The commentary reads, “If you wish to understand the truth of this koan, you must understand that Xuansha’s ‘This is’ is not referring to the swallow that is teaching the profound dharma of real form.” On the surface, koans appear to be paradoxical. But the fact is that there are no paradoxes. Paradox exists only in language, in the words and ideas that describe reality. In reality there are no paradoxes. The koan is meant to help us move beyond the words and ideas that describe reality and directly and intimately experience that reality itself. The answer to a koan is not a piece of information or a new way of seeing. Rather, it is one’s own intimate and direct experience of the universe and its infinite facets. It’s a state of consciousness.

“Xuansha’s ‘This is’ is not referring to the swallow that is teaching the profound dharma of real form.” If that’s the case, we have to ask what is “This is”? Is it “deeply discuss real form and preach well the essence of the dharma”? Or is it “getting down from the seat”? See, questions come up. The tendency is to look for a single line. Maybe it’s not a single line. Maybe it’s the whole encounter taken together. “Profound” means requiring great perception, understanding or knowledge. It’s not referring to the swallow that is teaching the profound dharma. Nor is it referring to Xuansha, who is teaching the profound dharma of real form. Then what is it pointing to? Indeed, I ask you, is there anything or anyone that can teach the profound dharma of real form? Is it teachable? Or is it about the wisdom that has no teacher?

The next line clearly says it’s ineffable. It can’t be expressed in words. How is it to be understood? It is said that the Tao that can be expressed in words is not the true Tao. The minute you try to express it in words you’ve missed it. So how is it communicated? How does it go from A to B?


Photo by Kirk Thorsteinston


What’s the transmission of the dharma about? How can the inexpressible be understood? Is it a matter of a different kind of understanding? We are talking here about a wisdom that is not studied with people, nor is it something that one arouses on one’s own. This wisdom is often transmitted by wisdom itself. It is wisdom that seeks wisdom and realizes it. We all have it—it just needs to be awakened. It starts when you examine your own life. Really examine it and ask yourself, how did you get here? What was it that motivated you at the moment in time when you said you would go to a place like this monastery? And once you came here, did you find that this is what you were looking for? What does that feel like? Where did that feeling come from? What initiated it? It’s not quite the same as doing what you are supposed to do. For example, when you finish high school, you go on to college. Everybody expects that from you. You finish undergraduate work, and then you go to graduate school. Then you get a job. This is all prescribed.