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The Cave of the Blue Dragon

By

There’s a koan I'm particularly fond of called “The National Teacher's Stone Lion.” The national teacher and the emperor of China were entering the palace grounds when the national teacher pointed to a stone lion and said, “Your majesty, would you please say a word of Zen, something profound, about this lion?” And the emperor said, “I can't say anything. Would you please say something?” And the national teacher said, “It’s my fault.”

What the national teacher was doing was taking responsibility for what Zorba the Greek called “the full catastrophe.” Our tendency, by contrast, is to make ourselves the victim, which means there is nothing we can do. I think, “He made me angry. It’s his fault. There is nothing I can do.” But when I realize that only I can make myself angry, then I’ve empowered myself to do something about my anger. The same goes for fear.

The koan’s prologue says:

Confined in a cage up against the wall, pressed against the barriers, if you linger in thought holding back your potential, you will remain mired in fear and frozen in inaction. If, on the other hand, you advance fearlessly and without hesitation, you manifest your power as a competent adept of the way, passing through entanglements and barriers without hindrance to time and season. A great peace is attained. How do you advance fearlessly and without hesitation?

Fear arises the moment you ask yourself, what is this all about? Inevitably, it has nothing to do with right now. It has to do with the future, but the future doesn't exist. It hasn't happened yet. The past doesn't exist. It has already happened. The only thing you've got is what's right here, right now. And coming home to the moment makes all the difference in the world in how you deal with fear.

There are all kinds of fearlessness. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to talk about “idiot compassion.” Well, there's idiot fearlessness too, which is just being dull-witted. If you remain calm when everyone else panics, perhaps you don't understand the problem. When we talk about “advancing fearlessly,” it’s not that.

There’s also the fearlessness that comes out of anger, out of converting your fear into anger in the face of danger, but that’s not a lasting solution. There’s the fearlessness of young people, the kind of people the military likes to send off to war. When you’re seventeen or eighteen, you can feel invulnerable, but false invulnerability is not a wise form of fearlessness. Fearlessness is empowered by fear. You can't develop fearlessness—real compassionate, generous fearlessness—without fear. Fearlessness is born of fear.

“…if you linger in thought holding back your potential, you will remain mired in fear and frozen in inaction.”

That's where we freeze in the presence of fear. We may have all the potential of a lion, a Buddha, but the moment we start analyzing and projecting, we give rise not to freedom but to more things to analyze. We come up with all kinds of rationalizations for our fear, but somehow they don't seem to help. We define it, categorize it, analyze it, judge it, understand it, but still fear persists.

“If, on the other hand, you advance fearlessly without hesitation, you manifest your power as a competent adept of the way.”

This power comes directly out of meditation. In zazen, each time you acknowledge a thought, let it go, and come back to the moment, you build joriki, the power of concentration. The more you sit, the deeper you sit, the more joriki you build, and the closer you come to the falling away of body and mind. Meditation means going to where you already are, what you already have. It’s a direct pointing to the human mind, constantly pointing back to ourselves.

“…passing through entanglements and barriers without hindrance to time and season. A great peace is attained.”

This is what we call the endless spring, the endless spring of enlightenment. Always present and perfect, whether we realize it or not.


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