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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
buddhadharma| 25 |spring 2008 heart/mind, but everywhere. Everything you see is buddhanature; everything shines with that light. Everything you see is you—and this at a time when what you saw included blighted fields, refugees starving by the roadside, deserted towns, parents mourning their children killed in the wars. There’s something moving about the large and generous spirit of these two men who responded to the devastation around them by saying, This is all me. This is all you. They showed that the way to come to terms with life’s pains is not by turn- ing away from them but by moving deeper into life and encouraging as many others as possible to join you. They embraced the great matter of their time: What do we do now, we one in three who survive? Before Ma and Shitou, formal Chan teaching had consisted largely of lectures given to groups of students. The heart of Shitou’s and particularly Ma’s teaching was something new: an intimate meeting of two people, either alone or in front of a group. Awakening, they saw, happens in rela- tionship. We meditate together and talk together, we hear birds calling and cars laboring up a hill. We tend a feverish child and recite the words of the ancestors. As Ma and Shitou did with each other, we find a deep communion with someone we’ve never met. We spend a lot of time in the company of our thoughts and feelings, and sometimes we are a companion to silence. Even a hermit sits in a web of connections with things visible and invisible. Our meditation is made not just of the vastness and the deep engine of concentration; it is also made of these relationships. And then one day, for no apparent reason, something in particular comes to fetch us: the cook coughs or the morning star rises, and we fall open. A particular intimate meet- ing with a particular other opens us to an intimate relationship with life itself. Practice is about making us fetchable. It helps us to recognize what gets in the way of our being fetched, and then it gives us a method to decon- struct the obstacle. Most people find this difficult to do on their own, and for Ma and Shitou, that’s where the power of intimate meetings comes in. The earliest koans are records of Ma’s encounters with his students—encounters that could be mild, probing, or literally upending, but are never about winning an argument or making someone feel stu- pid. Over and over again—tirelessly, relentlessly— they are an invitation to freedom. In a time of crisis, talking about freedom or even modeling a free life wasn’t enough; these intimate meetings allowed people to experience freedom for themselves. When Shitou was helping his questioners recog- nize and dismantle what stood between them and freedom, he tended to ring variations on Are you sure about that? His method was to take nothing for granted and to question everything, especially someone’s most cherished beliefs. “What about liberation?” asked a monk. “Who binds you?” countered Shitou. “What about the Pure Land?” “Who corrupts you?” “What about nirvana?” “Who keeps you in the cycle of birth and death?” Ma, on the other hand, startled people out of their habitual thoughts and into another terri- tory entirely, where the thoughts just didn’t exist anymore—the method of a high-risk demoli- tions expert compared to Shitou’s plank-by-plank approach. Once, when a questioner named Shuiliao asked Ma the meaning of Chan, Ma kicked him in the chest, knocking him down. This awakened Shuiliao, and he stood up grinning and clapping. Later he said, “Since the day Ma kicked me, I haven’t stopped laughing.” Neither Ma nor Shitou allowed his questioners to remain for a moment in the position of someone who doesn’t get it. But they weren’t interested in replacing that position with a better one: I didn’t used to get it, but now I do. Their project was more radical: What’s it like to have no position at all? Shitou would challenge his questioner’s self- doubt, which is often the unacknowledged basis of a position. Someone asked Shitou, “What am I supposed to do?” “Why are you asking me?” “Where else can I find what I’m looking for?” “Are you sure you lost it?” Shitou’s responses aren’t dismissals; he really means what he’s asking. Why do you assume that you need to ask me, and what’s it like when you do? What is your deepest longing, and what if you realized that you already have what you long for? In a similar way, Ma would challenge the assumption that if you don’t understand some- thing, that’s a problem to be fixed. Someone once told Ma that he didn’t understand one of Ma’s famous sayings, that mind is Buddha. Ma replied, “The mind that doesn’t understand is exactly it. There’s nothing else.” When we think there’s something wrong with not getting it, when the mind makes up commen- taries about what it means not to get it—well, that’s To engage and entangle ourselves with whomever and whatever we meet, to care about them, to throw our lot in with them—that is the Way. ➤ continued page 80 CourteSyoftHeArtiStAndHouldSwortH,london