The poem says, A cloud rhino gazes at the moon, its light engulfing radiance. A rhinoceros made of a cloud gazes at the moon, which is, of course, enlightenment. Breathing in, taking the backward step into that completely engulfing radiance,yet not dwelling anywhere. A wood horse romps in spring swift and unbridled. Breathing out, not getting involved in circumstances, not being separate, there’s no more hindrance. The creature is free to romp and play in unbridled awareness. Under the eyebrows, a pair of cold blue eyes. The footnote to that says, “Never chased a bunch of snakes and ants.” A pair of cold blue eyes is unblinking, like peering out of a coffin. No life. No warmth. No way to see and chase after ‘snakes and ants,’ the things of the world. How can reading scriptures reach the piercing of oxhide? In other words, the skin of the self, the idea of who we are, is like oxhide—very hard to penetrate. Can you pierce it with a scripture? Or does it take something more to pass through that thick skin? What could be so penetrating? What could be so powerful? The clear mind produces vast eons. The mind that’s not dwelling, the mind that’s not attached, that doesn’t judge can reach everywhere; nothing can stop it. Heroic power smashes the double enclosure. The double enclosure is body/mind, inside/outside, self/other, spiritual/worldly. In the subtle round mouth of the pivot, turns the spiritual works. Hanshan forgot the road by which he came—Shide lead him back by the hand. Hanshan was a very well-known poet who lived on Cold Mountain. He wrote a poem:
If you want a place to rest your body,
Cold Mountain is good for long preservation.
A subtle breeze blows in the dense pines;
Heard from close by, the sound is even finer,
Underneath the trees is a graying man
Furiously reading Taoist books.
Ten years, I couldn’t return—
Now I’ve forgotten the road whence I came.
He says, Heard from close by, the sound is even finer. Hearing the sound, hear it closer. Experiencing the breath, move closer. Being aware, experience it more intimately. Underneath the trees is a graying man furiously reading Taoist books. He’s reading scriptures, gathering information, learning the names, understanding the teachings. As for Hanshan, he says, Ten years, I couldn’t return. Now, I’ve forgotten the road whence I came. He’s been traveling this path so long, he can’t remember how he came. There’s no way back. Hanshan forgot the road back from which he came and Shide, his friend, led him by the hand.
This is why daily practice is so important. It is so habitual for us to stop, to rest, to solidify, to know. It’s the first thing that happens with every new experience. What was that? What do I call it? How can I describe it? How can I get it back? What did it mean? These are not such helpful questions, and yet, we rely on them. We think if we can answer those questions we’ve got something. And all the while the truth of that moment is gone. But the wonderful thing is, it hasn’t gone anywhere because it’s not a thing. It can’t be lost. But in our mind, in our perception, it’s lost, and so the more we strive and struggle to get back to that moment, the further away it seems to move.
There is no dwelling place. To become comfortable and free in not-knowing is what practice brings to life. That’s the wooden horse romping in spring swift and unbridled. That’s why when we see ourselves fixing, describing, judging, we need to recognize what’s happening in that very moment. A moment ago there was something true, but now we’ve put a mask on it. We’ve turned our eyes to something we think is more reliable. So we need to be diligent. That’s why it takes time and patience to develop a sense of trust, a sense of ease, until we get to the point where we don’t know how we got here. We wonder about it. Could you really say how you got here? We could talk about it and tell our story, but that’s not how. It’s much more interesting than that. Develop that trust in yourself, in your zazen, and notice those moments when you’re more interested in something that you’ve created rather than in the dharma itself. The more you open yourself up, the more you allow the dharma to actually enter you; to teach, illuminate and transform both your life and the life of this universe
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei is vice-abbot and resident teacher of Zen Center of New York City: Fire Lotus Temple and head of the National Buddhist Prison Sangha. He received dharma transmission from Daido Roshi in 1997.