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Making the Skeleton Dance




A monk asked Zhaozhou to teach him.
Zhaozhou asked, "Have you eaten your meal?"
The monk replied, "Yes, I have."
"Then go wash your bowl", said Zhaozhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.

This kōan is beloved of students, perhaps because it seems to negate the need to understand obscure doctrines. Wu-Men comments in verse "Because it's so clear / it takes long to realize", and straightforward it may seem, but this kōan is an idiom and the student is assumed to be aware of its cultural context. If one does not know this context, the kōan cannot be understood from the traditional reference point.

The meal of consideration is a traditional meal of rice. It was customary for monks to maintain samadhi (the practice which produces complete meditation) while eating this meal, and so Zhaozhou is not asking whether the monk has eaten: he asks instead whether the monk was able to remain in samadhi throughout the meal. The monk affirms, and then realizes he has already received the teaching. This kōan is one of the 12 Gates taught in the Kwan Um School of Zen.

- The Gateless Gate, Wumen Hui-k'ai

The point is to be mindful in every moment. Exercising the body at the gym after a hours of sitting in front of the computer is an amazingly mindful practice. Focusing my will into a particular piece of muscle flesh stretched between two bones, making the bones move, in every sense, is an intensely rewarding experience.

I've been working out now for over a month. What I do not want to happen is for the ritual to devolve into routine. I want my mind to flow out of my skull and the ethereal Platonic realms of the Ideal and rush into the flesh. I want to make the actual skeleton dance, not the Imago Skeleton.

This is vital. If I am truly re-covering - better: re-habilitating - myself, it is imperative to maintain this spiritual state through harmony / balance of mind and body. The Reality of the Bone and the Dreams of the Flesh.

Regarding the kōan (and the name of this weblog), I believe that the Truth is not something that has to be committed to memory, that anyone should ever have any fear of forgetting the Truth. It is evident in every moment of existence. To forget the Truth would like forgetting the air you breath. A fish forgetting the water that it exists within. The danger is in not being aware of what is always, necessarily, present. You forget it because you are so used to it, habituated to its presence.

The Truth, God, Enlightenment. These are all fragile containers for this "presence." Thimbles filled with what we are trying to call the ocean. I have gone to summits of mountains to find God. And I have gone to the desolations of the deserts to find Enlightenment. I have taken all sorts of entheogens and other drugs to open my mind to the Truth. I have lost and found myself again and again. In the end, I remember that if God was not present in every moment, no matter how mundane, no matter how trivial, then God would no longer be God. I remember that God is just as present on the mountain and in the desert as he is in every single instant of my being: awakening from dreams each morning, brushing my teeth, making the coffee, chopping wood, carrying water, washing my bowl.

One function of ritual - as opposed to routine - is to bind you down to a sacred perspective, to keep you from forgetting the Truth in the most seemingly trivial occupations. Ritual is one of the core components of all religious practice. Going to the gym every day to move the body through a series of positions and exercises is a vital ritual. It has the potential to be a form of Yoga - a means of yoking, gathering together, mind, body and spirit. The practice of Yoga is at the root of religion - over 5000 years old. From Wikipedia:
Several steatite seals discovered at Indus Valley Civilization (c. 3300–1700 BC) sites depict figures in a yoga- or meditation-like posture, "a form of ritual discipline, suggesting a precursor of yoga", according to Indus archeologist Gregory Possehl. He points out sixteen specific "yogi glyptics" in the corpus of Mature Harappan artifacts that suggest Harappan devotion to "ritual discipline and concentration", and that the yoga pose "may have been used by deities and humans alike." Some type of connection between the Indus Valley seals and later yoga and meditation practices is supported by many other scholars.

Karel Werner writes that "Archeological discoveries allow us therefore to speculate with some justification that a wide range of Yoga activities was already known to the people of pre-Aryan India."[5] A seal recently (2008) uncovered in the Cholistan desert was described by Dr. Farzand Masih, Punjab University Archaeology Department Chairman, as depicting a "yogi". Thomas McEvilley writes that "The six mysterious Indus Valley seal images...all without exception show figures in a position known in hatha yoga as mulabhandasana or possibly the closely related utkatasana or baddha konasana...."


The most widely known of these images was named the "Pashupati seal" by its discoverer, John Marshall, who believed that it represented a "proto-Shiva" figure. Many modern authorities discount the idea that this "Pashupati" (Lord of Animals, Sanskrit paśupati) represents a Shiva or Rudra figure.  Gavin Flood characterizes the Shiva or Rudra view as "speculative", and goes on to say that it is not clear from the 'Pashupati' seal that the figure is seated in a yoga posture, or that the shape is intended to represent a human figure.



1/23/10