It is taught that this kong-an has only one answer that will truly release all the tethers that tie us to our ignorance. Only one response will be universally received as correct: “Ahi, that’s it, that’s how you stay alive!”
What is that answer? How do you stay alive? How can you generously offer your wisdom while tied and bound, dangling above a fatal fall with only the grip of your teeth to save you?
The gift that is offered by this kong-an is total bondage, total physical and intellectual bondage. Only a Zen student would be so foolish as to accept such a gift. Only a Zen student would recognize it as a gift, rather than seeing it as a manipulative mind game that has no answer.
Open the gift. Inside is only don’t know. Such an expensive gift, and yet few will accept it Accepting it means abandoning the familiar, and that can be terrifying. And yet, not knowing is very familiar territory for us all, a place where we can be empowered. Not knowing allows us to let go of false assumptions. It frees us of preconceptions and attachments. When the mind doesn’t know, it is sitting exactly in this moment. Men it is in this moment, it is wide open … a perfect receptor … a perfect reflector.
In the Temple Rules of the Kwan Um School of Zen, it says, “In original nature there is no this and that. The Great Round Mirror has no likes or dislikes.” No likes or dislikes means letting conditioned, structured mind states dissolve so that our natural wisdom and compassion can manifest themselves. In Zen, this wise and compassionate state is simply called having a clear mind.
The Buddha gave all kinds of teaching, and he said that he taught that way to save all different kinds of minds. But if there is no mind, then there is nothing to save. So, if you can completely engage in the question, the “don’t know” that a kong-an offers, where is your mind? Doing meditation and a kong-an practice, tapping into the generosity of those techniques, your mind becomes very spacious.
Even while being tied and bound, our mind can feel as spacious as the sky. Look up at the sky and think of it as your mind. The sky doesn’t have any hindrances. If a cloud appears, the sky doesn’t complain. If there is thunder and lightning, if there’s pollution, it remains just as spacious. There is no tightening, no fear. Our practice can help us to open to those qualities, so that we’re not hindered by the ropes around our limbs and the fall beneath our feet. Just in that moment – don’t know – be in relationship with that situation. How do you stay alive?
Out of this spaciousness comes the ability to realize our wisdom and remember how to be in relationship with the lessons, the opportunities that appear in our life. Few ever say it is easy. A wise teacher will encourage cultivation of patience, forbearance, generosity, precepts . encourage courage.
And then, what? We have the sky for inspiration, our teacher’s encouragement, total support from the tree’s branch. How do we share in the generosity?
The universe awaits your response.