When the king’s teacher heard this he became very angry, and using his magical powers, produced a mountain that he placed on top of Punyamitra. Punyamitra then took that mountain and reproduced it on the heads of not only the ascetic teacher, but all of his disciples as well. Afraid of Punyamitra, they acknowledged his dharma as superior. Punyamitra then announced to the king that in that country lived a sage who would succeed him.

At that time, there was a young man, about twenty years old, who lived in town and who had been orphaned at a young age. He spent his days wandering through the village begging, and no matter what anyone did to him, he never reacted harshly or angrily. Sometimes people would ask, “Why are you moving so fast?” And he would say, “Why are you going so slow?” If someone asked for his family name, he would say, “The same as yours.” And it’s said that no one really understood what he was talking about, yet they respected him.

Later, when Punyamitra came upon this young man, he asked him, “Do you remember past events?” The young man answered, “I remember that at a distant time I was living in the same place as you. You were expounding the great wisdom and I was reciting the most profound scripture. This event today, my meeting you, is in conformity with past cause.” Punyamitra then named the young man Prajnatara.

In this koan, Prajnatara is already the twenty-seventh ancestor and has been invited to the raja’s palace for a meal. There, the raja asked him, “Why don’t you read scriptures?” Why don’t you spend your time studying the sutras of the Buddha? Prajnatara said, “This poor wayfarer doesn’t dwell in the realms of the body or mind when breathing in, doesn’t get involved in myriad circumstances when breathing out—I always reiterate such a scripture, hundreds, thousands, millions of scrolls.”

 

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The moment a word arises in our mind, ideas are formed. They’re co-dependent with the word. The word doesn’t exist without the idea. They’re mutually arising. And with that meaning and in mutual dependence, arises an understanding, a kind of knowing. With that knowing, we come to a conclusion about the object we’re naming, so that we no longer see the object itself. Obviously there’s a function to naming, but it becomes dysfunctional when we start relating to our meaning of the object instead of the object itself. And that’s what we do all the time. We do it with other people, with situations, conflicts—even ourselves.

In the Vimalakirti Sutra, Vimalakirti says to Shariputra, “the Dharma is without taint and free of defilement. One who is attached to anything, even to liberation, is not interested in the Dharma, but is interested in the taint of desire. The dharma is without acceptance or rejection. It is not a secure refuge.” He said, “Dharma is not a society. It’s not a sight, a sound, a category or an idea. If you’re interested in the dharma, you should take no interest in anything.” In other words, don’t wander off and get fixated on these other things because in that moment, those very real aspects of the dharma become an idea. If we can just understand and practice this, we’ll never get lost or stuck. But it requires tremendous diligence to always be attentive to our seemingly endless capacity to get caught up in things.