An old grandmother sleeps in late,
And awakens to find an ancient mirror.
Clearly, she sees her own face.
In the future she will refrain from losing herself 
in the shadows of her mind.

—Second of Dongshan’s Five Ranks

This second rank is called “The Real within the Apparent,” written in the 9th century by Dongshan, the founder of the Caodong (Soto) Chan-Zen School. His Five Ranks present a kind of lyrical roadmap of the process of awakening.

In my translation I use the term “old grandmother” for 老婆 (J. ro-ba) rather than “old crone” or “old woman,” because to me it sounds more intimate. My children used to call their grandmother (my mother) “Mima,” while some of their cousins called her “Baba.”

Yasutani Hakuun (White Cloud), our ancestral teacher, writes in his 1986 posthumously-published book The Five Ranksthat the old grandmother represents our phenomenal world (apparent) while the mirror is our essential nature (real). Yasutani warns us, however, against holding onto this dualism. “Subject and object, self and other, just don’t exist once our eyes are open. Always and everywhere, there is a grace that is completely showing itself. And in that showing there is no awakening or delusion.”

He compares the last line to the Buddhist tale of Endayatta, in which a woman wakes up one morning and looks in the mirror, and for some reason does not see her own image. She runs about crazed, looking for her head, and it is only when friends restrain her and give her a knock to the head does she realize she had it all along.

Occasionally I dream of Mima in that liminal space between waking and sleeping. Once, she snuck into a family gathering to be with her children and grandchildren again. Another time I saw her smiling brightly, along with my father, while we were visiting colleges back east, as if to say her granddaughters would do just fine when they left home.

—Jon Joseph