“If you think,” the commentary says, “Linji’s hacking the ground and planting pine trees is about agriculture, landscaping or landmarks, you’re bogged down in the mundane.” That is, you’re bogged down in the worldly. And yet, the world does exists. This body exists. But there’s more. That’s only one side of it. “If you want to understand the compassionate teachings of these ancient masters, you must first realize that in the mundane, nothing is sacred.” The mundane becomes a filter through which everything is seen, and using such a filter, sacredness is hidden. We just can’t see it. “Then you must go beyond this truth and realize that in sacredness, nothing is mundane...” When the filter is gone, equanimity is restored and we no longer separate things into this and that. When we understand sacredness, then nothing is mundane. “Picking up what comes to hand, learn to use it knowingly.” Rather than being used by it, learn to use it. Like Master Zhaozhou used to say, “Use the twenty-four hours of the day, rather than being used by them.” And this happens whatever the circumstances are. That’s what upaya, skillful means, is about. That’s what freedom is about.
The poem says: The buildings and the grounds protect the dharma / And bring peace to all. / The sangha in the ten directions will increase / In wisdom and compassion. This is from Nenju, the chant of appreciation that we do at the end of a training period, or at the end of a special teaching. How this all comes to us / Is a gift we should not miss. We shouldn’t take this dharma for granted. As the Meal Gatha says, “Seventy-two labors brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us.” We have the opportunity to practice because of the tens of thousands of people who preceded us here, both here on this mountain and the rest of the world. Sometimes we think that succession is about passing koans and training hard but that’s only one aspect of the whole thing. As I have said a thousand times, nothing goes from A to B, and yet, something is definitely recognized when a new teacher is born. The same is true of a student. I have nothing to give you. I hope I have not given you anything over these twenty-odd years. It’s not about that. It’s about discovery. It’s about self empowerment. It’s about giving life to the buddha that is each one of us.
This group of people practicing at the Monastery is here because of the practice of those who came before. And with each group, the practice becomes stronger and stronger, it sends down roots deep into the soil of this mountain, of this country. This is what we draw sustenance from. This is what nourishes and sustains us. We should reflect and appreciate that fact. It’s no small thing
Compiled by Daido Roshi at Zen Mountain Monastery, Koans of the Way of Reality is a collection of 108 traditional and contemporary koans of particular relevance for modern Western practitioners. It includes dialogues from the traditional koan collections, as well as writings by Dogen, Whitman, and Lewis Carroll.