Yunmen said, “In the center of the cosmos, inside heaven and earth, there is one treasure, hidden in the body. It picks up a lantern and goes into the meditation hall. It brings the great three arched entrance gate and puts it on top of the lantern.
”But we have this treasure in clay jars..;.
-2 Corinthians 4:7
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
-a parable of Jesus, Matthew 13:44
“One treasure, hidden in the body…,” what a strange koan! This very treasure, or is it the body, picks up a lantern and walks down to the meditation hall -- walks into the church, takes its daily walk, takes out the garbage, And then, it takes the giant entrance gate, the whole house, the barn, and puts it on top of the lantern. Strange, and the more I sit with it, wonderful!
When I read Yunmen’s words, I can’t help but to recall Paul in 2 Corinthians. He talks about a treasure too. This treasure we carry in a clay jar, our bodies as they are -- able bodied, young, old, sick, feverish, disabled, in all sizes. Jesus, teaching a parable, finds this same treasure in a field. And we aren’t even speaking of pirates, their treasure, Davy Jones’ locker, Cap’n Hook and the rest. Treasure…
With treasure I sense a trustworthy-ness in Yunmen and Paul. They point me to my body, the field
within which I experience my life. My body is the boundary line between me and everything else. The body senses, and moves through the world. I use my body to communicate -- speaking, moving. My body has a language. You can look at me and sense what’s going on. Arms and legs open communicate one thing, crossed they communicate something else. And I carry memories about my body, I carry stories about this old mule that gets me around.
Last January, I turned 60. I find that I carry a story with me about my age -- which is, of course, a story about how long my body has been here, and what is happening to it. This story has to do with aches and pains, with my eyesight and dental health, my abilities. One story that I carry is that when I was 17 I could swim 100 yards butterfly in 55 seconds and now I would be surprised if I could swim 50 yards butterfly. So, I remember these stories, they become part of my story.
One thing I find interesting, though, is that the body has memory that lies beneath the story -- the body as it is “in the flow” of things.
The other day someone asked me to teach them the Butterfly swim stroke. What I found is that I
couldn’t explain the stroke without first swimming it. My body, apart from my conscious mind, apart from the story, remembered how to swim butterfly. The stroke without the explanation felt intimate -- the water on my skin, the movement of the arms, the legs, their coordination. All a piece. In the flow. There is a treasure inside the body, apart from “how-to,” apart from any explanation or story.
A koan, or a parable, a good poem, introduces me to a life with fewer stories, to a place where I can feel the coolness of water on skin, where I live closer to who/what I am. So, Yunmen, Paul and Jesus point me to this treasure. They say, “in the body,” “in clay jars,” “in the field.” I find now this treasure is not only “inside” my body, but I am in the vast “body” of this world, my experience; the boundaries become permeable as life opens up, Words like inside and outside begin to make little sense. The water against my skin becomes simple, cool wetness; arms and legs move as muscles tire. It is just so.
“It picks up the lantern and goes to the meditation hall.” Indeed. Last night, it cleaned the cat box.
With koans I have found that language opens the gate into the vastness, into life without the personal structure of belief or story. . The body, too, is involved. In the traditional study of Yunmen’s koan, there are physical acts that one can take in response. These responses,living and moving are intimate, as is all of life.
I wonder, how might you “bring the great three arched entrance gate and put it on top of the lantern?”