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Lions Roar : July 2016
Bodhidharma waited a long time for a student to show up—by some accounts, nine solitary years spent facing the wall. Maybe even longer. At any rate, he sat there for more time than you can fathom. Now, someone approaches. Alone in his misery, fraught with pain, a stranger emerges from a blinding blizzard to confront the old master. This fellow is serious, and from the looks of it, half out of his mind. We know a little bit of the backstory. He’s not exactly a newbie. He’s read the ancient texts, pored over books and magazines, and taken the courses. He knows a lot already, and yet there is still something missing. His mind is not at ease. Hearing that there is a new teacher in town, he goes to see him. In fact, he goes to see him nearly every day—and every day, the teacher turns him away. He can’t seem to get past the front door! His panic grows. In desperation, he starts to cut himself to shreds, as if that would prove him worthy. Zen teachings aren’t always as cozy as you might expect. They point directly to the savagery of human suffering. Curiously, the student in this story isn’t named, although we know him well. Who is this so-called Second Ancestor, the heir to Bodhidharma’s wisdom, the earnest seeker of peace and ease? To pass this koan, you have to find out who this character is. If you go up into your head looking for an answer, separating yourself from your present reality, you won’t see it. If you are lost in rumination or intellectual analysis, you are a million miles away. Fifteen centuries after Bodhidharma mouthed his words, whose mind is bringing this story to life right now? Who is seeing it, reading it, and living it? It can’t be anyone but you. You are the only one here. You are the student, come to calm your weary mind. Now we’re getting to the point. Become one with the koan. When you work with a koan master, you’re likely to get the same instruction whenever you ask for help: Become one with the koan. At first, this can sound as bewildering as when a yoga instructor tells you to breathe through your coccyx. You can’t quite wrap your head around it. Become one with the koan? You mean cut off my arm? Cut off what you’re holding on to: the attachment to your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings, the residue of your discriminat- PHOTOBYHOWARDBLUESTEIN/SCIENCEPHOTOLIBRARY LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 57