Snails Climb Stairway to Heaven
Yunmen said, “I’m not asking you about before the full moon. Come and say a word or
two about after the full moon.”
He himself replied, “Every day is a good day.”
~ Blue Cliff Record, Case 6
This koan is said to be posing the question: what about after enlightenment? What then?
We are in new moon right now, and it is dark at night when I go into my garden to hunt snails by flashlight. ‘I am snail; sticky, slimy, gooey,’ I heard myself saying last night during the hunt, adding in my best Harvey Fierstein imitation, ‘Is that so wronga?’ One more gardener who ~ for just a moment ~ mistook himself for a snail.
Hakuin, in his imitable way, wrote of this koan, ‘This saying is cold; it has no explanation. It’s hard to penetrate, hard to understand…it cuts through people’s emotional interpretations and breaks up the clichés they take refuge in.’ As great a teacher as Hakuin was, he got some bits wrong. No, this koan is not open to interpretations or clichés. But Yes, it is easy to penetrate, and it is warm, not cold. They say Hakuin was going to write more, but ran out of ink: an ongoing practice, he was to say, is the willingness to over and over again abandon everything but our snail-ness.
It seems to me our practice is always moving ~ from greater to lesser clarity and back again; from no-thing emptiness to all-things fullness. Recently, I have felt a deep sense of ‘not one thing is out of place-ness’, if you will. The snails have been nipping off the tops of my tomato plant seedlings, and I am happy for them. It is wonderful what they do. The tiny seedling stumps are trying mightily to re-grow leaves. It is beautiful how they labor. And for my part, I water the little stumps and chant the Kichijo Dharani as I show another cornu aspersum the stairway to heaven. All of us playing our part. Is that so wronga?