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‘A young woman is coming this way’

~ Pacific Zen miscellaneous koans

This can be a fun koan, and not a complicated one. It allows us to flamboyantly strut our stuff before the teacher as young women and as young men. At least so goes the traditional answer. The answers that life gives us can often feel less like play-acting and more like, well, just living.

One answer to this koan in my life came about tonight: my young daughter had her first official date with a boy. Not one of those formal dance things, but a one-on-one trip to the county fair. ‘A young woman is coming this way.’

By chance, I rented this week the old Kurosawa movie ‘Ikiru (To Live)’, which some critics believe is his best. It is about a bored bureaucrat of 30 years who learns he has cancer and seeks earnestly to find meaning in his last months of life. The old widower goes carousing with a washed-out novelist and at one point requests the piano man play a long-ago popular song: “Life is brief/Fall in love, maidens/Before the crimson bloom/Fades from your lips”. I had not seen the film Ikiru in three decades. For me, that movie was also the first date with a new girlfriend. ‘A young woman is coming this way.’

Fall in love, maidens. In Zen we sometimes forget for a moment that barriers exist between past and present, old and young , dying and living. Like simpletons, we just kind of dumbly appreciate the crimson bloom in the lips of the young woman coming this way.