Everyday zen

When the going gets tough, the tough (me!) gets out her koan books.

Book of Serenity: Case 6

Baso’s White and Black


When the mouth cannot be opened, the tongueless person knows how to talk. When a foot cannot be lifted, the legless person knows how to walk. If you fall for someone’s words and are burdened by them, how can freedom be yours? When the four mountains close in, how can you pass free of them?


Attention! A monk once asked Baso, “Your reverence, abandoning the four propositions and wiping out the hundred negations, please point out to me directly the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West.” Baso said, “I don’t feel like explaining to you today. Go ask Chizo.” The monk then went to ask Chizo, and Chizo said, “Why don’t you ask the master?” The monk said, “The master told me to ask you.” Rubbing his head with his hand, Chizo said, “I’ve got a headache today. Go and ask Brother Kai.” The monk asked Kai, and Kai said, “Ever since I have been here, I don’t know.” The monk returned and told Baso what had happened, and Baso said, “Chizo’s head is white, Kai’s head is black.”

So, see? There’s my answer!


And off I went to practice, comforted by wise words, including these: “By accepting your experience without judgments, you allow transformation to take place.”

I was at peace with where I am. So of course, I struggled through kapotasana, and when I came up, Sharath said:

“Supta vajrasana.”

He said it like it was nothing, but I wanted balloons and confetti to fall from the ceiling — and maybe for a band to play!

He held my knees down for supta vajrasana, then said, “Bakasana. A and B.”

I did bakasana as he watched, then jumped back. I was a pretty wigged about landing B with him standing there watching. Missed the first one, but got the second. He said, “Very good.”

Then he added, “Bharadvajasana and ardha matseyandrasana — day after tomorrow.”

After the past couple of years of struggle, it’s pretty awesome to have my last poses be ones that I can do.

And then I thought of some more wise words about practice (be it zen or Ashtanga): “If you think you’re going to become something else, you’re fooling yourself.” And one of my very favorites — for all occasions: “Vast emptiness. No holiness.”

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