The Best Season
Spring comes with flowers, autumn comes with the moon.
Summer with breeze, winter with snow.
When idle concerns don’t hang in your mind,
That is your best season.
~ Gateless Barrier, Case 19, Wumen’s verse.
There are no rules that say koan practice can’t at times play out as a medley, like those blended tapes of snippets pop songs from the 1980s. Speaking with a friend the other day, she mentioned that as a practice, she often scrolls through a dozen koans in a single period of meditation. A bit novel, yes, but why not? After all, all koans are really the same koan.
How can all koans be the same koan? How is it possible a brocade-rich poem, a loud shout, or a subtle action may all express the same fact? In an unexpected encounter, I revisited the medley of koan practice in my vegetable garden yesterday. Butternut squash vines had climbed into my tomato cages and were choking them. I muttered under my breath in frustration, Damn it, does it always have to be this way? And then Tung Shan answered, Only for your benefit, your eminence. With that, I began to kind of play with my vegetables. A zucchini, hidden by large leaves now turning brown and shriveling, had grown to three feet in length. I gave the huge gourd several hard taps. Alive or dead?, I asked aloud. Tao Wu replied, I won’t say! Most of the dozen tomato plants my garden are now spent, revealing their last red fruit of the season. How is it when the tomato plants wither and the leaves fall?, I considered. Yunmen exclaimed, Bright tomatoes exposed in the golden wind!
The key here, I think, is play: staying light and embarrassingly open to the ever-rotating toys presented us by the universe. Pick up a koan, play with it, and put it back down. When no-thing hangs in our mind, that is our best season to wander in the garden.