know a saying.”
Xuefeng said, “My tasks as abbot are many.” (Book of Serenity, case 33)

Xuefeng throws some serious shade at the end, and rightly so. The point is that if you ‘pass through the net’ – or the ‘gateless gate’, to use an analogous expression – you no longer worry about the things you worried about before, and if you have not passed through, then why waste time being concerned with what is in the future? It will not, as Dogen pointed out in Shobogenzo Yuibutsu Yobutsu, be the way you thought of it at all (I am surprised that I don’t seem to have quoted that passage, and I shall rectify it soon…)
It is also worth considering the Xuefeng is not letting on whether he has ‘passed through’ or not (we assume, as the monk does, that he has), but in either case, he still has work to do as abbot.


‘Going to the seashore to count grains of sand vainly wastes one’s strength. Polishing a tile to make a mirror is a meaningless use of effort. Don’t you see that the clouds above the tall mountains naturally wind and unwind around each other, so how could they be intimate or estranged? The water of a deep river channel follows along the straight stretches and curves without preferring this way or that. The daily activity of living beings is like clouds and water. Clouds and water are like this, but people are not. If they could be like this, how could they ever transmigrate in the triple world?’ (Extensive Record, 281)

Lingering Over Dinner

Recently I had dinner with a friend; we had shared the cooking and prep responsibilities, and had fun doing it. We had enjoyed eating and catching up with news. And as soon as I had put my fork down, I was ready to jump up to do the dishes and clean up. My friend was rather aghast – why didn’t I just want to stay at the table and prolong the conversation?
Feeling a little abashed, I did just that, and noticed that I relaxed back into sitting there, which we did for quite some time before heading to do the washing up (to use the English expression). 
This incident has stayed in my head since it happened; I know my own tendencies to keep moving on to the next thing, but I was curious about why I seemed to be in such a hurry to move on from an enjoyable moment. I wondered if it was a downside to the intense training we get at Tassajara to follow the schedule completely: when the han sounds, we go to the zendo; when the bell rings at the end of zazen, we get up for kinhin – it doesn’t matter if you were having the best sit ever, or the worst, you still have to get up when the bell rings.
To do this is a wonderful practice, as we always have to let go of our personal preferences to follow the flow of the sangha through the scheduled day; I often tell people that there is a huge value in having to surrender to that extent.
In my reflections, I thought of a passage from Suzuki Roshi about responding to his wife, when she calls him for breakfast:
‘For an instance, you know, my wife [laughs]—every morning, when breakfast is ready, he hit, you know—what do you call it?  Clappers?  Yeah, clappers—like this.  If I don’t answer for it [laughs], you know, I—he—she may continue to hit it [laughs, laughter] until I feel rather angry [laughs, laughter].  Why we have that kind of problem is quite simple.  Because I don’t answer, you know.  If I say “Hai!“—that’s all [laughs, laughter].  Because I don’t say “Hai!” she, you know, continue to—she has to continue because she doesn’t know whether I heard it or not [laughs].
Sometime she may think: “He knows but he doesn’t answer.”  Eei! [Probably imitates a mock attack by Okusan.]  [Laughs, laughter.]  That is what will happen.  When I don’t answer, you know, I am, you know, on the top of the pole [laughs].  I don’t jump off from here.  When I say “Hai!” you know, I jump off from here.  Because I stay at the top of the pole, I am—I have something to do—something important to do [laughs, laughter]—something important at the top of the pole:  “You shouldn’t call me!  You should wait!”  So before I say something I determined to shut up—not to say anything.  “This is very important!  Don’t you know that?!  [S.R. and students laughing.]  I am here [taps on stick], on the top of the pole!  Don’t you know that?”  So she start to—  [Probably gesturing.]  That is how we create problem.
So the secret is just to say “Hai!” you know, and jump up from here.  Then there is no problem.’
Jumping off the top of the pole is a classic zen image for not getting stuck – in Suzuki Roshi’s case, not getting stuck by thinking that whatever he was doing was more important than responding to his wife’s call for breakfast. 
In my case, no-one was asking me to jump up and do the dishes; I was stuck in the idea that I needed to go and do the next thing, rather than respond to the (as-yet-unspoken but still clear) desire of my friend to linger at the table.

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