A student asked Zhaozhou, “Does a newborn baby have consciousness?”

Zhaozhou said, “It’s like tossing a ball into rushing waters.”

The student went on to ask Touzi, “What does ‘tossing a ball onto rushing waters’ mean?” 

Touzi said, “Moment after moment, it never stops flowing.”

~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 80

“Eventually, all things merge into one,” wrote Normal Mclean, “and a river runs through it.” I have been feeling immersed in that river lately.

Late a couple of nights ago, in the light of the waxing Sturgeon moon, we took our dog for a walk. We turned onto a long, dark and meandering road, overhung by ancient trees and with only an occasional house light to illumine the sidewalk. The street follows a creek bed, and coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions are known to travel the waterway. We switched off the flashlight, let the dog off her leash, and took in the night sights, smells and sounds.

On entering the bottom of the dark street, a great horned owl called from high in the oak trees to our right. A hundred yards later, a softer call responded, “Hoo! hoo!” Then several hundred yards beyond that, another call, and a few minutes later a fourth owl called out. The owls were offering a river of soft song, flowing up the wandering street. There were no words for it.

In his commentary on the above koan, Yuanwu writes:

A person who studies the Way must become like an infant who knows nothing of “good and evil, long and short, right and wrong, or gain and loss.” Yuanwu adds: ”In the midst of no activity, she carries out her activities, accepting all favorable and unfavorable circumstances with a compassionate heart.

This is not unlike Linji’s observations:

Followers of the Way, what more is there for the resolute fellow to doubt? The activity going on right now ~ whose is it? Grasp and use, but never name ~ this is called the ‘mysterious principle.’ Come to such understanding as this, and there is nothing to be disliked.

The mysterious principal can be grasped and used, but never named.

Speaking with a friend recently about the koan, “Cannot get wet, cannot get dry,” she said, “I was wet sitting this morning, and all last week. Crying up a storm. I don’t know where it’s coming from. It’s just like a, like everything that I think is a problem, it is not a problem.

“Every last thing that is my life is contained in this shining field, and it shreds me. It shreds my sense of self.

“I think some of the crying is joy. And actually, some of it is pain. But it is the kind of pain that you see in something which is so beautiful, you don’t have words for. And I just start crying. I wish I had words for it.”

I suggested maybe she did not need words. Just crying, and just wiping away the tears were perhaps enough.

A couple of mornings ago, in the Open Temple, when our short form of the above Linji koan was introduced ~ “There is nothing I dislike” ~ I began to soak into it. Not with the whole of it, but with bits. That method of koan meditation is called wa-tou (“word-head”), taking in a part of a koan and examining just that. I began to sit with: “There is.” After a time: “There is nothing.” And then: “No-thing.” “There is no-thing I.” “I like dis.”

In my head, I found myself beginning to babble like a baby; not making a lot of sense, but feeling the words were alive, and fresh. A newborn baby does have consciousness, but it not something she can put words to. And that is the flow, moment after moment, not stopping.