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Lions Roar : May 2015
is an experience, is certainly important in Zen practice, if not all-important. What does that—and this story that speaks of it—imply for our collective moral lives? A commentary to this story cites another story about this same monk Touzi. In this story Touzi asks his teacher Cuiwei to explain the most mysterious and essential aspect of the Ch’an teachings. In response, Cuiwei turns and looks at him. Touzi says, “Please direct me,” and Cuiwei says, “Do you want a sec- ond ladleful of foul water?” The great death, oneness, enlightenment, total acceptance of reality beyond good and evil—this is a necessary step in Zen or any other profound spiritual practice. But although this may be ultimate, it is only a step. Zen calls it “the great death” for a good reason. It is a kind of “death.” It requires a complete let- ting go, a complete relinquishment, in trust, of everything that one has identified as one’s life. To be truly alive, as Zen practice sees it, one has to die—to let go of life. But until we are physically dead we can’t remain dead. We have to be alive. We can’t remain in the darkness and purity of beyond-good-and-evil. We have to arrive in the daylight of this physical, limited world of distinctions and moral choices. Difficult though it may be, there is no escape and no alternative. And yet we celebrate. Having died the great death, we know what a miracle it is to be alive, and how strange and marvelous it is—even with its difficult and sad challenges, which are them- selves miraculous. Almost all Zen stories are encounters between individuals, and therefore essentially dualistic. When Cuiwei faces Touzi heissayingtohim:Iamme,youareyou.Wemaybeone,we may be inherently empty of any difference or separation, but as long as we are alive we are different people. This essential difference—even though it is, in the light of the great death, unreal—is our life. “Appreciate and understand this,” Cuiwei is wordlessly teaching his student. But Touzi requires a bit more explanation, so Cuiwei says to him: “Do you want another ladleful of foul water?” To be alive in this world of human beings, plants and animals, flesh and blood, earth, sky, fire, and water, is to be immersed in trouble, in essential imperfection. “All conditioned existence is suffering, unsatisfactory, dukkha,” the Buddha originally taught. In its purity, being is beyond good and evil, beyond moral dilemmas. And it’s not. We all want to escape to some ultimate goodness, some ultimate certainty, some ultimate peace. We hope, as Touzi ➢ page 81 PHOTOBYMARVINMOORE SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2015 57