Joshu and the Great Death

Today’s teisho will be on Case 41 in the Blue Rock Collection, the Hekiganroku. Case 41 is entitled, “Joshu and the Great Death.”


When right and wrong are intermingled, even the holy ones cannot distinguish between them. When positive and negative are interwoven, even the Buddha fails to discern one from the other. The most distinguished man of transcendent experience cannot avoid showing his ability as a great master. He walks the ridge of an iceberg. He treads the edge of a sword. He is like the kirin’s horn, like the lotus flower in the fire. Meeting a person of transcendent experience, he identifies with him as his equal. Who is he? See the following.


Joshu asked to Tosu, “What if a man of the Great Death comes back to life again?” Tosu said, “You should not go by night; wait for the light of day to come.”


Open-eyed, he was all the more as if dead;
What use to test the master with something taboo?
Even the Buddha said he had not reached there;
Who knows when to throw ashes in another’s eyes?

Three bells

Thank you very much for coming to practice on this very cold winter’s day. You woke up early and you came to practice Zen. If this is your first time here, you may have heard the reading of the teisho with some degree of bewilderment. It seems to make so little sense. In fact it’s possible that not a single word could be understood. If you’re interested in reading the koans that are the subject for these talks, which are called teishos, I recommend the translation by Katsuki Sekida. It’s entitled, Two Zen Classics, and if you’re a serious Zen student, you should probably own this book. If you own it, you can go home after every teisho and read the koan for yourself. But even if you read the words right from the page, in this case they probably won’t make much sense. The language of the koans is very elusive—difficult to understand. It might remind you of poetry. And it works on the mind much as poetry does. The koan is supposed to resonate on a deeper level than the ordinary, everyday level of communication. For this reason, the point of koans is not interpretation. The point, you might say, is transaformation.

When I was in elementary school, our teacher sometimes read to us from Aesop’s Fables, stories from ancient Greece. We learned how to “interpret” the fables—how to extract a message from them. One of the fables was “The Fox and the Grapes,” and it involved a fox who became obsessed with eating grapes that were too high for him to reach. Finally he walked away saying to himself, “Who cares? They were probably sour anyway.” Even little children can extract a simple message: “Be content with what you have” or “Don’t aspire beyond your abilities.” People often read the Bible in this same way. Jesus, for example, spoke in parables, which are a close cousin to fables. When Jesus wanted to make a moral point he would tell a simple story with examples from everyday life. He sometimes spoke, for instance, of a farmer sowing wheat. Some of the grains the farmer cast abroad landed on rock while some landed in good soil where they took root. For thousands of years, readers of these parables grasped that they should strive to be like the good wheat that landed on rich soil and sprouted. They understood that they should be trusting and receptive, while the hard-hearted skeptics will eventually shrivel up and die.

But koans are not supposed to work this way, like a fable or a parable. You don’t have to try to interpret a koan. In fact, you don’t even have to understand them. As in real life, what we call “understanding” is ultimately beside the point. Instead, you have to trust the part of your mind that doesn’t think discursively in language, the part of your mind that processes information on a deeper level. And indeed, if you do Zen practice for a while, you will begin to activate more fully that part of the mind which isn’t conscious. You learn how to activate your unconscious, deeper mind, and to be receptive and intelligent in a spontaneous, unreflecting way.

Of course I recognize the importance of the intelligence that employs the discriminating mind. I don’t know if you were following the news the other day, but children in Asia took some standardized tests that are used widely in the West as well, especially a battery of tests in math. The Chinese students scored so high on the tests that the whole world community was astonished. By contrast, students in the United States performed rather poorly, coming in somewhere on the middle of the list, after countries smaller and poorer than ours. Right now, all over the United States, educators are waking up in the middle of the night terrified that high schoolers in Shanghai will dominate the world a few decades from now, while the next generation of Americans will be poor and powerless. This sort of intellectual arms war will probably go on forever, and I suppose there’s not much we can do about it. Perhaps students in America will start to study math with greater diligence, but that seems unlikely.

There is, though, another kind of intelligence which doesn’t depend on calculation. Like ability in math, it also requires cultivation, but this intelligence does its processing on a deeper level, an unconscious level. This is the sort of intelligence we use when we’re struggling with personal problems. Maybe there’s a person in your family who has become ill and you have to care for him. The provision of care is very time-consuming and difficult. I myself have spent the last two and a half years helping to take care of my father-in-law, who has been living with us. He died just recently after many years of debilitating illness.

Caring for someone who is sick and in chronic pain, someone facing death, is quite an education. It’s not the sort of education you get in school, but it’s a very profound sort of learning because you come face to face with what the Buddha encountered at the very beginning of his search for enlightenment: sickness, old age and death. I suppose we all imagine we will never die. Generally we just don’t, or just can’t, let ourselves to deal with the inevitability of our death. But when you’re caring for somebody that you knew twenty or thirty years ago to be energetic, lively, creative, sexy, and so on, that’s assuredly an education.

My father in law was a design engineer, a very lively, very creative man. He made his own furniture. He designed his own house. He was handsome and charming, and a bit of a seducer. Quite a bit, I should say. Regrettably, he was not an honest husband., and he cheated on his wife many times. Especially if you happened to be his wife, there were reasons to be furious at him, but he had an unpretentious, charming personality, and I liked him in spite of his defects. When I was a young man, I looked up to him as the very essence of “cool”—artistic, unconventional, unflappable--secure and creative at the same time. And now, many years later, my wife and I have been caring for this man as he reached the end of his very fortunate life. Providing such care can be moving and also, in its way, unsettling. Intellectually we all know that we’re going to die but on a deeper level we don’t allow ourselves to imagine that our lives will ever end. And caring for somebody who’s really dying, really suffering and really sick, brings you face to face with the repressed fact of your own mortality. You realize, “I, too, will soon be where he is now, sick, in pain, and close to death” As I say, we all know this intellectually but when you encounter it directly, it can have a great deal of force and resonance. You wake up in the middle of the night and think, “Why can’t I sleep?” And then you know: “My life, too, has a limit. My end, too, is approaching”

The part of ourselves that wakes up in the night is not the same as the part that gets good grades in math. The problem of dying is not the same as a quadratic equation, and the “solution,” if you want to call it that, requires a different kind of intelligence. Sickness, old age and death are problems that simply can’t be solved by the discriminating intellect. We all know the average life expectancy in the United States is 78 years. Intellectually, there isn’t a problem, but there is a problem for a deeper part of ourselves. And there’s nothing anybody can say—no philosophy or religious teaching--that will put our minds to rest. When your loved one dies, a friend might say you, “Well, he was ninety years old. He had a nice life,” or “He will be remembered.” Or, “Now he’s up in heaven,” but these are just bromides—little stories we tell to turn off our minds when they are troubled by what’s stirring just beneath the surface of our consciousness

Maybe it comforts us to think that the dead are living in the Heaven of Amitabha, or in the Kingdom of Christ. But we still might wake up in the middle of the night, troubled by the loss of a person we loved, a person who was lively and bright, intelligent and creative, who then became too sick to sit up, was coughing blood, shitting in the bed, and so on.

The discriminating mind understands—it understands the prognosis. But we still might wake up in a sweat at night, thinking, “I am troubled in my heart.” You can’t solve this problem with your intellect. The problem requires a change in yourself, a change—an opening--at a deeper level. You might remain troubled for a very long time, not on the surface but underneath. And then something might happen to you, some experience that might seem to have nothing to do with taking care of an old man who’s dying. All of a sudden you could turn around or open up; you could feel very good, very alive, receptive to everything around you. You might ask yourself, “Why do I feel better now? How did this happen?” Sometimes we suffer a lot: we’re suffering, suffering, suffering, and then something inside of us opens up and our suffering disappears and we feel more deeply connected to life. This can happen by accident, in a natural way. “Time heals,” we say, and that’s often true. But on occasion we get stuck. Something painful happens and we can’t get free of it. It’s like standing at a door that we can’t open up, a door in dream where you can’t use your hands to turn the knob that’s right in front of you.

One way to understand Zen practice is to see it as an art of transformation operating at a deeper level.of the mind. What we’re really doing on the cushion is working through obstacles like the one that I have been describing—events that leave unconscious traces, sometimes altogether out of view. And the nature of these obstacles is precisely that they may not be susceptible to our conscious inspection. These obstacles may not even be accessible to the mind that observes in stillness—the mind of vipassana. This insight—that many of our obstacles exist below the threshold of consciousness—was a key discovery that launched the Mahayana about fourteen hundred years ago. Two great monks in particular--the brothers Asanga and Vasubandu—discovered that the deepest part of the mind is inaccessible to direct inspection. Their word for the dark core of the mind was the alaya jinana, “storehouse consciousness.”

When Western people think about the unconscious mind, they ordinarily think of Freud, who saw the unconscious as dangerous, a storehouse filled with angry ghosts, hungry ghosts, moaning ghosts—demons--that had to be exorcized by reason. Asanga and Vasubandu would have agreed with Freud to a degree. They knew that menacing forces often lurked in those depths, but they also believed that the mind at its core was fundamentally liberating, fundamentally enlightened and compassionate. And their thinking carried over into a work whose importance to Zen we cannot underestimate: The Awakening of Faith, attributed to Ashvaghosa. Instead of representing enlightenment as difficult to achieve and remote, the author of The Awakening said that Buddha Nature is always already there—in the very fabric of our consciousness, and at the very core of the mind:

From the beginning, Tathata [Buddha Mind or “Suchness”] is fully provided with all excellent qualities; namely, it is endowed with the light of great wisdom, illuminating the entire universe, of true cognition and mind pure in its self-nature; of eternity, bliss, Self and purity; of resfreshing coolness, immutability, and freedom. It is endowed with these excellent qualities, which outnumber the sands of the Ganges.

Zen meditation is all about learning how to get in touch with the consciousness in us that is already enlightened. This is the reason the koans refuse to speak in the language of discriminating intellect, preferring instead a language like poetry, a twilight language halfway between the realm of dream and the realm of waking life. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen to you but sometimes, but when people awaken from a deep sleep, they can remember a dream well enough to realize that it doesn’t make ordinary sense. “What a crazy dream,” you might say to yourself. Later, when you try to remember the dream, you might actually reconstruct it—turning it into a coherent narrative, a story in a familiar form. But sometimes, if you’re still very close to your dreams, you realize that they don’t fit any form. Things happen strangely and sometimes they can be very moving, or even terrifying. If there is a language of dreams, it’s quite different from the ordinary language of, say, a cookbook. A cookbook is composed in the language of ordinary intellect. Add three eggs. Whip the eggs. Add a cup of sugar. Add three tablespoons of butter. That’s the discriminating mind. There’s another language which is right on the edge of the unconscious and it’s the language of poetry—and the language of the koan. So when we’re meditating, we’re learning how to use the deeper intelligence that we have in order to open doors in ourselves when we have become blocked.

Even the Lord Buddha became blocked in this way. According to legend, his father was a king —probably of a tribal chieftan or clan leader. As son of a powerful man, Siddhartha Gautama could anticipate the brightest of bright futures. And then, as you know, he came face to face with sickness, old age and death. This experience was like a door that slammed in his face, locking him into fear and uncertainty. You could say he lost all his trust in life, and there was nothing people could say to him could restore that trust and put his mind at ease. Someone might have told him reassuringly, “Well, of course there’s sickness. Everybody get sick. People get old. They die. This is nature’s way.” Needless to say, Siddhartha already knew everything such people had to him. He already knew that people got sick, grew, old and died. But why did it bother him so much after he encountered the reality for himself?

Intellectually his discovery was obvious, and yet for reasons he himself might not have understood, he could find no peace. So he left his father’s home, and his wife and infant son as well, to join the forest dwelling rishis in the hills. With them, he practiced meditation day and night. Needless to say, we are doing what the Buddha did—waiting for our problems to resolve as the Big Mind does its work.

Joshu asked Tosu, “What if a man of the Great Death comes back to life again? Tosu said, “You should not go by night; wait for the light of day to come.”

I don’t want to spoil the koan by explaining it intellectually. But perhaps I can say a few things that will help you to use it as a tool when you might face the obstacle for which it was designed. If you do koan meditation, you will find that it can be tremendously helpful, tremendously healing and liberating. Many people come to meditation because they have experienced events that have produced distress and suffering. And often they don’t even know the origin of the unhappiness they feel. Actually, this is rather typical. People feel unhappy or tense all the time, but the source can be mysterious. I must say I had a lot of problems before I started sitting, problems like chronic anxiety, which made it difficult for me to do things that seemed to be easier for other people I knew. I suppose I was also somewhat depressed. When I went to the Seattle Zen Center and began to practice meditation, it helped me to feel better from the very start. Just as I didn’t know why I felt depressed, I didn’t know why meditation helped me to feel better, but it definitely lifted my spirits and drained away my fear.

When I came into the Zen Center, people showed me how to sit properly on the cushion, how to straighten my back and breath from the dantien. I don’t know why I kept sitting because physically it was quite challenging for me. At the end of twenty minutes I would be sweating with the strain of trying to maintain the proper posture. Yet even though this was so challenging for me, I felt better. When I would come home from meditation, I would be more relaxed, more open, happier, less fearful. I probably never thought consciously, “I’m more relaxed. I’m less fearful.” But I was. And even though meditation was never easy, at least not for a long time, I kept going back to sit like a bee circling a flower.

One day I had the most remarkable experience. I was watching my breath—watching, watching, watching—while I was thinking, “This is so stupid. Why doesn’t the teacher give me something to do besides watching my breath?” Then, all of a sudden, it was as though the universe disappeared. It was just black, black. When that happened, I didn’t say to myself, “Oh my god, what an amazing experience!!” Instead I thought, “That’s odd,” and I went back to watching the breath. But later, it happened again.

The first time this happened to me, it was literally like falling down the shaft of a bottomless well. Later, I began to return to this place with greater regularity. In Zen our word for this place is “mu.” In Sanskrit the word is “shunyata,” emptiness or zero-ness. For a while, whenever I would enter shunyata, nothing much would happen. I was just absolutely blank and had no affective response at all. But eventually I began to feel very, very good, very alive when I got off the cushion. I realize now that this shunyata, this emptiness, which sounds like such a frightening thing, was deeply healing, deeply liberating. When I would sit down on the cushion, I might be very stressed at first. My own personality, my own upbringing, had made me a very stressful person. I had very little trust in life and so I was always expecting things to blow up in my face. But when I meditated, I would get off the cushion and my stress level would be much lower and I felt strangely safe, strangely connected to the world around me.

If you’re always nervous and you’re always fearful, you tend to feel disconnected. Being withdrawn or disconnected had become my default position in life. But when I would enter deep samadhi, deep mushin, my stress would abate and then I felt very much at home in the world.

Some of you may have had this feeling yourselves. Last night, one of the newer people in our group approached me after the meditation and said, “What is the tea you served tonight? This tea is so delicious. It’s more delicious than any tea I have ever had in my life.” In reply I said, “It’s very good tea. Yvette brought it back with from Taiwan. But that’s not why the tea tastes so delicious. It’s delicious because you’ve just come out of shunyata, out of deep emptiness. And when you come out of shunyata, reentering the world of form once again, you can feel, at least for a while, that you’ve gone to heaven.

It’s possible to think about Buddhism in the wrong way. If you are interested in comparative religion, you might read about a religion like Christianity that teaches the saved will go to heaven when they die. Then you might read Hindu mysticism, which says religion is all about bliss and transcending earthly life. Then, when you read about the Buddha Dharma, the first thing you will come across is the reality of suffering—sickness, old age, and death. You might say, “How depressing! How bleak! That is quite a downer.” You might turn away from the Dharma then and there, but if you don’t and you keep reading, you will come across “emptiness.” “Oh my god,” you might say to yourself, “first we started out with suffering, with sickness, old age and death. And now we go on to emptiness. That sounds very morbid, very unappealing.” But please don’t misunderstand. It’s easy to think about Buddhism as a cult of emptiness that teaches people to be totally detached. And indeed, in Buddhist practice, the experience of emptiness plays an absolutely central role. Yet there is more to it than that.

If you’re watching your breath, if you’re doing pranayama, you are practicing the form of meditation that the Lord Buddha taught. Sooner or later your sense of the self—the “I “ who is separate from everything else—that sense of self is going to disappear. You won’t even be thinking, “I am watching the breath.” The boundary between yourself and the world is going to disappear, and you’re going to feel connected with everything, starting with a connection to your breath. What sounds terrible at first—selflessness and emptiness--is wonderful experientially.

Buddhism starts with sickness, old age and death and then it goes to nothingness. But actually if you encounter nothingness, it’s very, very energizing. Mu-shin--we call it “emptiness mind”-- is like plugging yourself into a socket and charging up your batteries.

When I was a kid, I loved comic books, and my favorite comic hero was the Green Lantern. I’m told that a Green Lantern movie is in production, and I hope that it won’t be too dreadful. But for me Green Lantern held a special fascination. The hero, Hal Jordan, had a lantern that was actually a super-powerful battery from a distant planet, bequeathed to him by a dying alien who belonged to the Green Lantern corps. Before he died the alien managed to pass on the lantern and a “power ring” that Hal Jordan would press against the lantern’s glass in order to recharge it periodically. Once the ring was fully charged, the energy allowed him to fly all over the universe, fighting the enemies of goodness.

When you go into shunyata, it’s like Hal Jordan charging up his power ring. You sit down on the cushion and you enter emptiness, and then, instead of feeling blank deadness, you are eventually going to feel a pulsing energy, maybe not at first but eventually. Sometimes when I sit down on the cushion, I feel this energy very strongly, like a little bomb going off. I believe that this pulsing energy is always there, but we’re usually too fearful and nervous to notice it. When we’re meditating on emptiness, we’re stripping away all the layers of karma, all these obstacles that have left the traces, conscious and unconscious. It may take some time but if you keep practicing, you will start to feel very, very good when you’re in shunyata. Zen practice, you might say, is a matter of moving from the world of form into emptiness, and then moving back from emptiness into the world of form.

When we’re born, we’re really rather formless. We really don’t have much of a personality and we still have to learn how to be a self. Becoming a self actually requires the creation of obstacles. The “self,” one might say, is a series of closed doors, and in order to have a self at all, you have to close at least a few. One door gets closed, and then another, and then another and then finally you’re Kurt or Bob or Susan. The self is a collection of moments in which we have become separated from the world but then were unable to overcome that split. And so naturally the self is the occasion for distress and suffering. But when we go into the world of formlessness or shunyata, we can often open the doors inside of ourselves once again. It takes a lot of work but we begin to open one door after another. And then, perhaps strangely, when the doors open and we are less of a self, we feel better, more alive, and so on.

When you step back and look at human life, it’s all about closing doors and reopening them. That’s the adventure of personhood—a wonderful gift from the universe, which is formless and empty intrinsically but can become a person. You might think about the universe as a flow or a pulsing energy, and when that energy gets blocked, the result is a person. At first this sounds like a great tragedy but blocking and unblocking is what life is all about. When you’re blocked, you feel the stress and you suffer, but you can find ways to open yourself up again and return to the flow. This is like the human adventure, right? Separated and then reunited, separated and reunited, separated and reunited. In the process of oscillating from separation to return, we do all kinds of interesting things. We paint pictures. We write poetry. We fall in love. We raise a family. We discover a new life form in rocks under the sea. We learn how to do fun things with isotopes. It’s the adventure of being human. And one of the things that makes the adventure of being human so sweet is that we don’t have to be blocked forever. We can open the door.

In Zen we talk about “Buddha nature” and “True Nature.” These two terms get thrown around and we don’t always pay close attention. In fact, the two are not exactly the same. Buddha nature is the fundamental energy of what we call emptiness. It’ formless and ever-present and it will always be the same. Formless energy, emptiness--that’s Buddha Nature. But there’s also our “True Nature,” which each of us has to find uniquely for ourselves. Buddha Nature is undifferentiated, universal, always present, always the same. But True Nature is individual. And the most interesting aspect of all this business is that when we are true to our True Nature, true to the unfolding of our individual lives, it’s also becomes easier to be one with Buddha Nature.

I don’t know if this is making any sense. Perhaps your parents wanted you to become a professor. You get your Ph.D. and tenures follows, but then one day you realize, “I’m unhappy! I feel dead inside.” So you sit on the cushion, going into deep mushin, until—and it might take many sits--you are finally ready admit to yourself, “I don’t want to be a professor anymore.” After so much meditation it might occur to you that what you really want to do is paint. And that’s terrifying because all your life you’ve been told you should be a professor, but now you understand what you really want to do deep down in your heart, but there’s no guarantee of success.

Zen teaches that you should go into deep mushin until you know what you want to do, until you know what will make you feel most alive, free, fearless, and compassionate. And—interestingly-- if you are true to whatever makes you feel most alive, free, fearless, and compassionate, that’s when you feel most connected to the universe. It’s fascinating to me that when you allow your deep unconscious to speak, it speaks in the voice of the universe.

A friend of mine is a philosopher, and regrettably, I can only understand one out of every ten words that he writes. But he loves what he does. He’s totally happy constructing arguments which I can barely understand. When he’s engaged in that sort of thing, he feels connected to the “starry dynamo,” the universe. That’s when he’s in the groove—when he’s Green Lantern. He’s exactly where he should be. The inside and the outside, the unconscious and the conscious, the personal and the macrocosmic, all of these converge for him.

True Nature and Buddha Nature are different, but they can go hand in hand, like matching halves of a coin that’s broken in two and now can be put back together. Life can be quite wonderful when you can connect the big and the small, the personal and the universal, the formless and the world of form. The ultimate goal of Zen practice is this kind of unity--a “unified mind in accord with the Way,” according to Seng T’san in the Hsin Hsin Ming. “All self centered striving ceases/Doubts and irresolutions vanish.”

Normally we’re doubtful and irresolute. We worry. We second-guess ourselves. We don’t trust. And this can be the condition in which we live our lives forever and ever. You get up every day and think, “I don’t know if I am where I want to be. Should I feel that way? Do I have a right to feel that way? Maybe I don’t.” This is the ordinary human condition: doubting the self and doubting the world. But if you practice Zen, if you spend a lot of time in emptiness, you can gradually open the doors, and when they open, some of the doubt goes away. You gradually feel greater confidence. You trust the part of yourself that normally you don’t trust, and you learn to trust the world.

When we do our meditation retreats we practice for nine or ten hours a day, for five or seven days. People work on koans like the one I’m discussing today, and as they do they encounter obstacles in themselves. Working through an obstacle might take five days. It might take a year of sesshins. But sooner or later a door will open, and greater trust will follow. Sometimes—in fact, quite typically--it’s hard for us to trust ourselves and to trust the world. But if you stay in that emptiness long enough, your True Self will speak and you’ll be able to hear its voice and then act from that place. When that happens, the matching halves are rejoined. That’s the perfect life—absolutely wonderful.

Joshu said to Tosu, “What if a man of the Great Death comes back to life again?

When you are in deep mushin, deep shunyata, everything disappears. In the koan Joshu asks Tosu, “After you enter mu-shin, what happens then?” It’s a very straightforward question about what happens on the cushion, although Joshu phrases it poetically, and not in the language of discriminating mind. Joshu says, “What if a man of the Great Death comes back to life again?”

In reply Tosu could have said, “When that happens, the tea we drink becomes so delicious.” Or he could have said, “When that happens, I feel like dancing.”

So far, no one has gotten up and danced, but that would be perfectly acceptable. One of these days, after zazen, somebody’s going to get up and just dance across the room. It could happen, right? If you don’t feel like doing it now, don’t do it. But if the time comes when you exit mu-shin and you suddenly feel like dancing, see, you should trust yourself. What do you think Zen is all about? It’s certainly not about being blank and dead.

But of course we lack trust in our selves, and so we don’t get up and dance across the room.. When I was a little boy and we were living in Baltimore, there was nothing to do all day long and I would end up watching TV for hours and hours. I used to watch movies from the 1930’s and 40’s—especially the musicals. As a little kid I loved musicals. In those movie people might be walking down the street, caught up in everyday affairs, and then suddenly they’d burst into song and they would dance. It was magical!

I still remember the time when my mother took me to the barber shop. The barbers in their white tunics were busily cutting hair and listening to a radio perched up on the shelf. For a while I sat patiently, waiting for my turn, but as I listened it occurred to me that this was the sort of music they played in the movies I loved.

I swear to you, I actually started to dance. Everybody was astounded and my mother was mortified. “What’s wrong with you?” she shrieked. “Have you lost your mind?”

What a pity! What a pity! Dancing was exactly the right thing to do. I heard the music and I had to dance. It was perfect!! Have you ever seen very little children start to move when they hear music—it’s an elemental human response. But my mother closed the door. She shamed me and made me more of a self.

Sitting in the barbershop waiting for my turn was a bit like sitting on the cushion. “Should I do it? Should I do it?” I thought, in an agony of doubt. I did it, but mother yelled at me and I became paralyzed.

But after five days of meditation we can recover. You might walk in to dokusan and you dance across the floor. Da te da te da te da—dah! That’s trust, trust in life. Most of us just don’t have it. But that’s why we’re practicing Zen. Every once in a while we say to ourselves, “Ok, I’m going to trust life.” And when we do, and when we do, it’s wonderful!!

Joshu says to Tosu, “What if a man of the Great Death comes back to life again?” Tosu could have jumped up and danced. “I’ll show you!! Da te da te da te da—dah!” That would have been a good answer. He could have said, “The tea is delicious!!” He could have squeezed Joshu’s nose--being true to his True Nature, see? And manifesting Buddha Nature as well.

But it’s hard, right, because someone yelled at us. Even if you were sitting on the cushion all this time feeling like dancing, would you do it? When I ring the bell would you get up and go, “All right! Here you are—tap, tap, tap!” We don’t ordinartily have that trust, but if you keep practicing, sooner or later you begin to have it. With just a little bit more trust, life becomes much, much better.

Open eyed-he was all the more as if dead.
What use to test the master with something taboo?
Even the Buddha said he had not reached there;
Who knows when to throw ashes in another’s eyes.

Three bells