A teacher, giving a talk, said ‘If you raise a single speck of dust, the nation flourishes. If you do not raise a single speck of dust, the nation perishes.’

Another teacher raised his staff and said, ‘Are there any patch-robed monks who will live together and die together?’

~ Blue Cliff Record, Case 61

Navigating our way through koans is not an exercise in employing exacting instruments but is often a bit more free-form, like calculating your course by holding a thumb and pinky finger up to the stars. Mid-course corrections are to be expected.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a plaza in downtown San Francisco, having coffee with a friend. It was a warm day, and as we sat in the shade of an elm tree, we watched mostly young people move through the plaza pursuing lunch, friends and jobs. I was talking grandly about how one time, just a couple of blocks away, I stood on the street corner looking at all the office buildings and people and realized that they were all utterly the same, only that they looked different.

At that moment, I felt a warm blop hit the right side of my head. I craned my neck up, and saw the fat ass of a pigeon sitting on a branch right above me. Quickly, I closed my mouth, and felt my head. A warm, green goo came off my hair into my hand.

For some reason, the above koan immediately came to mind, but when I recently re-read it, what grabbed me was not the point that a single speck of dust is the whole universe. It was the ‘Are there any patched-robed monks who will live together and die together?’ I thought Yes! Yes there are! And sometimes they leave green goo behind.