“Where does the path to awakening begin?”—“Right here.” In different versions of this koan, the master draws a line on the ground or in the air. Never mind that. It is obviously right where you are that you start. Just take a step forward. Ah, but how to take that step? If you put a foot over the line, you have lost your way before you started.
As Bellatrix says about the killing curse to Harry Potter,
You have to mean it.
And when Harry went to let Voldemort kill him, he had to mean that, too.
IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF ZAZEN
1. Necessity for a Desire for the Way.
Although there are many names given to that which seeks the Way they all refer to the one, and same, Mind. Nagyaarajyuna said, “The universality of change, the arising and disappearing, when completely understood, is the seeing into the heart of all things, and the Mind that thus understands is the Mind that truly seeks the Way.” As this is so, why is temporary dependence upon the ordinary mind of man called the Mind that seeks the Way? If one sees through the changeability of the universe, the ordinary, selfish mind is not in use; that which seeks for the sake of itself is nowhere to be found.
IOW, the mind that seeks the way is a good start, which is what we were looking for.
Now let’s take a look at the koan itself, in versions set down by Masters Mumon and Dogen.
Yuezhou’s “Path to Nirvana”
Yuezhou Qianfeng was once asked by a monastic
Bhagavans in the ten directions have one path to the gate of Nirvana. I wonder what is that path.
Yuezhou drew a line with his staff and said
It’s right here.
The True Dharma Eye, Zen Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans, with commentary by John Daido Lori.
Mumonkan, Case 48: “Kempo’s One Road”
A monk once asked Master Kempo [Quanfeng], “A sutra says, ‘The Bhagavats in the Ten Directions, one straight road to Nirvana.’ I wonder, where is that road?” Kempo lifted up his stick, drew a line in the air, and said, “Here!”
Later a monk asked Ummon about this. Ummon held up his fan and said, “This fan jumps up to Heaven and hits the nose of the King of the gods. The carp of the Eastern Sea makes one leap and it rains cats and dogs.”
One goes to the bottom of the deep sea and raises a cloud of sand and dust. The other goes to the top of a towering mountain and raises foaming waves that touch the sky. The one holds, the other lets go, and each, using only one hand, sustains the Dharma. It’s like two children who come running from opposite directions and crash into each other. In this world those who are truly awakened are difficult to find. But when seen with the true eye, neither of these two great teachers knows where the Nirvana road is.
Before taking a step you have already arrived. Before the tongue has moved, the teaching is finished. Though each move is ahead of the next, know there is still another way up.
The Leaping Carp
In Chinese legend, carp that are often seen swimming upstream and jumping rapids have morphed into a myth in which they jump up high waterfalls with a dragon gate at the top. This has been used as a metaphor for Zen kensho and for passing the insanely difficult Imperial examinations to become a high-ranking scholar-official. Paintings and statues of leaping carp, dragon gates, and carp becoming dragons (as above) are widely seen in Chinese culture.
The first step on the path to Nirvana is as hard for humans as leaping a high waterfall is for a carp. As we have discussed in previous koan diaries, you have to give up self, both body and mind. There must be no waterfall, no fish, no dragon.
My barn has burned down. Nothing hides the Moon.
As the Heart Sutra states, there is no Eightfold Path and nothing to attain. There is only
Going, going, going on beyond and always going on beyond.
I said that it is simple, not that it is easy.