At the time of this koan, people didn’t have problems like we have today in terms of the pollution and exploitation of the earth, the mountains and rivers. There weren’t that many people impacting the environment. But that’s changing rapidly and it’s going to continue to change. We’re part of that change. Don’t forget that the mountains and rivers are our responsibility, not the Department of Environmental Conservation’s, not the government’s, not anyone else’s. The earth belongs to each of us, personally.

Xiushan was unwilling to travel the mountains and rivers until he had resolved the question of life and death. When he expressed this to Dizang, the master said, “It’s not bad that you travel to many mountains and rivers.” He wasn’t simply talking about taking a vacation or having a good time. What is he pointing to? What do the mountains and rivers have to offer?

The commentary reads, “Since Xiushan didn’t understand Dizang’s meaning, the old master cut to the quick, asking, ‘Are the mountains, rivers and the earth identical or separate from you?’ Master Dogen once said, ‘What different types of beings see is different and we should reflect on this fact. Is it that there are various ways of seeing one object or is it that we have mistaken various images for one object?’” We need to keep Dogen’s statement in mind. If we’re going to do anything, we need to see things—these mountains and rivers—through the eyes of another, such as the eyes of a developer, the owner of the moonlight cruise. Otherwise there is no basis for communication, no way to come to any sort of compromise. Most of us want what we want, but sometimes the only way to move forward is through a compromise of some sort.


Photo by M. Manu


Several years ago, former President Clinton advocated for the treatment of AIDS in Africa. He went to several African countries and traveled from village to village, interacting with both villagers and their children. By doing this, he drew the world’s attention to what was happening to the thousands of people there dying of AIDS. He especially brought attention to the fact that treatment was available, but because the pharmaceutical companies had hiked up the prices so much, most of the medicines were too expensive to obtain. On that side of the world, pregnant women, babies, old people and young people died everyday, while on this side of the world the medicine was available—for a price. That is the danger of commodifying food or drugs. Life becomes a commodity as well. In response to this problem, Clinton brokered a deal with the United States government and the pharmaceutical companies so the medicine could be shipped to Africa at a reasonable cost. He offered them a deal that they could not refuse. And people started to be healed.