Don’t light a lamp—there’s no oil in the house.
It’s a shame to want a light.
I have a way to bless poverty:
Just feel your way along the wall.
~ Yinyuan Longqi, Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Collection
In taking up koans, sometimes we find one that perfectly expresses our current condition, yet may, on the face of it, appear unrelated. In some strange way, these “dog koans for cat problems” are often far more intimate and meaningful than they may seem.
Don’t light a lamp—there’s no oil in the house. I recently caught up with a friend who had been away for some weeks. For the past decade, or so, he has suffered from an illness which afflicts the inner ear, called Meniere’s disease. At times, his vertigo became so bad, if he moved the least bit in bed, he vomited. His tinnitus was so severe, it sounded like a train running through his head. And his migraine headaches were utterly debilitating, sending him to bed for days on end. But about two years ago, Messrs. Meniere, as he calls the visitor, largely went away. A couple of weeks ago, the Messrs. returned.
Lying in bed for hours, various koans would come to him. It was the above koan, “Don’t light a lamp—there’s no oil in the house…” that mysteriously seemed to resonate with his condition.
It’s a shame to want a light. Himself a long-time Vipassana teacher, my friend said, “I often taught that meditation is about feeling our way in some sense; we feel our way in the dark and discover and learn things through that process.”
I have a way to bless poverty. He often used a certain teaching metaphor: as meditators, we wake up in a dark hotel room, and stumble over the furniture searching for the light switch. “Teaching that,” he says, “I thought I needed some kind of control,” and standing in the way was the furniture and lost light switch; both obstacles that required a workaround. He no longer sees these kind of obstacles in his life and practice ~ like Meniere’s ~ as barriers. “I now know that avoidance isn’t the way to practice, it isn’t the way to live.”
Just feel your way along the wall. “Even when I’m lying in bed with Meniere’s, not doing well, I don’t feel separate from everybody else.” He feels a natural sense of support from ancestors, relatives, friends and all other things. “It’s the support of [the koan] No, the support of ‘What was my face before my parents were born?’” He added: “It’s hard to explain, but I’m feeling my way in the dark with my hands, and there are no obstacles, and I’m not doing it alone.”
Ours is a collaborative universe, I suggested to my friend. When a friend or family member becomes ill, in a way, we too become sick. And when they become well again, we too heal. “Yes,” he agreed, “We move in the dark, hand-in-hand.”
My Body Effervesces
by Anna Swir
(English version by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan
Original Language Polish)
I am born for the second time.
I am light
as the eyelash of the wind.
I froth, I am froth.
I walk dancing,
if I wish, I will soar.
The condensed lightness
of my body
condenses most forcibly
in the lightness of my foot
and its five toes.
The foot skims the earth
which gives way like compressed air.
An elastic duo
of the earth and of the foot. A dance
I am born for the second time,
happiness of the world
came to me again.
My body effervesces,
I think with my body which effervesces.
If I wish,
I will soar.
Art: Tulips, by Mayumi Oda. See at mayumioda.net