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Buddhadharma : Fall 2014
30 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2 0 1 4 We practice commitment to the Way by helping and attending to others, and by doing the hard yards of coming to really know our- selves. Implicit in the conduct aspect of ser- vice is a commitment to practice as a means to awaken to our true nature. Fortuitously—for awakening has its own time and season—it is to the season of awakening that Dongshan next turns. Merit A withered tree blossoms in timeless spring. You ride a jade elephant backward, chasing the unicorn. Now, as you dwell hidden high among the thousand distant peaks— a white moon, a cool breeze, an auspicious day. At Merit, awakening appears as an outcome or reward for our cleaving to the Way and serv- ing it wholeheartedly. Elsewhere, Dongshan conveys this reward as ease after effort: lay- ing down the hoe or resting among the white clouds. However, in the much looser weave of reality at large, we awaken as awakening determines and in our own unique ways. The path is crooked, and we walk it at night under our own stars. Dongshan’s verse expresses awakening, which is as fresh as this moment, yet ancient and elemental. This experience is an important step on the path to maturity, and with it comes a measure of freedom from constricting atti- tudes and stories. In time, we develop a sense that the lights are dimming on our self-preoc- cupation, and the teeming world feels less like a painted backdrop to our fantasies of power and control. A withered tree blossoms in timeless spring. The image of the withered tree is a Chan image for emptiness. It also extends the imagery of falling flowers used in the previous verse for the stage of Service. There, with the dying off of our delusions, we responded to the voice of our essential nature inviting us to realize, and then more deeply. By the stage of Merit, we’ve jour- neyed so far that there is no turning back, and we’ve lost track of what brought us here in the first place. Perhaps we wanted peerless enlighten- ment, but that urge has receded, and we find that we are becalmed in a place where we can neither advance nor retreat. Our enterprise feels pointless, yet we perse- vere in that stuck place, not knowing what else to do. We experience humiliation and shame at our incapacity to resolve the koan. It is as if we have been given a “sky burial” and are being pecked clean by the vultures of our own doubt and negativity. We may have experiences of emptiness, but they don’t penetrate deeply and are not enough to release us. If after such experiences our hearts are not at rest, we should honor that, endure our disappointment, and not settle for less. Like this, we undergo a withering away of our hopes and expectations, and we are unknowingly open to the possibility of genuine experience. All the while we continue to build the vessel of the Way with our struggles and efforts to resolve the koan. The following exchange reflects this season of practice and points a way for us: A monk asked old master Yunmen Wenyan, “How is it when the tree withers and the leaves fall?” Yunmen replied, “Golden Wind is manifesting herself.” We might rephrase the monk’s question as “Even though I have meditated sincerely for years and seen off my cherished delusions, why can’t I awaken?” “Golden Wind” is the deity of autumn. Here she manifests herself as the monk’s bare state. The reply “Golden Wind is manifest- ing herself” points to the monk’s condition. There is no need for the monk to look elsewhere, for his condition is the Way unfolding at ease.