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Buddhadharma : Fall 2014
FALL 2 0 1 4 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 13 BEFORE THE PILLOW DROPS We love dramatic stories of enlightenment, but as Chan teacher Guo Gu reminds us, those moments are the culmination of years of effort. There was a great Chan master, Gaofeng Yuanmiao (1238–1295), in the Yuan Dynasty who had a very solid practice prior to his awakening. He had always followed the pre- cepts and was mindful day and night. Practicing under Chan Master Xueyan Zuqin, Gaofeng realized an initial enlighten- ment at age twenty-five; though his insight was not thorough, he was able to respond to questions like lightning. One day Xueyan poked at him, “Are you able to be your own master?” Gaofeng replied confidently, “Yes.” Xueyan said, “Oh, your own master, huh? How about in sleep? Are you able to be the master when you sleep?” Gaofeng said, “Yes!” The master laughed: “Wonderful! But what about when in sleep- ing there is no dream, no perception—when the master is absent, where does he establish himself?” For the next five years, Gaofeng did noth- ing but probe this question. One night, his roommate’s pillow dropped to the ground. Pillows in premodern Chan monasteries were hard, made of bound bamboo sticks. The pil- low made a crisp sound when it hit the floor. “Kaa!” When Gaofeng heard it, he became completely enlightened. You can try throwing your pillow down and see if that will help you reach enlighten- ment. It won’t work. You have to go through decades of practice. Gaofeng’s example is worth emulating. As a practitioner, his actions were impeccable. He observed the precepts perfectly, understood the doctrines, and fol- lowed his teacher’s advice without error. Nowadays people just want to take short- cuts. They are unwilling to observe precepts, thinking that’s for ordinary people or is an attachment. Yet, if we cannot even be the master of our actions during the day, how are we going to be our own master at night? If our actions aren’t pure, how can we actualize the purity of our mind? I suggest that you all take up Gaofeng Yuanmiao as an exemplar— be a master of yourself first during the day. Then perhaps even at night your mind will be clear, free from delusion. FROM CHAN MAGAZINE, SPRING 2014 PARTING WORDS Myogen Steve Stücky, former abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, left this death poem just days before his passing on New Year’s Eve 2013. This human body truly is the entire cosmos Each breath of mine is equally one of yours, my darling This tender abiding in “my” life Is the fierce glowing fire of inner earth Linking with all pre-phenomena Flashing to the distant horizon From “right here now” to “just this” Now the horizon itself Drops away— Bodhi! Svaha.