This person is dead. Where did he go? We should also ask ourselves, we are alive, but where are we? Are we alive to the moment or are we alive to yesterday? Do we live in what’s in front of us, or do we live in tomorrow, in what hasn’t happened yet? How do we spend these precious moments that we call life? Do we use it, or are we used by it? How do we combust ourselves? Is it in a self-centered way, or for the benefit of all beings, sentient and insentient alike? How do we understand our life? All of that is embodied in the eldest sister’s question, “The corpse is here, but where has the person gone?” What is the person? Well, you’re the person. Where were you before you were born? Were you anywhere? Where will you be after you’re dead? Will you be anywhere?

The capping verse: “Mountains, rivers, and the great earth, are not seen in a mirror.” When you see things in a mirror you see a reflection. In intimacy there’s no such reflection—it’s not about two things.

“Reason exhausted, ideas and opinions forgotten, then what is it that remains for comparison once the mind stops moving?” Reason exhausted, ideas and opinions forgotten, is not just an idea, and it’s not something that’s going to happen by itself. It’s not going to happen just because you became a Zen student. It’s not going to happen because you’ve received Jukai, or come to sesshin. Or even because you understand what it is that I’m saying. It’s not going to happen until it’s in your body as well as your mind, and to get it there you’re going to have to work on it. It’s probably the most important thing any of us can do with our lives. The question of life and death is no small thing. Please take care of it.


Koans of the Way of Reality is a collection of koans compiled at Zen Mountain Monastery over the past 30 years. It includes both koans that appear in the traditional collections as well as writings taken from other sources and treated as koans because of their relevance for modern Western practitioners.