This is the body and mind of each and every one of us. But as Campbell says, “Our culture wants to deny this participatory mystique. It suggests that myth functions only as a dimension of primitive consciousness; that it is no longer operative in any significant way. Indeed we can say that the whole history of Western culture can be seen
as a history of ‘de-mythologizing.’”

“For this reason, dreams, illusions, and images are boundless sources for satisfying spiritual hunger.” We tend to think of spiritual hunger being satisfied only by that which comes to us through the core texts of religion. When the founders of the various religions died, all their followers were left with was their words. They carefully collected these words and turned them into the traditions’ core texts. But once you have these texts, you have to preach them and you need people to preach them, so priests appear. When you have priests, you need institutions. And so before long, the original teachings become dogma. Is that the reality of these various religions?

“Dreams, illusions, images are boundless sources for satisfying hunger.” Our culture would like to turn all metaphors into facts, all poetry into prose, all experience into some kind of a mathematical equation. We want to abandon wonder and awe for the sake of certainty. All too often, art and religion get caught up in explaining the meaning of life instead of seeking the experience of being alive and expressing it. Walt Whitman advises us, “You must not know too much, or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and water. A certain free margin, and even vagueness, perhaps ignorance, credulity, helps you in your enjoyment of these things.”

“A monastic asked Zhaozhou, ‘What is Buddha?’ Zhaozhou answered, ‘The one in the shrine.’” Is he saying that the wooden buddha sitting on the altar is the real Buddha? If not, then what is he saying? I ask you, what is real? What is reality? Who are you? Where do you find yourself?

The capping verse:

The moon and the pointing finger
    are a single reality.
Aside from painted cakes,
    there is no other way to satisfy hunger.

The moon and the pointing finger are a single reality. In Zen we say the truth is in the moon and not the finger pointing to the moon. The capping verse, however, is saying that the moon and the pointing finger are the same reality; they are non-dual. The finger, the photograph, a song, a story, a dance, a smile, eyes meeting eyes, a touch, a stick of incense, a dedication, a mudra, a dharani, a mantra. All painted cakes. All pictured cakes. What’s real, what’s reality? Who are you?

Aside from painted cakes there is no other way to satisfy hunger. Dogen said, “Thus, supreme enlightenment is nothing but a picture. The phenomenal world, the empty sky—there is nothing that is not a picture. If you say that a picture is not real, all things are not real. If all things are not real, dharma is not real either. If dharma is a real picture, then pictured cakes are real. Picture is reality, reality is picture.” Zhaozhou said, “Do not leave out any of them.” Walt Whitman says in “Song of Myself”:

 

 

Swift wind! Space! My Soul! Now I know it is
   true what I guessed at;
   What I guessed when I loafed on the grass,
   What I guessed while I lay alone in my bed
… and again as I
   walked the beach under the paling stars
   of the morning.

   My ties and ballasts leave me.... I travel
… I sail.... my elbows
   rest in the sea-gaps,
   I skirt sierras… my palms cover continents,
   I am afoot with my vision.

I ask you once again, what is real? What is reality? Who are you? Where do you find yourself? If you don’t know, when will you find out?


Koans of the Way of Reality is a collection of koans complied at Zen Mountain Monasery over the last twenty-five years. It includes both koans that appear in the traditional collections as well as pieces taken from other sources and treated as koans because of their relevance for modern Western practitioners.

John Daido Loori, Roshi is the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery. A successor to Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi, Roshi, Daido Roshi trained in rigorous koan Zen and in the subtle teachings of Master Dogen, and is a lineage holder in the Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen.