Loving Each Turn

Senior's Talk by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj, Osho

Featured in Mountain Record Vol. 27.4, Summer 2009


photo by Danilo S. Castro

Within the training in the Mountains and Rivers Order, there’s a collection of miscellaneous koans passed down to us from Yasutani Roshi and Koryu Roshi, our dharma grandfathers. Within that collection, there is a deceptively simple koan that asks the question, “How do I go straight on a narrow mountain path with ninety-three turns?” In his book, Zen of Creativity, Daido Roshi uses that question as an opener to the chapter in which he describes the circuitous path that brought him to Zen.

Using this question as a starting point, I want to dig into the role it plays in the spiritual journey. It’s a question that resonates with most of us—a question that we struggle with continuously: how can we embody a straightforward, crystal-clear, dedicated mind of practice while navigating those ninety-three curves? How do we deal with the many traverses, the hair-pin turns and gentle bends, with both the microscopic and the more profound and challenging curves of this life? In a sense, this practice is about loving the turns and going straight amidst them all.

This koan is also about how to practice with koans—how to practice with the ninety-three, or seven hundred and fifty, or one hundred and eight, or the innumerable challenges of our lives. Furthermore, it asks, what does it mean to pass a koan? What does it mean to pass a barrier? How do we pass Mu? If we’re talking about passing a barrier, then what happens to that barrier once we’re through? Can you pass Mu? What does it mean to realize the dharmakaya, the all-encompassing universe? What is that? What are we talking about?

“How do you go straight on a very narrow mountain path with ninety-three turns?” Which turn are you on? How many are ahead? What’s the straightness? What’s the traveling on the path? Why is it narrow? How narrow is it, really? The simple questions will continuously push you towards the more basic questions within the koan—what is the thing that permits you to hold the course? What is the straightforwardness, whole-heartedness, honesty, simplicity of holding steady amidst this life, all of this life with all of its possible complications? How do you go straight truly loving every single one of these challenges? Maybe it’s the loving of all those turns that makes it possible to go straight.

In the late 1970s, I was passionately involved with sailing and was in Newport, Rhode Island to watch what was then called the America’s Cup. The standard sailboat model was a beautiful, slick yacht that had been pushed to the limit in racing. There wasn’t any apparent improvement that could be made to these boats, from the waterline up anyway. But Alan Bond, from Australia, hired a master nautical engineer who went under and worked on the keel of the boat, the part that enables a sailboat to stay on course, to stay straight amidst all the turbulence of the currents. The great discovery made by the Australians blew the American boat out of the water and took the Cup away. And that was to essentially build wings on the keel. Changing the hydrodynamics of the keel and giving it a certain lift allowed the boat to glide through the water. The keel kept the boat on track without slowing down its progress. It offered little or no resistance.

According to the Pali Canon, Shakyamuni Buddha described his enlightenment this way: “I have seen all that is to be seen. I have done all that is to be done.” It’s a challenging statement, and one that stays with me and resurfaces periodically, demanding my attention. What does it mean to have seen all there is to see, to have completed all that needed to be completed? Remember that at the time, the Buddha was thirty-five years old. Among all the statements that have come down to us from that momentous occasion, this one begs a question as much as it directs us on the path. Because if we are the followers of Shakyamuni Buddha, that degree of accomplishment is what we’re aiming at and nothing short of it. Everything that he taught and everything that followed points to, “I have seen all that is to be seen. I have done all that is to be done.” This is one way of phrasing the intent, the aspiration of our tradition. But is this what we need in order to understand what it means to go straight on this path?