Light of Our Ancestors
Yunmen said to the community, “In the center of the cosmos, inside space and time, there is one treasure hidden in the body. It picks up the lantern and walks into the meditation hall. It brings the entrance gate and put it on top of the lantern.”
~The Blue Cliff Record, Case 62
With light and lanterns come spirits. At a recent Pacific Zen retreat we joined in several projects, one of which was to construct Yunmen’s lantern, from the above koan, out of variously colored paper and string. Our group of a couple dozen folk each made lanterns of different shapes and sizes and placed them on a table in the center of our meeting room. There they stood, flickering by warm battery candle light. We quietly sat watching, soaking in the soft glow of the candles.
I myself saw in the candles the flickering spirits of the many ancestors in my life. My dharma ancestors, now gone, joined us: Maezumi, Yamada, and Aitken. And those before, Yasutani, Harada, Toyota. These teachers were innovators in their own cultures in their own ways. How could it be otherwise? For their courage, I was grateful.
There were other lights, other spirits, moving on the table. For several years after my mother passed, I would meet her in that dream space between waking and sleeping. Once she scolded me (for good reason in the dream), and other times we would just a share a laugh. One weekend several years ago, her no- longer-young six children rented a house near Trinidad Bay, in Northern California. Napping in a bedroom in the house one afternoon, I dreamed several of us were standing at the front door of the house talking. Suddenly, my mother ducked in, a sneaky move to join the family for the weekend.
That night, watching the lanterns, I felt that Yunmen, following my mother’s lead, had sneaked into the room to be with us, just so he could enjoy our company