‘Later, she visited another friend who was also a Zen teacher. They were sitting and drinking tea in the afternoon, when the conversation took a turn and the teacher said, “Well, in the end, I’ll die and you’ll die and we’ll be two heaps of ashes. Then, where will we meet?”

~ Entangling Vines, Second half of Case 18

For me, this segment of the koan is not about death or endings, heaps of ashes or piles of bones. It is about relationships. Intimate relationships between ourselves and all other things. Where will we meet? We will meet here, there and everywhere, just as we meet now.

Carol Nurse.jpg

At a recent leader’s retreat, I went for a hike down on the long sand beach. After walking a distance, I was not quite sure how to get back up the cliffs, but thought I saw tracks going up a large scree slope. Though I had not been pondering this koan, as I scrambled up the scree I had an intimate sense that the slope was my own pile of ashes. And I was climbing up them.

This koan, however, is more than about a boy and his bones. It is about the intimate relationship that one thing has with another, and of how they need each other to make the other complete. Two heaps of ashes. Two lovers lying side by side on a hot summer night. A sliver of moon keeping company with a bright planet in the night sky. Two dented, stinking garbage cans. These things need each other, just as we need each other to make our world whole.