Friday, July 29, 2011

Mumonkan, Koan 19: Ordinary Mind Is The Way

Photo: Larry Landolfi
Joshu asked Nansen, "What is the Way?"
"Ordinary mind is the Way," Nansen replied.
"Shall I try to seek after it?" Joshu asked.
"If you try for it, you will become separated from it," responded Nansen.
How can I know the Way unless I try for it?" persisted Joshu.
Nansen said, "The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the true Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?"
With those words, Joshu came to a sudden realization.

For me, this dialogue encapsulates everything important to know about rightmindedness. I've written about 'ordinary mind is the way' (what I call Everyday Zen) elsewhere in this blog and I believe that is what Nansen is referring to.

'Seeking after it' as Joshu proposes to do is like when we see a dog chasing its tail. We laugh at how silly it is to pursue something that one already has. Seeking after ordinary mind or samadhi is the same thing. There is no seeking, you simply have to allow yourself to experience it. And then learn not to be pulled away from it. If you actively 'seek' it you will find, like the dog chasing its tail, that it constantly eludes you.

Nansen's answer about 'knowing' is also very good. Ordinary mind is just being in the moment, divorced from knowing or being confused, right or wrong, faith or doubt, better or worse. It's the wind on my face. It's a leaf falling from a tree. It's a child riding a bike down the street. It's a storm rolling in. It's a blade of grass. It's standing in an elevator. Ordinary mind - or the Way - is everywhere and everything. I think that's what Nansen means by 'as vast and boundless as outer space'.

I know the picture is a bit 'cosmic', but the idea of the Way leading to something as vast as the Milky Way definitely captures this koan's meaning for me in a powerfully visual sense.

1 comment:

Bob said...

what is zen ?
ordinary mind is zen
shall we try to get it ?
as soon as you try
you miss it
we come from nature
we live in nature
we go back to nature
what part of me is not nature ?