Warning – This post may be slightly radioactive..
From a conversation I recently had with a haengjanim (novice monk) who appeared at Hyang Chon Sa during winter kyol-che (ango). These words have returned often during this season, pointing to the social environment of Korean Zen. The opening calligraphy, from Zen Master Seung Sahn, reads, “Under the tree, no self.”
Questions arose, naturally. To extricate myself from the quagmire I created I offered a few details, these fresh on my mind, as they’d been dredged up again and again during the course of the retreat. The topic is timely, as I’ve spent many hours going over this with someone I’ve practiced with for a few decades now, who I haven’t seen in the last five, who I’ve never talked with about this, as it’s only now that these details have become apparent.
The membrane or barrier or door or gate that must be crossed has two conditions, the first of which ensures that nearly everyone will fail. To add to this, the gate is invisible, so that those who haven’t made the crossing doubt that it even exists. These often are the loudest of the lot. Note, before either of these conditions, it will probably take many years of formal practice to prepare for, the groundwork that you may approach the gate.
The first requirement is your life. Absolutely all the way down to the last glowing ember, nothing left. And I’m sorry about that, but questions have been raised. This condition by rule excludes anyone who has anything on the agenda, of course.
The second requirement, only after completing the first and developing some facility with this, is that you take on the attributes of the Absolute, meaning caring for all things, as the Absolute is the ground of creation, the source of all things. To make your alliance here, to merge with the Godhead, means to take its view – unconditional love is the rule. Zen masters talk of great compassion and helping all beings, not because of some religious idea, but because this is the only way through.
What’s striking is how many completely miss the mark, remain perpetually disturbed because they aren’t able to fully release, and so doubt that the opening even exists. This is the great tragedy of the path, its greatest sorrow – we’ve watched so many become “too big to fail,” never having known the ground, not able to convey anything of meaning.