Whenever asked a question, Master Chu-chih would raise one finger…

When Chu-chih was about to die, he said to the assembly, “I received this one-finger from my teacher. I have used it all my life and have never exhausted it.” With that, he entered nirvana.

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 3

Sitting in retreat lately, I began to appreciate the radical suchness, the absolute clarity, of so many of the koans in our curriculum. The above is one such case. In my quote above, I left out the bit about how a boy imitates the teacher by holding up his finger and the teacher chops it off, bringing the boy to great awakening. If that is central to our discussion, please let me know.

Radical suchness takes innumerable forms ~ flowers and trees, gestures and actions, emotions and sensations. And leaf blowers. In the recent retreat, we were sitting quietly for several periods and the gardener outside cranked up a leaf-blower. Though loud, I didn’t find the noise particularly disturbing. After a time, the blower stopped, and then idled: Gutta, gutta, gutta, gutta. It was for me the most delicious sound, and my body was going gutta, gutta, gutta as well. I thought, what word can describe the beauty of that sound? No word, of course, touched it. But the one that came closest for me in that moment was love.

On Monday, I logged onto news accounts of the massacre in Las Vegas. The sound of an AR-15 assault rifle on the videos impacted my body as the staccato went gut, gut, gut, gut. It was a sickening sound, and a sickening feeling. I was fearful. Fearful for my daughter, who had attended the Life is Beautiful concert in that very location just a week earlier; the gunman was there too. I was fearful for the people trapped and hurt. And fearful for all of us, who as defenseless innocents have been shot time and again. Are we becoming numb to it all? The gut, gut, gut, gut on the videos had no name, but instinctively I knew it as the sound of madness. Raising my one finger, even now, I can’t avoid touching a piece of both the madness and the love.