A monk asked Hongzhi, “What about the ones who have gone?”

Hongzhi said, “White clouds rise to the top of the valleys, blue peaks

lean into the empty sky.”

The monk asked, “What about the ones who return?”

Hongzhi said, “Heads covered in white hair, they leave the cliffs and

valleys. In the dead of night they descend through the clouds to the

market stalls.”

“What about the ones who neither come nor go?”

“The stone woman calls them back from their dream of the world.”

~ PZI Miscellaneous Koans

This is a beautifully lyrical dialog with the teacher who compiled the Book of Serenity, one of the major Zen koan collections. The monk asks after those who have gone and those who have returned. At the last, he asks about the ones who are here right now. With his response, Hongzhi invites us into a dream of the world.

Since my mother died not yet a decade ago I have had a good number of dreams with her; I say with her, because they have usually involved a sharing between us. I have most often met her in that hazy world between waking and sleeping. She has chatted with me and we have laughed, she once tut-tutted me for bad behavior in another dream. One time, when my brothers and sisters rented a house by the ocean together (her dream vacation), I discovered her sneaking in, just to be with us, when no one was watching.

In koan work, we easily attach too much meaning to the koan itself; we usually can find the answer in the question. When the stone woman calls me back from my dream of the world, as my mother would call me to dinner, I answer her. And in doing that, somehow the gap between the ones who have gone before, the ones who have returned, and the ones who have remained here does not seem so wide. When she calls, my life, perhaps like my death, seems just a dream.