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where we stand is where we flow

Updated: Jun 26

Zen Master Nansen is asked by a student about the Way. “Ordinary mind is the Way”, replies the teacher. “Do I need to direct myself towards it?”, asks the student. Nansen replies:” You will betray your own practice if you try to direct yourself towards it.” The realization of the way does not depend on our moving towards or moving away from it for the way is right before us in every footstep, it is underfoot. It is in every step. The journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step (Lao-Tzu) means the journey itself is in that and that single step. That single step where a thousand miles and a thousand travelers begin their endless journey and come to find unending rest.

In the Shin Jin-Mei, the oldest recorded Zen poem, we read: “The Way is not difficult, just stop picking and choosing”. To stop picking and choosing is stepping out of our own way long enough for the Way to reveal itself to us. What reveals itself is the simplicity of the wind blowing into the wood without choosing between the pines. It is in the ease of the stream flowing over the riverbed without picking out the stones. It is in the rays of the sun reaching out to the wicked and the wise, lighting both litter and flowers as it does not choose what it shines on.

The moment of letting go of self-images, of ungrasping, of opening the heart, the moment of forgetting the seeking and the seizing is the moment when the Way goes right through us and comes right out of us in the same breath. In the midst of the Way, we don’t know where we stand. The Way disappears, leaving only the way in its wake, the every day, the “the ordinary mind is the Way.”

At that moment, the seeker and the sought both disappear. They disappear in the still point that is neither stillness nor movement. What remains is the dance, the dance of perpetual change, impermanence, the way. “…Neither movement from, nor towards… Neither ascent nor decline… Except for the point, the still point….There would be no dance, and there is only dance. T.S.Eliot “

To awaken is realizing the sound of the river through which you entered and continue entering the Way is not a movement outside of you. Nor is the river inside of you. Where there is no inside nor outside there, the rivers flow. The river is not what runs through the valley, nor is it overhead in the blinking stream of stars. The river is nowhere, yet there is nowhere it does not flow, and there is nothing apart from its flowing. Its perpetually reaching out beyond itself is part of eternity's play. " " Eternity is a child playing, playing checkers; the kingdom belongs to a child. Heraclitus "

To look for the river is to miss its streaming. There is just this flow, we are not apart from it, we are that flow. We don’t know where it is coming from, it keeps coming, we don’t know where it goes, it keeps going. We are the endless coming and going of rivers. It flows in and out of emptiness; is emptiness flowing in and out of the river, out of the Milky Way, out of us, out of silence. It flows in, flows out, it flows through as it overflows as the intimacy of not knowing.

“Where are you going?” Dizang asks the monk as he is about to leave the monastery dressed in his traveling clothes. “I’m going around on a pilgrimage”, replies Fayan. Dizang asks, “To what purpose is your pilgrimage?” The student answers, “I don’t know”. Dizang says, “Not knowing is most intimate”.

At the heart of Zen practice, there is a  wonderment, it is a stream, it is closest, and it flows in and flows out of not knowing.

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