|Lake Como between cypresses|
In case 47 of the koan collection the Book of Equanimity, a monk asks Great Master Zhaozhou, "What is the living meaning of Chan Buddhism?" And he replies, "The cypress tree in the garden." Another master, Zhenru Fang, when still a student, once woke from a dream with this story in his mind. He went to his teacher who asked him how he understood Zhaozhou's meaning, and Zhenru replied, "All night the bed mat's warm -- as soon as you awaken, dawn has come."
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said that a holy teaching is "an occasion when the heart surprises the mind." The stories and sayings of our Zen ancestors can seem remote and strange. But when we pause, just for a moment, and simply see what is here, bypassing the filter of the discursive mind, things become clear. Trees declare it, and the warmth of the bed and the light of dawn speak of it. When there is nothing in the way of this clarity, life reveals itself.
Wansong comments on this case: "The cypress tree in the garden, the wind-blown flag on the pole -- it's like one flower bespeaking a boundless spring, like one drop telling of the water of the ocean."
The tree, the bed, the dawn light -- let your heart be surprised by what is right here, and the words of the ancient masters come alive, personally and immediately.