The purpose of making one’s way through abandoned grasses and dark places is to find your true nature. Right now, where is your true nature?

~ Tou-shuai’s First Barrier, Gateless Barrier, Case 47

In koan work, when we search in dark and abandoned places, then quite naturally, we find our answers there. An answer I recently came across for the above koan was a simple statement from a dream: ‘They killed the Russian boy to destroy all hope.’

I don’t often use dreams in my practice or teaching, but once in a while a dream comes along that is so strong that it touches, and even deeply shakes me. Last weekend Pacific Zen held a leadership meeting, where we meditated, did some exercises, talked and visited. The last night I had a dream.

It started out light: John Tarrant, our director, was leading a bunch of us through small shops in a kind of bazaar in an eastern European city like Prague. He had gotten a new hairdo, and was kind of attentive to it. Viewed from the side, the long hair had a kind of strange, swept-back profile, but from the front it looked exactly right. I said, ‘John, you have never looked better!’, as he looked into his reflection in the window of a storefront. Rachel Boughton, his partner, took his arm and said they had to go get a photo taken. Then the mood in the dream shifted.

I left the group and barely missed a trolley car that was headed up to an ornate hotel on the hill, so had to walk.

Walking into a square, two men were talking. One said to the other, ‘They killed the Russian boy’ When he said that, I knew he was referring to a Russian boy who had been adopted by a local sports team. The boy, an orphan, had become a great symbol of hope for the whole country. And now the Russian mafia had killed him. And they did it to crush the hope that the people had built up. I was devastated.

I awoke repeating the line, ‘They killed the Russian boy to destroy all hope’. The line went around and around in my head the whole morning, as if it were a koan. There was no meaning to that sentence outside of the vast reality of no hope. Then light came in through the window and people chatted and laughed. I got a cup of coffee. If there is life, perhaps there is hope.