The commentary continues, “Haven’t you heard Master Zhaozhou saying, ‘If you spend a lifetime not leaving the monastery, sitting in stillness without speaking for ten years or for five years, no one can call you mute. You might be beyond even the buddhas’?” Again, Dogen elaborates on this. He says:

When we are ten years or five years in a monastery, passing through frost and flowers again and again, and when we consider the effort in pursuit of truth, which is a lifetime not leaving a monastery, this sitting in stillness, which cuts off all interference by sitting, has been innumerable experiences of expressing the truth. Walking, sitting, lying down, without leaving the monastery, may be countless instances of no one being able to call you mute.

We all expect whistles and bells, flashes of lightning. We don’t realize that just through the process of zazen, the teachings are being absorbed in every cell of our body, every aspect of our being. As the commentary says, “A lifetime of not leaving the monastery is a lifetime of expounding the dharma.”

These ancient koans are not some kind of esoteric, religious arcana that are meant to dazzle people. They are not limited to monasteries or to the top of isolated mountain peaks. All of them have to do with coming down off the mountain, back into the world, back into the marketplace. Ultimately, they’re all pointing to that tenth ox-herding picture, where practitioners who started the search years before come down off the mountain, back into the world, and are completely indistinguishable from anybody else. They’re totally ordinary. The sacred fetus has been nurtured. Yet, their very presence nourishes and heals, their very presence communicates.

The poem to the tenth ox-herding picture reads:

Entering the marketplace
       barefoot and unadorned.
Blissfully smiling, though covered with dust
       and ragged of clothes.
Using no supernatural power,
       you bring the withered trees spontaneously into bloom.

This kind of healing, this kind of power is contained in each and every one of us. It’s there, whether we realize it or not. Some people do realize it, some people don’t. Sometimes it’s just covered over with our conditioning, the conditioning we’re fed through our society, through television, through the creation of superficial problems where no problems exist.


hay bale