Age of Sages and Emperors
In the middle of nothing, there is a road that has no dust.
If you just do not mention the names of the sages and emperors,
You’ll be more eloquent than they were in ancient times.
~ The Five Ranks, The Record of Tung-shan, 114
This is the third of five verses written by the 9th century monk, Tung-shan, who with his successor founded the Tsao-tung (J. Soto) school of Zen. Considered some of the finest verse in all of Zen, the poems are an expression of the mystery and beauty of the awakened mind. Last week, we shared the first of the five verses: “Just at midnight, before there is moonlight…” In this third stanza, as if having woken from a dream, we look around us and see a world transformed.
In the middle of nothing, there is a road that has no dust. I am struggling in writing this note a bit; whenever I lecture about emptiness, I get in trouble. While the opening line could not be more descriptive, it is also true that any attempt to explain the meaning of “nothingness” or shunyata, is well, not helpful, and even kind of boring. In the very first line of The Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu says: “The Tao that can be told, is not the eternal Tao.” Wumen, in his preface to The Gateless Barrier writes: “Such talk raises waves when there is no wind and gouges wounds in healthy skin. How much more foolish are those who depend on words and seek understanding by their intellect! It is like trying to strike the moon with a stick or scratch your shoe when your foot itches.
”If you just do not mention the names of sages and emperors…“ My own experience is that with time, “emptiness” becomes less of a “thing” and more of an intimate, personal experience with all things; all things become more of a “me” and I become more of a “them.” That sense of “not-two” we sometimes call “intimacy.” In fact, we call it many things: the nature, light, grace, heart, mind, even the sun-moon-and-stars! The teachers of old knew that you cannot tell it, but must show it.
“…You will be more eloquent than they were in ancient times.” It is actually pretty easy to be more eloquent that the sages and emperors of old, because we have inherited this moment, and this is the only moment that shines with eloquence. Yesterday, in the hot sun of the late afternoon, I was picking crunchy and sweet snap peas in my garden for dinner. They were warm to the touch, and hanging off their stems, I could see were held by green tendrils twisted about the trellis. After sunset, in the gloaming, I went for a walk, alone, in the neighborhood. To the west was a waxing crescent moon. Sounds were transitioning from day to night, as the crows moved to their roosts and quieted. The great horned owls took over the dark with their sentinel calls. It is wonderful that we have inherited the world of the sages and emperors. It is well that we honor these precious times.
Print: Thank you Mayumi Oda, the Original Goddess!