One day the student (whose master had passed away), took a hoe into the teaching hall and crossed back and forth, from east to west and west to east. The resident teacher asked, “What are you doing?” Yuan said, I’m looking for relics of our late master.” The master said, “Vast waves spread far and wide, foaming billows flood the skies. What relics of your late master are you looking for?”

~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 55 (fragment)

How quickly the poles in our world can flip from light to dark. Only a week ago, I was writing about the tenderness with which I felt for my recently departed first teacher and how his caregivers pureed and fed him the sweet Rainier cherries I sent him just two days before he passed. With the will distributed (I get the Buddhist and Taoist books), last night I stayed up late into the night studying probate law for the State of California.

I always felt my former teacher was a mountain monk, living atop a hill with a glorious view of Mt Diablo in the Contra Costa (other shore), and so I consulted the 12th century Chinese text, Rules of Purity for the Chan Monastery with regard to disposition of a deceased monk’s possessions upon his passing. The text admonishes, “Other than enlightenment that comes with spiritual cultivation, which is the chief goal for those who have renounced the world, monks should seek to acquire nothing but their clothes and a bowl”. Even so, there were careful procedures for disposition of the deceased’s property, “A placard is hung announcing an auction of the deceased monk’s possessions to the assembly…the chief seat is invited to examine the seal of the deceased’s property (placed when the monk first went into the infirmary) before opening it in front of the assembly. The possessions should be displayed in the hall before the bell is rung. The items are then auctioned one at a time…” (Yifa, p 207).

Last week I felt the “vast waves spreading far and wide,’ and the “foaming billows flood the skies.” And now, what relics of our old masters, after all, are any of us looking for?