Taking Our Practice Off the Cushion
My friend Jikai Lonna Kelley has been practicing with Joshu’s No, the first koan of The Gateless Barrier. Here is the koan:
A monk asked Joshu, “Has the dog Buddha nature or not?”
Joshu said, “No.”
For the practice of Zen it is imperative that you pass through the gate set up by the Ancestral Teachers. For subtle realisation it is of the utmost importance that you cut off the mind road. if you do not pass the gate of the ancestors, if you do not cut off the mind road, then you are a ghost clinging to bushes and grasses.
What is the gate of the Ancestral Teachers? It is just this one word, “No” — the one gate of our faith. We call it the Gateless Gate of the Zen tradition. When you pass through this gate, you will not only interview Joshu intimately. You will also walk hand in hand with all the Ancestral Teachers in the successive generations of our lineage — the hair of your eyebrows entangled with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, hearing with the same ears. Won’t that be fulfilling? Is there anyone who would not want to pass through this gate?
So, then, make your whole body a mass of doubt, and with your 360 bones and joints and your 84,000 hair follicles concentrate on this one word, “No.” Day and night, keep digging into it. Don’t consider it to be nothingness. Don’t think of “has” and “has not.” It is like swallowing a red-hot iron ball. You try to vomit it out, but you can’t.
THE CAPPING VERSE
Dog, Buddha nature. Don’t say it doesn’t have it! Don’t say No!
A stiff wind has risen, rattling the gourds on the east wall.
Jikai recently shared with me this description of an opening experience she had, which I found brilliant and beautiful. She wrote:
Somehow… by the grace of all the demons in hell, I finally understand — taking my practice off the cushion.
It stayed on the cushion for so long. And it stayed there because I believed I could be fixed. No matter how many times you told me to take it off the cushion.
There was this moment. I was so enraged. To the core. Something J [her husband] had said or done. And of course “I had every right to be enraged.” But no. And then no. And then no again. No matter how many stories piled up against me. Just No. it went on for days. And eventually the rage turned into terrible sadness. Crying in the car driving. Crying in my bed. Crying in the bathroom. Crying outside a Goodwill. The pit of nothing. Complete darkness. So sad, so very sad. Just sad. Sad sad sad.
And that was the only story I allowed — sad. Just sad.
And it felt very familiar. This sadness.
And after three days of No, I realised — that was taking my practice off the cushion.
The sadness lifted.
And nothing really happened. Finally.
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