Superintendent Tse had been staying in Fayan’s congregation, but had never asked to enter (Fayan’s) room (for special instruction).
One day Fayan asked him, “Why haven’t you come to enter my room?” Tse replied, “Didn’t you know, Teacher, when I was at Ch’ing Lin’s place, I had an entry.”
Fayan said, “Try to recall it for me.” Tse said, “I asked, ‘What is Buddha?’ Lin said, ‘The Fire God seeks fire.’”
Fayan said, “Good words, but I’m afraid you misunderstood. Can you say something more for me?”
Tse said, “The Fire God is in the province of fire; he is seeking fire with fire. Likewise, I am Buddha, yet I went on searching for Buddha.” Fayan said, “Sure enough, the Superintendent has misunderstood.”
Containing his anger, Tse left the monastery and went off across the river.
Fayan said, “This man can be saved if he comes back; if he doesn’t return, he can’t be saved.” Out on the road, Tse thought to himself, “He is the teacher of five hundred people; how could he deceive me?”
So he turned back and again called on Fayan, who told him, “Just ask me and I’ll answer you.”
Thereupon Tse asked, “What is Buddha?”
Fayan said, “The Fire God seeks fire.” At these words, Tse was greatly enlightened.
~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 7, Commentary
There are several places in my house where I regularly leave a cushion to meditate, and one of them is in front of a large fireplace. Sitting before the hearth’s dark hole, I can feel a kind of energy from fires past. It feels like the province of the gods, of fire gods. They seek fire, and I sit and seek them.
In recent years, the fire gods have been quick to invite themselves into our neighborhood in the late summer: we have had at least seven wildfires within five miles of that same meditation hearth in the last 18 years. One of them, the Kincade Fire, swept over us in late 2019.
The gods came late on a moonless Saturday night in October. I had been waiting all day for the forecasted “extreme wind event”, a hot and dry Diablo Wind blowing in from the east. But the wind gods did not come seeking wind, so near midnight, with a clear and breezeless sky, I evacuated. I could see the constellation Orion standing to the southeast, and beyond the far ridge of the Mayacamas Mountains, a soft red glow from the Kincade, still five miles off. As I got into my truck to leave, a gentle snow-like ash begun to fall. Within two hours of my departure, wind gusts off the mountains reached a peak of 96 miles per hour and a 60-foot ball of fire was rolling down our creek.
The water gods came seeking water that same winter, dropping nearly four feet of rain through the season, and the landscape, once terribly charred, responded. The earth gods came seeking earth. Green grass blanked the burnt hills, bunches of young madrones shot up everywhere, and manzanita seeds sprouted, as they will do only after fire. A grand old valley oak, which is sprawled on the hillside across the creek draw, was so blackened we thought it could never survive. But it did, and now is mottled with fresh green. Only the digger pines on the ridge remain ghost-like and barren in their profiles.
It is natural that the fire gods seek fire, and the wind gods seek wind, even though we may not always like it. Because that also allows water gods to seek water, and earth gods, earth. And we seek the gods, not because we wish to figure them out, but because we are they. We are the gods of fire, wind, water and earth. And there is not one thing out of place in all of that. Just ask Superintendent Tse.