Huangbo saw Linji coming and said, “What a fellow! Coming and going, coming and going: when will it all end?”
“It is all due to your grandmotherly kindness,” said Linji, who presented the customary gift and stood waiting.
“Where have you been?”, asked Huangbo.
“Recently you deigned to favor me by sending me to see Dayu,” said Linji.
“What did Dayu have to say?” asked Huangbo. Linji related what had happened. Huangbo said, “Oh, how I would like to catch that fellow and give him a good dose of my stick!”
“Why say you’d ‘like to’? Take it right now!” said Linji, and immediately gave him a slap.
“You lunatic!” cried Huangbo, “Coming back here and pulling the tiger’s whiskers!”
~ Record of Linji, Pilgrimages, I


Why say you’d “like to”? Take it right now! How deeply moving is the dynamism and brilliance of this exchange. Reading it again and again, I feel as if I stand on the frontier of a land of great possibility, refreshed by a cool and nurturing breeze. There is no reason, Linji is saying, to defer our life, waiting for some other moment or outcome. Let’s have it right here and right now.

It is so easy for us to fall into a train of delay and re-schedule in our lives: waiting for all the ducks to line up. I was planning to replace my leaky roof, but then the stock market crashed. The market recovered, but the architect was taking too long. He finally finished the plans and then the pandemic took hold, causing supply chain delays. The delays exposed the open roof to rain, which was six times the average for that month. The roof leaked, doing some damage to the ceiling. We patched the ceiling, but then the drought returned, and with it the threat of wildland fire. Endless are the conditions conspiring against our roof repairs. Endless are the conditions conspiring against making ours a perfect life.

And endless are the conditions conspiring against our awakening. Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of San Francisco Zen Center, gave a talk over a half century ago:

The time is now. What we are doing is now. There is no other time. This is reality. I am here now. You are here now. That incident with the old monk taught Dogen what Buddhist life is, what reality is. It is not for another place or another person.

In the Dogen story he was referencing, the young Japanese monk, traveling in Song China, met an old monk who was drying mushrooms by a monastery wall during a hot summer day. “Why are you out here in the heat?” asked Dogen of the old monk. “Why not go in and rest until the sun is lower in the sky?” “This is what I am doing now,” replied the monk. “It is my job and no one else’s job. Why would I try to be somewhere else?”

Suzuki later mentioned a student who came to him, complaining about how hard it was to mix both Zen practice and being a housewife. She felt she was on a ladder, and for every step up she went, she came down two. “Forget the ladder,” Suzuki told her. “In Zen, everything is right here on the ground.”

The Emperor of Ice Cream
Wallace Stevens

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.