In this koan, the monastic comes to Yunmen prepared to ask his question, but before he can finish even a line of the poem, Yunmen interrupts him and says, “Isn’t that the poem of Zhangzhuo?” The monastic says, “Yes, it is.” Yunmen replies, “You’ve missed it!”

 

Photo by Bruce Tuffin

 

With his coming forward and asking a question, the monastic is presenting an opportunity. He is presenting his own mind to Yunmen, because in the question, the student always reveals his or her concern, the place of doubt. Even if the student comes forward and asks or presents something which is not intended to reveal but to hide, that is what is revealed. So there’s really no way out. For one who wants to see into things clearly, this is good news. If someone is invested in remaining hidden, it’s not good news.

An ordained monastic is one who has a “way-seeking” mind; one who is seeking the truth, one who really wants to understand and live this life as an awakened being. What is it to be awake? What is this life? Who is this person? The problem is that in the very act of seeking, we inevitably look outside of ourselves. If we really believed that we were sufficient unto ourselves, that we had the wisdom of the enlightened mind and possessed the whole universe, then what would we seek? If we really knew that there was nothing outside of this very moment, then what would we look for?

There are many koans in Zen that deal with this issue. In a sense, active seeking reveals your vulnerability because you have to admit that everything is not all right, that there is something lacking, that there is something that needs to be addressed. It demonstrates a sense of dissatisfaction and the desire to find contentment. For some, to ask for guidance is like facing a mile-high wall. That’s why the process of entering into training as a Mountains and Rivers Order student is set up in such a way as to be a very conscious step. It presents the student with the question, “what are you seeking?” Why not just go home, turn on the T.V., and forget about the lack of peace dwelling deep in your heart? Why not just get on with your life and forget about spiritual practice? What are you looking for?