‘One tock! has made me forget all my previous knowledge; no artificial discipline is needed in any way…’

~ Hsian-yen, Gateless Barrier, Notes on Case 5

In working on koans we look to bring the answer directly into our lives. But sometimes, as is natural, we overshoot the mark and add complexity. And that can take us away from direct experience with, for want of a better word, our True Nature. In those times, sometimes it is best to return to simplicity.

In developing this note, I started with a story that I love about Hsian-yen (see Up a Tree from last week), and how he had become disappointed with himself, burned his notes, and had ran off to tend a small temple in the mountains. One day while sweeping, a small stone hit a piece of bamboo and went tock! With that tock! he had an opening., and composed a poem, the first two lines of which are cited above. My lesson around the story was how we can seek to escape from the world by running to cloistered environs or distant lands, but that usually we carry our personal baggage with us, and escape nothing. It was an interesting point, perhaps, but in the end, not one with much juice. In sitting with this koan, I kept being drawn back to the tock!, and all that it means.

Of course, tock! (even with two exclamation points!!) does not mean anything. And because it has absolutely no meaning, strange as it may seem, it has tremendous power to create freedom.

A couple of nights ago I went to Hot Wok, a local Chinese restaurant, to pick up an order. It was small and the whole family seemed to be working. Despite the years of an oil patina painted on everything, there was a wonderful light infusing the joint. Over at one table sat a Hells Angel-like biker who had parked his ‘hog’ out front. A trendy young couple walked in. Waiting for the order, I noticed the ceiling fan going around and around. It whirred effortlessly and without sound. Watching the fan, I felt real love for it, as well as a hard-to-describe familiarity and intimacy with it. The fan was spinning just for me (and just for you, as well). The fan was telling me that in my whole life, there was not one thing out of place. It was the sound of one fan. Not clapping. Laughing