The way of the Sage King of Yao came from the dharma,
He bowed respectfully as he ruled the people.
When he passed through the marketplace from end to end,
He found the sacred dynasty there.

This is from the second cycle of five poems from The Record of Dongshan, which appear soon after The Five Ranks.  While less formal in structure, these five, called Paying Homage and Enlightenment, are equally rich in poetic expression. This second grouping was added to our koan curriculum a century ago by Harada Sogaku, our ancestral teacher. And like the preceding Five Ranks, they serve as markers along the path to awakening. Of course in Chan/Zen, as soon as we establish markers, we must throw them out. Nonetheless Dongshan’s poetry leaves for us a sweet fragrance in the air.
 
Emperor Yao, who ruled for seventy-nine years in the time around 2200 BCE, is considered one of the three great sage-kings of ancient China. Yao’s greatest challenge in his long reign was dealing with the decade of devastating floods of the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. With his minister Shun, he was able to reorganize the kingdom, finally bringing order to the land. Yao has been seen as a wise and benevolent ruler, a model for all.
 
In reading Dongshan’s poem, I was struck by Yao’s humility. Though his reign occurred nearly two millennia before Buddhism arrived in the Middle Kingdom, Chinese people recognize the deep streams of commonality between Chan/Zen, Daoism, and Confucianism. 
 
We might sense a vast generosity in Yao’s actions. When beset by problems in the kingdom, brought on by the floods, two times he offered to abdicate the throne. Twice, his people refused. Inspired by the Law, Yao bows with great respect to the people. He enters the bustling marketplace, a place of common things—hordes of people, dirty animals and material goods. He comes to understand that place of the people from end to end. By understanding ordinariness, he finds a sacred quality there.

That is kind of like our lives, isn’t it? Finding a sacred quality in the ordinary. Like Yao, finding this takes humility, openness, porosity. My first thought in reading Donsghan’s poem was of Shunryu Suzuki’s Beginner’s Mind,
 
If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.

—Jon Joseph