The person we counted on who didn’t come through, the job we failed to get, the physical ailment that worries us: instead of going round and round in our thoughts, worrying about the problem, if we reestablish the foundation of our lives in immediate experience, we will see how to act appropriately. . . . It sounds crazy to say that when we have a problem we should listen to the traffic. But if we truly listen, our other senses come to life also. We feel the contraction in our body, too. When we do that, something shifts, and how to respond becomes clearer.
– Joko Beck
This Week’s Koan
Blue Cliff Record, #100: Baling and the Sharpest Sword
A monk asked Baling, “What is the sword against which a hair is blown?”
Baling said, “The moon sits on each branch of the coral.”
Baling (“Haryo” in Japanese), b. 895?
Lineage: Shitou > Tianhuang > Longtan > Deshan > Xuefeng > Yunmen > Baling
Dharma Siblings: Deshan Yuanming, Xianglin, Dongshan Shouchu
Dharma Descendants: None of note
Appears also in: BCR #13
“Sword against which a hair is blown.” Also translated as, “the sharpest sword.” The idea is that the sword is so sharp that it would cut a hair blown against it by a gentle breeze.
“The moon sits on each branch of the the coral.” Also translated as, “Each branch of the coral embraces the bright moon.”
The sword represents Zen wisdom that cuts through all delusion and anxiety. The moonlight is essential nature, and the branches of coral are the relative world of multifarious objects. “The moon sits on the each branch of the coral,” means that essential nature, the absolute, shines through each ordinary, relative thing.
Imagine yourself standing by the water’s edge as twilight darkens into night. Beneath the gently rippling surface, branches of coral are visible. The ripples create reflections of the moon on each of the hundreds of branches of choral. What a beautiful image! If you were standing there, taking in this image, you wouldn’t be thinking about why the boss is mad at you (or why you’re mad at the boss), or how you’re going to get your kids to clean up their room. You’d be simply present to that beautiful moment. And that presence is the sharpest sword. Coming back to the present moment cuts through all afflictions.
Each twig of coral, each creature on earth or sea has its portion of the moonlight, and is sacred. Each moment of our lives, too, has its portion of the moonlight, a luminescence we obscure through our bustle and grasping but which we can reveal through spiritual practices. We may say too that each religion and each spiritual road has its shaft of moonlight. (Foreword to James Ford, This Very Moment, 1996)
To cut off discontent,
Rough methods may be best:
Now they slap, now they point.
The sword lies across the sky,
Snow glistens in its light,
no one can forge or sharpen it.
“The moon sits on each branch of the coral” —
This Week’s Reading
Charlotte Joko Beck, Nothing Special, “Coming to Our Senses,” p. 158.