Speak for Yourself!

The koan: A student said to Yunmen, "The light serenely illumines the whole universe..." before he had finished Yunmen interrrupted him, "Aren't those Zhangzhou's words? The student said, "Yes they are." Yunmen said, "You have misspoken." Later, the teacher Sixin took up the story and asked, "Tell me, where did the student slip up?

Back in seminary they taught us to use appropriate quotations in our sermons. You know the style. The preacher revs it up a bit, approaching her or his point and brings it all home with a quote, "It is as so and so said in his magnum opus." That never settled well with me. Sort of a gutless preaching style (not that I haven't done it!). I always wonder what it is that the preacher (even if, or perhps especially if the preacher is me) might have to say about what she has discovered in her life.. She has plenty to say about what this other thinks; I wonder what she thinks. That would be interesting and worthy of my ears. Jesus said it like this "Let your yes be yes, and your no be no." We might say it, "Speak for yourself."

So, the student in the koan believes in a truth outside of himself. He quotes the sayings of an old Master, "The light serenely illuminates the whole universe...." He should know better. Yunmen knows the lines. As teacher, Yunmen is only interested in the student waking up to the radiance that is his life, is life itself. Yunmen, ever the spiritual midwife is familiar with the radiance that continually renews itself in trees, in grass, in rivers and mountains -- in the one who speaks and in the one who listens. Yunmen is not interested in Zhangzhou's words; he is concerned with the student, and this radiance can speak for him/itself. There is a wisdom in speaking for yourself. As we speak for ourselves and our own experience in life, we come to know ourselves. As we move deeper into life we can be surprised to find the "radiance" at the heart of things. No one can do this for us. We are the ones who can move deep, we are the ones who shine. So Yunmen is encouraging the student to bring living words, luminous words to reflect the bright radiance of life. This radiance, this brightness continually renews itself


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    Photography David Parks Ramage and Christopher R. Kerr

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