If you decide to start on a journey to awakening and take up a practice like Zen, you could, at some point in time, find yourself in a wild and dangerous place. This is a might be a good thing, part of the journey, and maybe something that you are unconsciously looking for.
An integral part of any worthwhile trip abroad is a chance encounter with something unexpected. Similar to the mysterious force that started us on our trip, there is also a subterranean being, our own Gollum of Middle Earth, waiting to share something "precious" with us. Gollum spoke in riddles, and when we first encounter such a being, nothing may make much sense, still, we sense something internal has moved.
The story below, a koan about just such an adventure and strange meeting, is what happened when the Chan (Zen) monk, Wuzho, left the city and headed into the mountains looking for Manjurshi, the Buddhist embodiment of wisdom.
When he was young, the Chan monk Wuzho, which means No Attachment, made a pilgrimage to Mount Wutai, where Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, is said to live. Wuzho came to a wild and dangerous area, and Manjushri imagined a temple into existence to take Wuzho in for the night. Manjushri took the form of the head of the temple and welcomed Wuzho, asking, “Where are you from?”“From the South,” replied Wuzho.“How is Buddhism being maintained in the South?” “In this Corrupt Age of the Dharma, monks are honoring the precepts a little.”“How many are there?”“Three hundred here, five hundred there. How is Buddhism being maintained here?”“Ordinary people and saints live together. Dragons and snakes mix.”“How many are there? Manjushri said, “In front three by three, in back three by three.” Later, as they were drinking tea, Manjushri held up a perfect crystal bowl and asked, “Do you have this in the South?” Wuzho replied, “No.” “Then what do you use to drink tea?” Wuzho didn’t have an answer, and he decided to leave. A young attendant accompanied him to the gate, and Wuzho asked him, “What temple is this?” The boy pointed to the mountain behind Wuzho, who turned to look. The mountain was a beautiful, deep indigo in the twilight. When Wuzho turned back, the temple and the boy had vanished, and he was standing alone in an empty valley.
There is a dream like quality about Wuzho’s meeting with Manjushri and one way to become intimate with this koan is to step into the world of dreams. Here are some dream fragments, from modern day versions of Chan monks - people like you and I.
If you look closely at the following dream fragments, maybe some of your own will take on new meanings.
When he was young, the Chan monk Wuzho came to a wild and dangerous area.
Adventures start an early age. In a small town, after dark and when parents are fast asleep, a group of teenage boys sneak out and head to the forest. With just a small flashlight they enter the woods and follow a trail that leads to a bridge. There is no plan on what to do when they get there, the plan is just to get there. The trail is narrow and windy and the trees are dark and tall. They follow their leader through the darkness. His flashlight swings and tree branches are suddenly lit, then the trail suddenly lights up and rocks become visible - then disappear. They race along in the darkness, tasting the unknown and wild, singing dirty songs and letting out shrieks of excitement.
Ordinary people and saints live together. Dragons and snakes mix.
The wholeness of life, both the bright parts and the dark parts, is often revealed in dreams. A man looks at a blueprint of his house and sees a secret room he didn’t know was there.
Manjushri said, “In front three by three, in back three by three
Some things, like the coloured squares in a Rubiks Cube, can’t be easily aligned. A woman dreams she is walking down a high-school hallway. She stops and opens a locker, there are pink flowers inside.
Manjushri asked “what do you use to drink tea?” Wuzho didn’t have an answer…
Answers are not always apparent. A woman's husband keeps asking her why she is unhappy, but she can’t answer.
The mountain was a beautiful, deep indigo in the twilight. When Wuzho turned back, the temple and the boy had vanished, and he was standing alone in an empty valley
In the midst of beauty and solitude, emptiness* is revealed. It’s a dark, cold, winter night. The landscape is nothing but white rolling contours and outlines of trees and houses. A man, bundled up in heavy winter clothes, is walking his dog along a sidewalk carved through the snow. They come to an open field, the dog bounces off like a deer, the man lost in thought, follows the dog. After a while the man stops walking and stands still, before him is a huge expanse of snow and black sky. It’s very quiet, and very cold. At the edge of the field, a single, barren, Black Walnut tree stands. All conversations, ideas, and worries stop for the man.
*A Buddhist word for the essence of reality.