Someone asked Zhaozhou, “What is the depth of the deep? Zhaozhou said, “How long has there been a deep?” “The deep has been here forever.” “Fortunately, you met me, you almost became someone who was deeped to death.”
Lately I have noticed myself gravitating to the koans of Zhaozhou, great koans like, “oak tree in the garden,”“the great way is not difficult,” “wash your bowls.” And of course the great, “Does a dog have buddha nature or not? No!” BTW,remember hat at another time when he was asked about the dog he answered, “Yes!” So great was Zhaozhou that it was said of him that he had “light emitting lips.” We all know what this means, of course, Zhaozhou speaks and barriers fall, with a single word from Zhaozhou, hearts open. And yet, Zhaozhou also said, “I do not dwell in clarity.” Light emitting lips. Pointing, opening, intimate.
Zhaozhou is with us -- in the koans, in the stranger, in the Redwood, in the car that would not start this morning. I like the last line of the koan above. “Fortunately, you met me….” Where do you meet Zhaozhou?
There is something vastly mysterious about being alive. Big questions arise as you brush your teeth, catch the Uber, fall in love, meet your children for the first time knowing that they too will wonder why, search for meaning, entertain the possibilities. Big questions arise as you meet the day, as pain and the discomfort of your suffering emerges. There must be a reason, deep down there must be a reason! So, we search our memories for clues, begin to investigate the stories of our lives -- this happened here, therefore this is the way it is. Our lives acquire a timeline and a trajectory. We explore the depths. How long has there been a deep? Forever. And we are forever plunging, fathomless depths, the endless stories, the deeper explanations for me, for you, for us. And it just might be possible to be “deeped to death,” searching for life in the past, delving into reasons why and opportunities lost. Down, down, down to the realm where distinctions define, sorrows multiply, soon so deep that we are crushed by the weight. “Deeped to Death,” or so says Zhaozhou.
And yet, we do have these stories. And we love to tell them. We tell personal stories, we revel in the stories of myth, the stories of the dreamtime. Recently, I made a new friend. It is really a wonderful thing to meet someone new - life opens, vistas are revealed, in no small part because of the stories we share. Mary Oliver wrote in perhaps her most renowned poem, Wild Geese,
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.
Our stories reveal and yet, and yet...the sun, the clear pebbles of rain, the mountains and rivers. The world goes on. My story and yours, my life and yours are just this eternal flow. And finally we meet within the fullness of things, the stories a way station on the path towards encounter.
Enlightenment is another word for intimacy. As we embrace the whole of life (yes, even the nasty bits) we meet ourselves in the stars and the trees, falling peach blossoms and the fragrant grasses. We encounter each other, we might say “in the depths” but for me it feels better just to say, “I meet you right here in the seamlessness of things.” In the give and take of Zen dialogue, he with the “light emitting lips” says to his interlocutor, “Fortunately, you met me…”
Oliver says it like this:
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
The world calls us to the mirror, the geese call, honk, honk; we meet a friend; perhaps someone is upset with us. This call is endless as it slowly dawns, in the intimacy of right now, or right here, I belong.
The great Zhaozhou says, “Fortunately, you met me….”