Thursday, March 4, 2010

Discovering the Footprints

(A continuation of the Zen story, "Ten Bulls")

2. Discovering the Footprints

Along the riverbank under the trees, I discover footprints!
Even under the fragrant grass I see his prints.
Deep in remote mountains they are found.
These traces no more can be hidden than one's nose, looking heavenward.

Comment: Understanding the teaching, I see the footprints of the bull. Then I learn that, just as many utensils are made from one metal, so too are myriad entities made of the fabric of self. Unless I discriminate, how will I perceive the true from the untrue? Not yet having entered the gate, nevertheless I have discerned the path.

For me, the footprints came many, many years ago, long before I was ready to actually follow the Zen path. I practiced aikido when living in Seattle, and as part of that practice, did zazen for the first time. I was intensely drawn to the Japanese aesthetic, which resonated most clearly for me in all things Zen. I received a master's degree in Japanese Studies, and then went to Japan to live for three years. While there, I poured myself into study of Japanese art, literature, culture, and religion, frequently visiting both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. I loved most the Zen temples, with their austere gardens, sculpted sand, and unadorned wooden structures.

So for years, I was drawn in this direction. There was no mistaking the path. But still I was wary, unwilling to commit to the pursuit of anything, particularly any kind of a spiritual exploration. My own life continued to be itinerant, as I flitted from one interest to the next. I had no foothold anywhere.

What is interesting to me, looking back over this period of my life, is that regardless of my haphazard approach to things, I was moving in a certain direction. Although I had no idea how to put my ideas in a spiritual context, I was examining again and again what was true and what was not true: in my own self identity, in the nature of the world, and in the realm of thought and belief.


The text and drawings are excerpted from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. The story is by Kakuan, transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps, and illustrated by Tomikichiro Tokuriki. (Comments in italics are part of the text.) Copyright Charles Tuttle and Co.

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