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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 66 This story is telling us that when we think we are busy, that’s just on the surface. The stress we complain about is conceptual and superficial. We can run around and do plenty of things, but when we know who we are and what is actually going on, we don’t need to be stressed out about anything. The third story is about the nature of life and death. Yuan, a disciple of Daowu, knocks on a coffin at a funeral and asks, “Alive or dead?” Wu says, “I won’t say, I won’t say.” That is, I can’t say what is life and what is death. They’re certainly not what we think they are. To be willing to enter into the silence that surrounds and pervades all phrases (those made of words and those not made of words) is to be willing to die—to die to knowledge, control, desire. To know and embrace death, to be willing to die to every moment— that is what it takes to actually live. This is why people want to go rock climbing or jump out of airplanes, or go to war. In spiritual practice, we are trying to live with full passion without doing all these risky things. Being alive is risky enough, and also completely safe. These three stories about Daowu are famous, often repeated tales of Zen. This is the most common thing in the world: to repeat old stories that we already know perfectly well. We do it in religion, in national cultures, and in families too; we tell the old stories over and over again. That way we have them in our minds and they will appear spon- taneously and unbidden, as our own experience, in response to things that happen to us. Something will happen that allows us to see personally “the one who’s not busy,” or to know that everything before us is nothing other than love. We hear the stories over and over again, and over time we understand them better, and differently, and eventu- ally we become them. We know them from the inside, because they happened to us. This is true of all the old stories and phrases of all spiritual traditions—and of families, cultures, and clans too. Where we would we be without a story? Now let me now get back to the phrase, “Who is sick?” Here’s the whole story: 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 com- mented on this, saying, “Say something anyway!” It seems as though Daowu had the practice of visiting the sick, one of the greatest of all spiritual practices. I recommend this. It is a practice I do and have done, but regret- fully I don’t do it nearly as much as I would like to. I seem to have many others things to do, but actually I would like to do nothing else but visit the sick, like Walt Whitman did during the Civil War. It is also possible that Daowu was not visiting the sick. “Where are you coming from?” is a Zen question meant to evoke a more profound response than the mundane facts. When Daowu said he had come from tending the sick, he could have meant any- thing or everything by it. This is an answer we could give on any occasion: What are you doing? I am tending the sick. What else are we ever doing? This is the first noble truth of Buddhism: sentient beings are by their nature sick. To be alive is to have a ter- minal illness. The whole world is a hospital ward. But then Daowu says, “There are the sick and the not sick.” Who are the sick? The ones who have forgotten the stories of suffering and pain, who think that they themselves are not sick. These are the sick ones; these are the ones who suffer a lot. Who are the ones not CALLIGRAPHYFROMTHECOLLECTIONOFJOHNSOYUMCGEESENSEI MAR 62-67.indd 66 MAR 62-67.indd 66 12/20/07 1:53:44 PM 12/20/07 1:53:44 PM