Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Some Early Ancestors

October 10, 2014

What if Zen is a path without progress, where progress is just another illusion? …A path that’s complete and fulfilled before we even take a step. The journey of a lifetime begins with a single step, after all… but perhaps it also ends with that same single step.

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A quick look at Zen’s early ancestors in China can be a bit surprising….

… a homeless wanderer far from his homeland, with wounded eyes and a body so undernourished he could just about float across the Yangtse River, and no more sense in his mind than to do anything other than find a cave and live in it like a wild animal, neither sleeping nor talking to anyone…

… a one-armed vagrant who stood outside in a blizzard all night, and who ended up so hated by rival teachers of Buddhism that they plotted and schemed and had trumped up charges brought against him, as a result of which he was publicly executed…

… a leper who couldn’t find anyone who’d give him the time of day until he met the one-armed penniless vagabond, with whom there was apparently a meeting of minds, as a result of which he somehow was cured…

… a fourteen year-old boy too young to have any social status whatsoever…

… an illiterate youth from a disadvantaged ethnic minority who could only find work hauling firewood, and who, when he wanted to join a monastery, wasn’t even allowed to work in the kitchen, let alone getting near the actual monks, and instead got no further than the rice shed, where he pounded rice all day, and sometimes late into the night too, husking and milling it…

It seems you can’t serve two masters. And it turns out there is only one master anyway.

When we’re wishing our practice was in some way “better,” more “perfect,” or thinking we’re failures in either life or practice or both, we might spare a thought for these ancestors in our own Zen lineage, and ask ourselves just what kind of perfection we’re imagining is necessary in a meditation practice. And perhaps turn our concern around, and remember that all we have to do is start right where we are, as we are. It might even be that we not only start there but end up there too.

What if Zen is a path without progress, where progress is just another illusion? …A path that’s complete and fulfilled before we even take a step. The journey of a lifetime begins with a single step, after all… but perhaps it also ends with that same single step.

Surely that can’t be right?!

Ask the breath, the next inhalation and exhalation. Ask the bark of the dog, the steam wafting from the cup of tea, and the trembling ripple on the tea’s surface as you blow on it to cool it down. Maybe they know the answer.

Image: From Mountain Cloud Zen Center Image Catalog

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