A monk asked Yun Men, “What is the Pure Body of Reality?” Yunmen replied, “A flowering hedge”. The monk asked, “What is it like when one goes on in just such a way?’ Men replied, “A golden-haired lion.”
~ The Blue Cliff Record, case 39
In recently months, I have been impressed by the fact that our practice ~ no matter if we think it simple, like a flowering hedge, or grand like a golden-haired lion ~ is the pure body of reality. Just as it is. Meeting and talking with students I am often reminded of that fact, and even humbled by the simple beauty and even grandeur of the efforts I witness and share.
I recently watched a madcap movie by the German art-house director Doris Dörrie called Enlightenment Guaranteed (2000). The story is about two brothers, both suffering failed relationships and unsettled lives, who go off to Japan to study in Zen monastery. I am naturally skeptical about pastiches on Zen, and this film has its head-scratching moments, like when the brothers lose all their money and wander homeless through Tokyo before finding their way to the monastery.
But there were two scenes I found memorable. Sweeping as part of work-practice out in the temple’s bamboo garden, the two brothers paused and listened to a band of crows, which they begin to imitate: Caw! Caw! Caw! There was a spontaneous, unscripted quality to the scene that is at the heart of the play we often find in Zen.
Fortunately (at least for this reviewer), there was no crashing enlightenment experience depicted by a white out-like flash of light. Instead, when the two brothers were sitting across from each other on the train, returning from the temple, one said to the other: “I am gay”. “What?” asked the other brother. “I am gay”, the first repeated. “How long have you known?” “Oh, since the beginning.” The other brother nodded, looking with tenderness at his brother.
Just that intimate sharing, without judgement, of important things, was itself the pure body of reality, guaranteed since the beginning.