A teacher asked a student, ‘How is it when the Body of Reality is manifesting form like the moon reflecting in the water?’

The monk said, ‘Like an ass looking into a well. What do you say teacher?’

The teacher said, ‘It’s like the well looking at the ass.’

~ Blue Cliff Record, Case 89 commentary

With despair can come a deep sense of powerlessness. No matter what the situation ~ struggling with a boss, arguing with a mate, or watching unfavorable election returns ~ it is easy to slip into the role of a victim. For me, the above koan shows clearly that we are not powerless and certainly not victims.

Last Sunday, I was returning from a retreat in Oregon with a large suitcase of ritual gear. When I picked up the bag at the carousel, there was Transportation and Safety Administration tape wrapped all around it. Evidently looking for drugs and weapons, the TSA had opened up my bag, and rather than finding a bit of that $100 million of cocaine, heroin, and meth that comes into this country daily, they found an incense burner with ashes in it.

For some reason, the bag search made me think about this koan. Opening my bag, the agents must have wondered at the Chinese characters on the Blue Cliff Record book. They could not have helped but see the beauty of the large bell given to me by my first teacher. And when they opened up the black silk cover of my Roshi’s rakusu, I am certain the gorgeous touch of the golden brocade moved them, if only a bit, as it moves me. They were looking into the well, and it was looking back at them.

In our lives, we are more free than we allow ourselves. We can remain diligent and watchful of that ass that is looking down into our well. Last night, one daughter of mine marched in Oakland, and another blogged with eloquence in defense of others. For me, I will be writing the TSA in Portland, thanking them for their careful search, and explaining to them the mystery of what they found.