The Fire of No-Self

‘Once, while Lingyou was acting as attendant to Baizhang… Baizhang said to him, “Stick a poker in the fire and see if there is any fire left in it.”
Lingyou did so and said, “There’s no fire left.”
Baizhang then took the poker himself and, sticking it deep into the stove, pulled out some hot embers. Showing them to Lingyou he said, “You said there was no fire, but what about this?”
Upon hearing these words, Lingyou experienced great enlightenment.’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

I thought of this well-known story when I was last at Wilbur. Sometimes phrases pop into my head which have a nice flavour to them, and sitting at Wilbur, in the midst of the stillness and silence, the phrase ‘the fire of no-self’ arose; it felt that, though sometimes sitting feels easy and sometimes like a struggle, I trust that deep within, there is a fire of no-self burning away slowly, even if it is unreliable to access. My understanding of the story is like this as well – and that sometimes a teacher can point to this when you cannot dig deep enough for yourself.

I thought of it again on Friday; I had decided it would be a good day to ride up Mount Diablo, which as long-time readers will know, is kind of a stretch goal for myself on a bike.
It was already hot and still by the time I got to the foot of the mountain a little after nine; far from floating on no-self, I was fiddling with my clothes, as my shorts were not sitting quite right, and wondering how I would manage. I made my way up the familiar sections from the north gate: the steep section at the 1000′ elevation marker, the ranch and the hairpins, the junction with the South Gate Road. There was precious little shade on the lower slopes, and no breeze – I saw a couple of riders pausing under a tree to cool off. There was mutual encouragement for everyone on a bike, and in common with my recent Friday rides, not a single car passed me on the way up – I only saw a dozen or so on the whole mountain.
The harder sections nearer the top felt pretty tough – at one stage I was being outpaced by a butterfly – but I was also above the circling hawks and vultures, and could now see all the way to Tam and San Francisco. At 3000′, instead of a breeze on the more exposed upper slopes, there was the smell of smoke (a low brown layer of it could be seen to the north). I knew there was the hardest part to come right at the summit, and felt pretty short of energy, with little water left in my bottles. And yet, there was one moment of grace, where I was just riding, steadily, without thinking or struggling. Those are the moments I ride for, just as they are the moments I sit for.

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