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No Coming and No Going

December 4, 2012

by Stephen Damon

Just before Ninakawa passed away the Zen master Ikkyu visited him. “Shall I lead you on?” Ikkyu asked.

Ninakawa replied: “I came here alone and I go alone. What help could you be to me?”

Ikkyu answered: “If you think you really come and go, that is your delusion. Let me show you the path on which there is no coming and going.”

With his words, Ikkyu had revealed the path so clearly that Ninakawa smiled and passed away.

Reading this story has brought me back to the Heart Sutra, although I should say that almost everything brings me back to this great Mahayana Sutra, because it does contain everything.

Shariputra, all dharmas are marked by emptiness;                                                                                                                                                                                                                      they neither arise nor cease,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease.

On the phenomenal level, things appear and disappear, but the true nature of things doesn’t come or go. A person may feel that he or she came into this world and will leave this world, but that is really not how things are. As Ikkyu said, this is our delusion.  Our original nature has existed since beginningless time and will continue indefinitely, beyond the end of time.

As I reflected on the story, I came upon a wonderful poem by the Vietnamese master, Thich Naht Hanh that expresses what Ikkyu was saying to Ninakawa.

This body is not me
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries
I have never been born,
And I have never died.

Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
Manifestations from my wondrous mind.
Since before time, I have been free.

Birth and death are only doors through which we pass
Sacred thresholds on our journey
Birth and death are a game of hide and seek.

So laugh with me,
Hold my hand,
Let us say goodbye
Say goodbye to meet again soon.
We meet today
We will meet again tomorrow
We meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

Thich Naht Hanh is not imagining another world or describing this one with metaphors and similes.  He is only describing his own experience of the way things are, as accurately as he can.  His poem is the way things are.  If a stone could talk, it might say, “We meet at the source very moment.  We meet each other in all forms of life.”  Of course, the stone is speaking, is expressing its original nature, but I have not yet been able to hear it.  But reading through the poem’s stanzas I felt that I was hearing the silent voice of the universe revealing itself to me the way it does when I am walking in the woods, just at sunrise.  I was listening to the universe chant the Heart Sutra:

[Given emptiness, there is] neither old age and death,

nor extinction of old age and death;

no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path, no knowledge and no attainment…

Meeting everything in my life at the source every moment, I realize that I have nowhere to go, nowhere else to be.  Letting go of all desires to go “somewhere” or attain “something,” trusting that “I have never been born and I have never died,” I feel better able to go about my day a little more freely and completely than I usually do. And, if it should be my last day, I think I will end it with a smile…



From → Zen Buddhism

One Comment
  1. Thank you for this. 🙂

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