“In the sea of Ise,
10,000 feet down, lies a single stone.
I want to pick it up that stone,
without getting my hands wet.”
I taught this koan at a recent one-day retreat.
For me, with no pun intended, this is a deep koan, it’s a koan that only shines when the world and self have disappeared and a single stone glows with the light of the whole universe. So I was concerned that his might not be a good koan for a one-day retreat, but just as any ocean regardless of its depth, has a beach somewhere with shallow and sandy places where people can play in its waters, I thought the same might be true for this koan.
To my surprise, the koan captivated everyone. Everyone was coming into dokusan* with their own story of the koan. Some were focused on the 10,000-foot depth, so deep that they could never reach that far down, another person was not worried about getting wet but something much more important - how could he breathe down there? Others noticed the things in their life that seemed unobtainable, like the stone, and felt a sense of hopelessness with no idea of how to reach it. A few people wondered why all the interest in the stone? It wasn't gold or an iPhone. They then noticed things they chase in life that are worthless - and wondered why? It occurred to someone that if they grabbed the thing they really wanted in life, things would get really messy, really wet.
These koan presentations were all insightful, genuine and sincere. I was moved and opened by each of them. Yet - yet - I kept wanting someone to just reach out and grab the stone. Really, really, wanting them to pickup the stone. I had a strong urge to reach out and grab the stone myself but didn't want to steal thunder that wasn’t mine. My urge for them to pickup the stone got stronger and stronger through out the day. I kept thinking - don't worry about getting wet, what's there to get wet anyway, just grab the stone! Then halfway through a dokusan, as someone was sharing the koan with me, and I was looking into their eyes, something in me melted. I sunk to the bottom of the ocean and my whole perspective changed - they are picking up the stone - just the way they know how - I am the one worried about getting wet. A subtle shift that changed everything for me and I just felt love for whoever was sitting in front of me.
Zen is such wonderful work, even in the depths of stubbornness and focused drive, a koan can show the simple truth of love and tenderness. Waves of kindness, like waves of gravity, unseen but felt, reach even the thickest of us.
Later, I received an email from someone thanking me for the retreat, they wrote:
"Guy, thanks for everything you do. Feels like love.”
*Dokusan, is a Japanese Zen word for a private interview with a Zen teacher.