Dark Dream of Nanchuan’s Cat and Turning the Light Around

Last night I dreamed that I was in a brightly lit dokusan room. Unlike usual dokusan, however, I sat on a comfortable brown leather couch and the person I was with was completely back-lit by intense sunlight so I couldn’t see his face.

He was familiar to me but in the waking world, I can’t identify him.

We were talking about koans. The dream teacher said to me, “Some koans have a hidden, dark aspect.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Take ‘Nanchuan’s Cat,’ for example,” he said.

“What is the dark aspect in ‘Nanchuan’s Cat?’” I asked.

“It’s presented clearly in Dogen’s Record #282. You should study it there,” he said.

I then woke from the dream and reflected on what I could remember and especially about #282. It wasn’t familiar to my conscious mind so in the morning I went right to Dogen’s Extensive Record #282 and found this:

“Everyone without exception holds on to the jewel that glows in the night.  All houses naturally embrace the jewel of Mount Jing. Unless we turn the light [around to illuminate] how can we hold close the jewel when we are lost in the outlying countryside?  Don’t you know the words, ‘When the ear is in accord it is like the spirit of the empty valley, and loud and soft sounds are never lacking.  When the eye is in accord it is like the illumination of a thousand suns, and the ten thousand forms cannot escape their images.’ If we seek outside of sounds and colors, Bodhidharma’s coming from the west is a great fault.”

Ahhh! Everyone – cats, fighting people, even the world cut in two – is the jewel that glows in the dark.

In the passage, the jewel of Mount Jing refers to story from ancient China. Someone named Bianhuo found “… a rock containing a great jewel … and offered it to a king who did not recognize its value, and ordered Bianhuo’s left foot cut off.  Bianhuo then offered it to another king, who repeated the mistake and cut off Bianhuo’s right foot.  Finally he offered it to a third king who accepted the offering, recognizing its value.”

So just as in “Nanchuan’s Kills the Cat,” something innocent is cut, dismembered, disowned. We’ve lost our way and yet we all shine this light. Dogen says that this is the hidden value of turning the light around to illuminate. The mysterious meaning is right in seeing and hearing.

That said … well, I don’t know.

BTW, We Have to Remove Your Feet: Being Mortal, Waking Up, and Dying Together
Dogen Did Not Practice Shikantaza and Even Had a Gaining Idea
The Way of Tenderness: the Form and Emptiness of Race, Sexuality, and Gender
Practicing Through Snow and Cold (or Whatever Afflictions May Visit)
  • Al

    *many bows*

    • doshoport

      *back at cha’*

  • Aaron Caruso

    Thank you Dosho!


  • Aaron Caruso

    A few weeks ago I buried my cat that died at 17 years old in the backyard. It was the first real snowy day of the season and I remember thinking how beautiful it was as I was digging. I’ve created in my own way, a little shrine in there. I find myself making incense offerings and chanting almost every day. This simple activity has helped me stay with the sadness and grief I feel not just for my cat, but also apparently for everyone.

    I secretly hoped that after the Newtown killings there would be a break in the violence and tragedies of the world. That people might put down their guns for a week or so and reflect. I believe many people did, but I was hoping for a total stop. Kind of like after 9-11 when there were no planes flying in the sky, none.

    Anyway, I continue to make offerings, mostly small offerings, but offerings just the same.

    Thank you,

    • doshoport

      Hi Aaron,
      I know just how you feel about wishing it would stop. And then several more incidents … hard to turn toward all the pain in the news these days. If it can’t be stopped “out there” (on “in here”), how can it be stopped?