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Just this

March 21, 2012

 by Stephen Damon

Monday night, Rev. Val visited our group in San Francisco and gave a talk in which she mentioned the story about Dongshan crossing the stream.  That story, just like Wang Wei’s poem about South Mountain, has found its way into my deep subconscious with other archetypal images and dreams.

Here’s the story:

When Dongshan was ready to leave his teacher, Yunyan, Dongshan asked, “Later on, if someone asks me if I can depict your reality, or your teaching, how shall I reply?” Yunyan paused, and then said, “Just this is it.” When he heard that, Dongshan sank into thought. And Yunyan said, “You are in charge of this great matter. You must be most thoroughgoing.”

As Val retold this story I made a new connection to an old story I had learned in Hebrew School about the name of God.  Moses, after receiving the Ten Commandments, asks God, “If people ask the name of the one who sent me, what should I tell them?” God replied, “I am that I am…Tell them, I am sent you.”  Yunyan’s teaching of “thusness” or “suchness” is called yathabhuta in Chinese, which means “being-as-is.” Moses and Yunyan spoke in different languages, using their own technical terms, but the inner vocabulary of their teachings seems extremely close, if not identical. 

Dongshan left Yunyan and was perplexed and stayed that way for twenty years.  One day, while wading across a stream, and seeing his reflection in the water, he finally got it and wrote this poem: “Just don’t seek from others or you’ll be far estranged from yourself. Now I go on alone, but everywhere I meet it. It now is me; I now am not it. One must understand in this way to merge with suchness.”

Dongshan begins “The Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi” by saying “The dharma of suchness, or thusness, is intimately transmitted by Buddhas and ancestors. Now you have it. Preserve it well.”  Our practice is not about getting something new, but about taking care of something that we already have.  So, now you have it, preserve it well.

In a brief commentary on this story, Dogen says “The ancient mirror is round and bright, illuminating upright and inclined.” This “Ancient mirror” is the mirror we chant about in Donshan’s “The Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi.” The ancient mirror is always here; it hangs in front of us as we sit.  He  is referring to the two sides of our practice. The “upright” is the universal and the “inclined” is the particular. We sit upright in zazen as we merge with the universal truth—things as it is (Suzuki Roshi).

After the bell rings and we get up, we incline ourselves toward the world around us with deep feeling and compassion. This is our practice of balancing wisdom and compassion.  Can we let our bodies relax as we move around, but still keep the inner posture of sitting zazen. We not only need to preserve the truth of Yunyan’s teaching we need to bring it into our lives and into the world with compassion.



From → Zen Buddhism

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