“If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run. Instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms. Throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.”
~ Advisory from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department
Like mountain lions, koans can be strange animals. They both assume a certain majesty of mystery and surprise. In doing deep koan work, that which may bite you in the ass is not No, or Original Face, or even Person of No Rank. It might well be sunshine reflecting on a small red leaf, the sound of a bell, or a mountain lion. The truth is patiently hiding in the weeds, watching and waiting for an intimate encounter.
I live in a leafy neighborhood which sits on the edge of a very large open space. In recent years, the Blacktail deer population in the coastal mountains has increased, pushing them into our border town to eat sweet domestic plants. And with the deer have come the lions. Two decades ago, a lion running through our neighborhood was unthinkable. Now we get near-weekly reports of sightings in our piece of San Mateo County. I have always felt the Sheriff Department advisories have a Zen-like quality to them.
Let’s test. Hakuin Zenji himself might have instructed students in working with a koan: “If you encounter the One Hand, do not run. Face the Hand, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms. Throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.” He might have added, do these things at dawn, dusk and in the dark of night.
What a great way to practice! Make noise, look bigger than you think you are, throw rocks and pick up small children. But please understand that not all wild animals elicit the same koan response: when encountering a coyote, the Sheriff advises tepidly: “Make loud noises. If this fails, throw rocks in the animal’s direction.” Please, dear student, bring me the lion.