A monk asked a teacher, “I am pecking out of my shell. Teacher, will you pick in?”

The teacher replied, “If I do, will you survive?”

The student said, “If I did not survive, people would laugh at me.”

The teacher replied, “You really are in the weeds.”

~ Blue Cliff Record, Case 16

At first read, this koan looks to be about how a student and teacher work together to enlighten the student. But teachers are witnesses to the process, at best, so it is really a story about how a student enlightens herself. And what a grand endeavor that is: we as humans, seeking in our own way, to break out of delusion and into freedom.

Downstairs in the hall in which we sit on Saturdays, a Hispanic charismatic Christian group gathers at about the same time as we do. A couple of weeks ago, the charismatic group was being rather noisy lovers with their god, with much waling and crying that carried on for about a half hour, while we sat quietly, taking it in. All I know of the Charismatic Movement comes from Wikipedia, which says these folks are trying to bring the healing power of the Holy Spirit into their lives, which seems a good thing. We Buddhists too, I think, are trying to bring a holy spirit-like light into our lives. At some point, our pecking-and-picking paths diverge, however.

Not that some zendos have not ‘picked’ by amping up emotional charge in the room, to questionable effect: I remember one sesshin in Los Angeles long ago where basically we did nothing but cry for a week and another where we shouted ourselves hoarse screaming Mu! for five days. I walked away with a sore throat. Maybe pecking-and-picking is not about manufacturing an environment to achieve an exalted state. Maybe it is more simple than that: in a world where there is no savior an saved, no god and sinner, perhaps there is only the simple acts of pecking, picking, and laughing in the weeds.