It is no accident that we find ourselves here on Mount Tremper and that the “Mountains and Rivers Sutra” has become the teaching of the Way for us. We are physically and physiologically integrated with the mountain just by living here. We make our coffee and tea with the juice that flows out of the springs and rivers of these hills. We grow our food in what was once—hundreds of millions of years ago—solid rock. Now it is our garden. We return our waste to it. We’re in equilibrium with this land, as are all the creatures that live here. The mountain becomes part of us. We give to it; it gives to us. There is a lot of energy in that giving and receiving, a lot of power. Over the last twenty-six years I’ve watched this mountain, powerful as it was the first day we found it, increase its power with the zazen that we do each day, each month, each year. What is this mountain then? What are its contours, location and time? Where exactly is it?
Once I took a friend on a tour of the Monastery grounds and as we reached Hanshan meadow with its wide open view of Mount Tremper he exclaimed, “Oh, there’s the mountain!” I said, “That’s not the mountain.” “Then where is it?” my friend asked. I replied, “You’re standing on it.” Actually, even to say “standing on” is extra.
This mountain has many faces. I’ve seen its ferocious side. I’ve seen it roaring, thunderheads and bolts of lightning flashing over it, trees crashing to the ground, the river getting up on its hind legs and walking over land, taking rocks and trees with it, animals scurrying for safety, the earth trembling. At other times, she’s warm and placid, loving, nurturing, and protecting. What is the true nature of this mountain, then? What is the true nature of your self?
“Master Dayang Shanggai addressed the assembly: ‘The blue mountains are constantly walking. The stone woman gives birth to a child in the night.’” Master Dayang’s statement about blue mountains is a statement concerning the relationship between absolute and relative, form and emptiness.
The prologue says, “Inexhaustible are its mysteries.” This is one of them—the stone woman giving birth to a child in the night. How is that possible? “In order to realize its myriad forms and creations, one must love it utterly.” I use the word “love” to indicate true intimacy, no separation, not two.
“Inexhaustible are its mysteries.” You are also one of those mysteries. “In order to realize its myriad forms and creations, one must love it utterly.” In other words, you must love yourself. “One must love it utterly, study its essential spirit diligently and never cease contemplating it. Outside of this, there is nothing else.” Outside of you, there is nothing else.
“The blue mountains are constantly walking. The stone woman gives birth to a child in the night.” Stone woman is a metaphor for conditions void of inherent nature. A stone woman is a barren woman, so a barren woman that gives birth is inconceivable. This inconceivability is conditions void of any inherent nature. Inconceivability is the interdependent origination of the ten thousand things. All things are totally interdependent. They cannot exist without each other. Visible forms, vision, and cognition have that interdependent origination. All phenomena are so conditioned. They have no independent nature, no absolute, own being. They have no self; no independent existence. This is the barren woman. And yet in terms of conditional relationships, things do indeed exist: the child she gave birth to, you, me and the ten thousand things.
You and I are the same thing, yet I am not you and you are not me. We coexist and interpenetrate; we have a mutual causality. We are interlinked like a giant web throughout time and space. What happens to you, happens to me—yet I’m not you and you’re not me.
The “night” of “gives birth to a child in the night” is the time of no differentiation, of absoluteness, where there are no forms. The darkness is complete, the emptiness all-encompassing. In it, there is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; no color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena. No world of sight, no world of consciousness.