The pointer says, “A thousand awakenings at one hearing, at one understanding a thousand follow.” As we look into the nature of our self and of our mind, we gain insight into the nature of that self, and in that one awakening, there are a thousand awakenings. In other words, what is seen is the totality of the truth of the universe. But most of us don’t have such a deep insight at our first entry. It’s like when a toddler gets up on its two wobbly legs for the first time. For them, standing is just about trying to stay upright. On the other hand, for the parent, that standing contains all activity—walking, running, jumping and dancing.

During family retreats parents and children have an opportunity to work together during caretaking, or silent work practice. It is a simple but very important moment in which the children have the opportunity to give, to take care of some thing or some one, and to do that together with their parents. What an opportunity for the parents to teach about this most elemental of human activities and to pass on their love and appreciation for it, while the children teach the parents about the wonder in ordinary things, about spontaneity and playfulness.




“The highest people,” the pointer continues, “comprehend all with one determination; the middling and lesser hear much but disbelieve much.” With one determination, one resolve, one aspiration, we can gain deep insight into a truth that is beyond knowing and has the power to transform our lives in such a way that we realize, after all, there never was anything to transform. There never was a problem. Delusion is the illusion that the world is broken, that people are broken, and that in our brokenness, conflict is inevitable and necessary. And yet, “middling and lesser hear much, but disbelieve much.” If we don’t have that one determination, that faith, that complete trust, if we’re not really willing to give ourselves to one thing, then what tends to happen is that we don’t find much in what we’re looking at or experiencing, and we begin to doubt, we begin to disbelieve.

There is a story about Juzhi’s enlightenment. He was living as a hermit in a hut on mount Tiantai when a nun named Shiji—whose name means “reality”—came into his hut when he was doing zazen. The correct protocol would have been for her to remove her hat and greet him formally, but instead, she kept her hat on, and still holding her traveling staff she circled Juzhi three times, stopped in front of him, and said: “If you can speak, I’ll take off my hat.” She was challenging him to express the truth of the dharma, but he couldn’t respond. Three times she asked Juzhi, and three times he could not answer, so finally the nun walked away. Juzhi called out, “Wait, it’s getting late. Why don’t you stay overnight?” She turned and said, “If you can speak, I will.” But he couldn’t respond so she left, leaving Juzhi in such deep spiritual despair that he decided to give up. That night he packed his bags and started to travel down the mountain, when he ran into a mountain spirit. The spirit said, “You don’t need to leave this mountain, wait a few days, and a great bodhisattva will come and help you to understand the dharma.”

Juzhi went back to his hermitage, and sure enough, a few days later Master Tianlong appeared. Juzhi told him the story of the nun who had questioned him and his inability to respond. Tianlong raised his finger, and at that moment, Juzhi realized himself. Having thus entered the gateless gate, Juzhi then used this finger as his primary teaching throughout his life.