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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 70 More than likely, their interchange takes place in a quiet mo- ment when Yanguan has a little time to put his attention on this monk. He’s going to test him, poke him: Are you there? Yanguan and the attendant are in kinship. They had both probably lived in the monastery for many years, but Yanguan couldn’t turn around to the attendant and say something simple like, “Do you love me?” or “Are you happy here?” Instead, there is decorum. One person is made the attendant, the other the Zen Master. Of course, one has been practicing longer than the other. Out of time we create hierarchy, levels, positions. In the large space of this true book, we eventually let go of these criteria, but we also play along. So Yanguan asks for a fan. The fan is the excuse for an exchange, though it could also have been one of those unbearable hot sum- mer days. Bring me some relief. Where’s the fan? The attendant replies that the fan is broken. He can’t find another one? I’m thinking. What was going on here? That evening after I read this case I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. The night became a deep and endless thing. My mind wan- dered over much terrain: a particular apple orchard, a young boy who died. I remembered an old friendship I once had. This line ran through my head: the relationship is broken. Broken! I sat up in bed. That is the word the attendant used. I jumped up, ran to the shelf, and opened the book. I took a leap: the attendant was saying he himself was broken, even if he referred to a fan. He was the fan. But that doesn’t stop Yanguan, his teacher. Hell, if the fan—the product—was shattered, then bring back the whole rhinoceros. What a stunning concept! If the paper is torn, bring the enor- mous tree into the living room. Yanguan was asking this of his student (and of us): Take a tremendous step—not forwards but backwards—into your essen- tial nature. Manifest your original face. Don’t get stuck on some- thing broken—a heart, a wish. Become the rhinoceros—reveal your full self, go to the source, nothing hidden. And this is what I loved the most: “The attendant had no reply.” What do we do when a rhino is charging us, when a bear of a teacher is storming us? We run for our lives. In no other case that I had studied so far was there such an abrupt stop. No action, nothing. The attendant had already given his all when he said the fan was broken, when he revealed he was not whole. It’s a naked thing to show we are fractured, that we do not have it all together. Broken all the way through to the bottom. What freedom that is, to be what we are in the moment, even if it’s unacceptable. Then we are already the rhinoceros. Think about it: We are always doing a dance—I’m good, I’m bad, I’m this, I’m that. Rather than the truth: I don’t know who I am. Instead, we scurry to figure it out. We write another book, buy another blouse, exhaust ourselves. Imagine the freedom to let it be, this not knowing. How vulnerable. This is why I love the attendant. He said who he was—a broken man, a shattered fan derived from the concentrated point of a fierce beast. When his teacher asked for more, the monk didn’t do a jig to win him over. There was no more. Usually we will do anything to cover up a reality so naked. I know the relief, and ensuing shame or terror, of making that kind of simple statement. When I was in the middle of a divorce, I visited my parents in Florida. My father was on the first day of a new diet. He was looking forward to dinner. We were going out to a steakhouse for the early bird special. My father made fun of my huarache sandals when I stepped out of the bedroom, ready to go. “What are those, horse hooves?” I was touchy and tired of his putdowns. I twirled around and marched back into the bedroom. “I’m leaving,” I screamed. I threw clothes into a suitcase and charged out the front door and onto the nearby turnpike. I was walking on the divider line, headed for the airport fifteen miles away. A car pulled up beside me and drove the speed of my walking pace. I looked straight ahead. “Nat,” my father pulled down his window. I burst out crying. SEPT 66-71.indd 70 SEPT 66-71.indd 70 6/25/07 5:05:52 PM 6/25/07 5:05:52 PM