Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Here It Is (A Post-Midnight Reverie)

The Blue Cliff Record, Case 52 is sometimes referred to as “Seppo’s ‘What is it?’” The introduction to the koan says, “As soon as there is affirmation and negation you lose your mind in a flurry, but without descent into stages, there is no way of seeking. So tell me, is it right to let go, or is it right to hold still? Dogen-zenji said, “Breathing in or breathing out, after all, what is it?” I'm asking now, "Who can tell?"

“Here is your crown
And your seal and rings.
And here is your love
For all things.”

My teacher, Samu Sunim, would often remind us to pay attention to “Just this; Right here; Right now.” His “just this” would reverberate through my bodymind and sometimes illuminate my actions and sometimes dumbfound me. But today, listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Here It Is” I felt a frisson of recognition. And I thought of one of my favorite stories found among the koan collections:

Guishan asked Daowu, “Where are you coming from?”
Daowu said, “I’ve come from tending the sick.”
Shan said “How many people were sick?”
Wu said, “There were the sick and the not sick.”
“Isn’t the one not sick you?” Guishan said.
Daowu said, “Being sick and not being sick have nothing to do with the True Person*. Speak quickly! Speak quickly!”
Guishan said. “Even if I could say anything, it wouldn’t relate.”

Later Tiantong commented on this, saying, “Say something anyway!”

Who are the sick? Who are the not sick? How can we tell?  Is there a difference or is there not? Especially if being sick and not being sick are ultimately irrelevant to living the authentic life. To help understand the questions being asked here, it may be helpful to know that from at least one understanding of this dialogue, all of us are sick, suffering from a fatal disease called "life." We all know the prognosis: we will die. Given this, who can the "not sick" possibly be?

“Here is your cart,
And your cardboard and piss;
And here is your love
For all this.”

It’s all piss, isn’t it? We’re born, we age, we love, we lose love, and we die. And yet, Cohen reminds us that we can live from a place where we love “all this.” How is this possible? Or, again, might we understand this phrase, "For all this," to mean what does love matter in the face of all this? It seems the statement can go either way.  And yet...

“May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And my love, goodbye.”

My daughter asked me this morning, upon hearing this refrain, “Why does he say ‘goodbye’ to his love?” Why, indeed? Can we ever say “goodbye?” Or, perhaps more accurately, when we say “Goodbye,” (because we do and it happens more than we like to contemplate) what do we mean? What are we really saying? Everyone alive lives and everyone alive dies. We’re alive until we’re not. There’s no discrete point where we go from “living” to “dying.” Love, too, lives and dies in each heartbeat, each breath, each moment. And yet, what is it? What is "love?" And what lives? What dies? Is it (love), like living-dying, something that cannot be pinned down?

“Here is your wine,
And your drunken fall;
And here is your love,
Your love for it all.”

Really? Even for the heartbreak? Can we, do we love even the fall? When my heart breaks, as it does now, I find it hard to even imagine loving the fall, and yet, if I’d never loved; if I’d never felt loved, could I ever have experienced such a fall? So, isn’t this fall an integral part of “it all?” And I do; I really do want to love it all. And I remember this long night, that a Marist brother once told me, “We can love it; we don’t have to like it.”

“Here is your sickness;
Your bed and your pan.
And here is your love
For the woman, the man.”

Daowu, when asked by Guishan, “Where are you coming from?” responded by saying “I’ve come from tending the sick.” But, as Guishan points out, we aren’t sure who and how many are sick. How can we even tell the difference? He asks, “How many people were sick?” After Daowu says there were the sick and the not sick, and Guishan then further muddles down the path of discrimination by asking, ““Isn’t the one not sick you?” Daowu’s retort, “Being sick and not being sick have nothing to do with the True Person” can really put one’s knickers in a bind. Or turn our world upside-down. How is this possible? “As soon as there is affirmation and negation you lose your mind in a flurry…” As soon as we speak of being ill and not being ill, our mind is lost in confusion.

“And here is the night,
The night has begun.
And here is your death
In the heart of your son.

And here is the dawn,
(Until death do us part).
And here is your death,
In your daughter’s heart.”

Here, in the play of night and day, here is your love for it all, but, lest we forget, the Sandokai advises, “In the light there is darkness, but don’t take it as darkness; In the dark there is light, but don’t see it as light. Light and dark oppose one another like the front and back foot in walking.”

Notice that the front foot is never the front foot for long; nor does the back foot remain the back foot. “Each of the myriad things has its merit, expressed according to function and place.”

And within the very hearts of our children, those, in other words, who follow, perhaps including even the consequences of our actions, already lives our death. So what is “life?” What is “death?”

“And here you are hurried,
And here you are gone;
And here is the love,
That it’s all built upon.”

Such a fragile foundation to build upon. And yet, can anyone propose something of greater strength and value? What is it?

Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom tom
When the jungle shadows fall.
Like the tick, tick, tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall.
Like the drip, drip drip of the rain drops
When the summer showers through
A voice within me keeps repeating
You, you, you….

Cole Porter knows of what he sings. Night and day, day and night, “it’s no matter” where s/he is. The longing follows wherever we go. Whether in the traffic’s boom or the noisy silence of one’s lonely room, there is the “hungry, yearning, burning” that ceaselessly torments the lover. But what is it?

“Here is your cross,
Your nails and your hill;
And here is your love,
That lists where it will.”

“And may everyone live,
And may everyone die;
Hello, my love,

And my love, goodbye.”

Here it is...



* The concept of the "true person" is a bit problematic. There is within the zen traditions, the influence of Vedanta and Taoism that has led to a persistent tendency to reify the "mind" as a kind of subtle atman. The "true person" in this understanding is the essence behind the deluded, ever-changing bodymind.

From a naturalist perspective, however, talk of the "true person" can be understood as merely a metaphor for living from intimate authenticity.