Huangbo brought up his conversation with the cook (about how much rice he needs to feed the monks). Linji said, “The cook doesn’t understand. Please, Master, say a turning phrase on his behalf.”
Huangpo said, “You ask it.”
Linji said, “Isn’t that too much?” (Huangpo’s same question of the cook)
Huangbo said, “Tomorrow, have another meal.”
Linji asked, “Why say ‘tomorrow’? Eat the meal right now!” and hit Huangbo.
Huangbo yelled, “This crazy man has come in here and pulled the tiger’s whiskers again!”
~ The Record of Linji, Critical Examinations I
What do koans really mean?, some people ask me. The meaning, I tell them, is not in the explaining but in the showing. Koans, like the exchange between student and teacher above, demonstrate ~ with utter clarity ~ a lust for life. Several months ago, I was reading through the Record of Linji (j. Rinzai), which is a collection of sermons and anecdotes of the teachings of the famous Chinese Zen teacher. Though I had read above the passage probably dozens of times before, this time the exchange came alive for me. Demanding, imploring: Why say ‘tomorrow’? Eat the meal right now! A lust for life.
But then the whole world is, just this moment, lusting for life. Perhaps it is the promise of winter turning slowly to spring, with the days now growing longer. Or maybe it is in the brown-oak moths flocking around the porch light last night as a warm spell quickens their hatch. Or the back-garden landscape, just this morning, with rock walls painted in the light of the now waning blue moon. They are all lusting. But they don’t need to explain themselves. They are showing it: working their hardest, the moths are “moth-ing”, the moon is “moon-ing” and the rock wall is “wall-ing”.
We too are “we-ing”, and trying to explain that just mucks things up. I will give it a try: We are threads in the vast weaving and un-weaving of the universe, the tapestry of life. From the beginning, we have lusted for life. Now, there, I have mucked it up again. Linji un-mucks my explanation by smacking his teacher: Eat the meal right now! We are just crazy people, pulling a tiger’s whiskers.
Lou Reed ~ Walk on the Wild Side