The Trees Go On and On
Words do not convey the actual,
Letters do not know the mind,
He who attaches to words is lost,
She who abides by letters will remain ignorant.
~ Gateless Barrier, Case 37 Wumen’s Poem
A few days ago, as the light gathered in the early dawn, I was sitting on the edge of a vast meadow surrounded by firs and pines in the Mt Lassen area. It was cool and damp; all was still. Suddenly, the silence was broken by the single call of a scrub jay. It was a Zen moment crafted to perfection. Yet as I was sitting, I asked myself: ‘Why can’t I really appreciate this? Why don’t I feel that that bird call is my voice?’ ‘Why am I separating myself from my surroundings?’ That kind of inquiry went on for a few minutes, without many answers.
It is very natural for our small mind to distance itself from the world around us, from our big mind. As Wumen suggests above, we quickly attach ourselves to words and letters with thoughts and judgments. ‘Why am I doing it ~ fill in the blank: life, relationships, job, meditation ~ so wrong?’ When Zhaozhou was asked, in the case attached to the above poem, ’What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?’, he responded ‘Cypress tree in the garden’. He was bidding us to leave aside the interpretation and parsing for just a moment. To just embrace the cypress tree in the garden for a second, without judgments of any kind. In fact, he is showing us that we are doing it ~ fill in the blank: life, relationships, job, meditation ~ just fine.
Sitting some more, a simple line circled in my head, ’The trees go on and on.’ It was not what I was looking for; I wanted an experience with a big grass meadow and a noisy bird. But that line, with utterly no meaning (no discussion of taiga forests, pine beetles or forest fires), for a time became my koan. Mountains and rivers without end.