Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Koan



As a child, I came in contact with the strange sayings and actions of Zen teachers indirectly through the reading of Asian literature. I was drawn to their odd quotations, but had little idea to their true meaning. At this time in my life, a mere child, I did not study Buddhism directly and I did not even know how to meditate in the traditional manner. Being very introspective and curious about my world and mind, about words, concepts, and the origin of everything, I would often use any available time to think over these things.
Like many children, one of my chores was to mow the lawn. At that time I felt that my family had picked the home with the largest backyard possible, with the steepest hill, to ensure to largest possible area for me to mow. While mowing the grass, the back and forth motion, cutting across the lawn, and the repetition of the small motor would gradually draw my mind inwards, deeper and deeper, soon separating thought and word, mind and concept. Mind would function in streams of thought outwards of the normal medium devoid of subject and object, only to pop back in for a moment, then back out. It seemed as if it were a hybrid stream of thought, rotating between the two.
It was during one of these streams of thought that a quote from Teh-shan (780-865) entered my mind. Teh-shan would enter the hall with a big stick. "If you utter a word I will give you thirty blows; if you utter not a word, just the same, thirty blows on your head." While reading this it had seemed little exotic Asian wisdom, not to be understood in the West. While cutting the grass on a hot summer day, halfway between words and non-duality, I found something else. The mowing stopped. I stopped moving. I felt like I stopped breathing and that everything in the world stopped moving. In my own little form of meditation, I had a taste of something I had no name for. When I was later told not to name it, I needed little explanation.
Just yesterday, while driving on the Interstate, a driver turned on his left turn signal from the far left lane. I though to myself, you can't turn left from the far left lane on the Interstate. A similar reaction followed. Just as words are not to be embraced, we also cannot think that the only meditation is the form on a pillow with legs crossed, or that the only koan are in the form of words. Sometimes they take the form of turn signals at 65 mph.

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