One of the beauties of the Chinese language is that the subject is never clear, and so it’s a wonderful vehicle for koans. But the moment we bring the dialogue into English, we lose something, because English is so specific, it nails things down. And if it doesn’t nail things down, then the translators make sure it gets nailed down. That’s what we like to do, nail things down. We like certainty. Of course, that destroys all the poetics—and the dharma—of the koan.


Photo by Laura Tulaite


That acarya could be Mahakasyapa—he was the senior practitioner in the Buddha’s assembly. The acarya could be Deshan—Deshan very definitely could say, “I heard it.” The acarya could be the monastic. The real question is, what was it that was heard? What was it that Mahakasyapa saw? This very body and mind is the body and mind of the universe. That’s what he saw. Was his smile any different than your smile? Was Buddha’s blinking of the eyes any different than your blinking of the eyes? It’s the vagueness of this koan that keeps it rich.

“I wonder what was spoken at the assembly on Vulture Peak?” “The acarya understands it.” Deshan’s response reminds me of Soen Sa Nim’s teaching. When someone asks a question, he says, “You already know.” Of course we already know. We were born buddhas and we will die buddhas. Some may realize it, some may not. But the fact is that the buddha nature is already there. It’s there but it’s buried beneath years and years of conditioning. Buried beneath all kinds of complex programming that we’ve all gone through growing up—the conditioning of our society, parents, teachers.

Some years ago an article appeared in The New York Times that reported a new disease that has emerged in American society, an affliction. It causes mental and emotional deterioration in that it affects the will, commitment, and drive. It causes confusion between what we need and what we want. It weakens vitality, and results in lethargy and an overwhelming lack of spirit. It’s called “Affluenza.”

This is not a joke. Sociologists, child psychologists, and psychiatrists seem deeply concerned about it, thinking that it is a serious problem. Because although many adults are afflicted with the disease, its major victims are the children and teens of our affluent society. A growing number of children are so wealthy nowadays that they can have anything they want. They have nothing to strive for, nothing to challenge them. Nothing to give them spirit.