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Nowhere to Go by Becca Shoshin Topol Sensei

Today, I’m going to give a talk on Case 24 of Blue Cliff Record. The main case is as

Nowhere to Go by Becca Shoshin Topol Sensei

Iron Grindstone Liu came to Kuei Shan.
Kuei Shan said: “Old Cow, so you have come!”
Grindstone said: “Tomorrow there is a great festival at Mt. T’ai. Will you be going?”
Kuei Shan lay down and stretched himself out.
Grindstone went away.

This koan is such a wonderful teaching and I am particularly drawn to Iron Grindstone Liu who was a 9th century master nun. You don’t hear a lot about her. She was a successor of Master Kuei Shan (in Japanese Master Isan); she had her own Temple and had her own students as well. The conversation between Liu and Isan is very playful. These are two very seasoned adepts. Let’s start by breaking down the koan:

Master Isan says “Old Cow, you’ve come.” Now, my husband would never get away saying this to me, but this is actually a big compliment and term of endearment. Note that in one of the Dharmakaya koans, Master Isan talks about how he is reborn as a buffalo. Cow meets the buffalo. Grindstone Liu invites him to a feast. Note that Mt. T’ai is 600 miles away and at this time, there are no planes or trains; cart and horse would be the fastest you’d get anywhere. Isan responds to her question by laying down.

What does this mean? What he is saying is that there is nowhere to go. No where to get to. He’s not looking for something outside of himself, not searching for enlightenment. He’s beyond coming and going. He’s content with where he is at this very moment. He’s content with who he is. Are you?

There’s a quote from the The Hsin Hsin Ming: Verses of the Faith Mind by the 3rd Patriarch. “Being without anxiety about the non-perfection of things.” This is one of the wonderful aspects of practice. Over time, with focused sitting and concentration, you can appreciate this for yourself.

In the Hsin Hsin Ming, it says: “To live in the Great Way is neither easy nor difficult. But those with limited views are fearful and irresolute. The faster they hurry, the slower they go. Clinging cannot be limited, even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray. Just let things be in their own way and there will be neither coming nor going.”

This is what Isan is doing. He’s just letting things be as they are. There is neither coming nor going. He is free. The Nun leaves; she is also free – no coming or going either.

Doing zazen, being able to see into the impermanent nature of all things, including ourselves, that we are already realized, we are able to truly appreciate this on a deeper level. My teacher Kaigen Roshi told me a story about how Yasatani Roshi, a master in Japan. He went over to the chalkboard and drew a dot, saying most people see “now” as a dot. A fixed moment in time. Through training, you can see “now” as a big Empty Circle. Now is eternity, taking into consideration endless cause and effect.

How do we really appreciate this moment? This is one of the wonderful aspects of practice. And to really appreciate it – to see it for yourself – takes a lot of training. Keep training and sitting. Practice is endless and that is one of the many things I love about it.

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