Wuzu said, “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West? The cypress tree in the garden!”

At these words Yuanwu was suddenly enlightened. He went outside the cottage and saw a rooster fly to the top of a railing, beat his wings and crow loudly. He said to himself, “Isn’t this the sound?”

Full of gratitude, Yuanwu then took incense back into Wuzu’s room. He told of his discovery and wrote:

The golden duck vanishes into the golden brocade,

with a country song the drunk comes home from the woods,

only the young beauty knows about her love affair.

Wuzu said, “I share your joy.”

~ Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans

Often, when we take up a particular koan, we find that just a piece of it resonates more than other parts of the koan, and we make that piece ours. In doing so, the melody that develops may not at all be the one we had expected. It will be a discovery, and as such, will be fresher, and more satisfying.

This koan came up in work with a friend this week, and for this the purposes of this note, it seemed to dovetail nicely with Zhaozhou’s Cypress Tree in the Garden from last week. But I found that the piece in the above koan that resonates for me most was not the tree, or the golden duck, or the young beauty. It was the simple question: “Isn’t this the sound?” that Yuanwu utters on hearing the rooster crow. And all week I have been searching for that sound.

On Saturday, with friends, I went to a performance of cool, seamless jazz put on by keyboardist and horn player Joey DeFrancesco. Jazz, or course, shares a long and intimate track with Zen: Coltrane, Evans, McLaughlin, Cherry, and Hancock. Listening to DeFrancesco’s new cut, In the Key of the Universe, I couldn’t help but ask: “Isn’t this the sound?”

And while talking about the concert with a friend, and asking that question, I realized that at one time, often in my impatient search for awakening during retreats I found myself asking “Isn’t this the sound?” when I heard a bird song, a car go by, or a bell ring. I was looking for a perfect answer. But that answer, for me this week, lay not in the sound, but in just asking the question: “Isn’t this the sound?”.

[I Saw Myself]

By Lew Welch

I saw myself

a ring of bone

in the clear stream

of all of it

and vowed,

always to be open to it

that all of it

might flow through

and then heard

“ring of bone” where

ring is what a

bell does