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Iron Grindstone Liu's Feast - Talk 2 Zen's Women Ancestors

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | Sep 05, 2012
Location: Community Congregational Church in Tiburon
In topics: Koan Studies, Women in Buddhism
Norman gives his second talk on Zen Women Ancestors on Iron Grindstone Liu (and a brief talk on his new car).This series is based on Record of the Hidden Lamp: One Hundred Koans of Awakened Women, edited by Florence Caplow and Susan Moon (forthcoming from Wisdom Publications, 2013
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Excerpts from:

Iron Grindstone Liu's Feast - Talk 2 Zen's Women Ancestors

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | September 5, 2012

Excerpted by Barbara Byrum

Iron Grindstone Liu's Feast, China, 9th c.

Iron Grindstone Liu went to Master Guishan Lingyou.

 Guishan said, "Old cow, so you've come?"

The Iron Grinder said, "Tomorrow on Mount Wutai there's a big gathering and feast-are you going, teacher?" Guishan lay down, and sprawled out. The Iron Grinder immediately left.

There is only one detail in the story that is important to know - a historical and geographical fact.  Mount Wutai was six hundred miles or more from where Guishan was living.  This fact makes the story make sense.

Guishan is the teacher that I always quote whenever somebody asks me, "Does Zen believe in reincarnation?"  I always tell the story of Guishan, who told his disciples, "When I'm gone, I will be reborn as a water buffalo on the side of the hill.  And you will know it's me, because on the side of the water buffalo will be emblazoned the characters Gui Shan.  So if you look at the water buffalo and say it is Guishan, you will be wrong.  But if you look at the water buffalo and say that it is not Guishan, you will also be wrong.  What is it?"

... So, when Guishan says, "So, old cow," he probably is referring to this water buffalo.  It is a common animal and obviously an animal close to Guishan's heart.  So when he says, "So, old cow," it sounds so pejorative to us, but I don't think it is so pejorative.  He's saying, "So, old water buffalo, old Buddha, old dear one, old me - myself."  So it is really an endearing thing that he saying to her when he says, "Old Cow."

... The place where the feast is celebrated, the actual Mount Wutai, is not six hundred miles away, even if in the geographical and conventional world it is six hundred miles away.  In the actual world, Mount Wutai is here.  It is in your body, right now as you breathe.  Even if you were physically at the feast on Mount Wutai, you would still be here in the same place that you are here now, in your body, as you breathe. 

I have experienced this all the time.  Wherever I am, I am always in the same place.  Everything is complete, and every problem is solved - or not.  Right now, here, where you are, where you have always been, where you always will be.  In a past, present, and future that is constantly being recalibrated and that defies all your concepts and desires in its absolute perfection. 

Think of all the suffering that we endure in a lifetime, wanting things to be other than what they are.  Isn't that what makes us suffer?  Whether outside you or inside you. "I want to be different," or "I want it to be different."  That's my suffering.  Right?  Think of the times that

you have been so convinced that some external situation, or some internal situation, was horrible and completely unacceptable.  You wanted so desperately to go to Mount Wutai, but there was no way you could get there.  You were full of regret and anguish, and there was absolutely nothing you could do about it. 

But Guishan knows better.  He stretches out for a nap.  Mount Wutai is right there.  The Grindstone packs up and goes home.  Mount Wutai is in her every step. 

Best of all, occupying their separate conditions and their separate spheres of activity, Guishan and the Grindstone are completely and utterly in union with one another. 

There's no record, but they probably never saw each other again.  But whether or not they did, it makes no difference.  They can't help but always see one another.  Just like in the dharma relations that we have together, we are always seeing each other. 

When we have confidence in this, then nothing whatsoever is missing.  Even our anguish and our suffering is complete as it is.