Cold as Hell!

Cold as hell!

And just to be clear, for Buddhists using “cold” to describe “hell” is not a contradiction. We Buddhists, you see, have cold hells too. Lots of ’em.

So we’ve got that going for us too.

As I was saying, though, now it’s -15 wind chill in White Bear, MN, and getting colder. -45 or so by morning so the schools will probably be closed.

It is so cold that if you walk into the wind for about 3 seconds, your eyebrows will hurt like hell. That’s how cold it is.

By the way, did you know that the buddhadharma has the mystical power to keep you warm in whatever conditions you might find yourself in?

Here’s how.

Well … first, some background. Thanks! to Vine student Tim for raising this issue.

In the Genjokoan course in the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training (click here for more – email me at if you are interested in this training) we unpack this more fully but for now I’ll keep it short.

In Genjokoan, Dogen uses the word “koan” that is and was common in Zen. “Koan” normally means “public case.”  But Dogen uses a different character than is usually used for “an.”

Dogen’s “an” means  “keeping one’s lot.” As the second player in the compound “ko-an” it really brings the point home.

“Ko” (or public) is about equalizing inequality, emptying what was thought to be nonempty. That’s one foci.

By itself, equalizing inequality has a large woo-woo propensity and we might get a bad case of Zen sickness – using the practice to efface the myriad things, like our own greed, anger, and ignorance and the suffering of the world.

Without “an,” “ko” leads to a pernicious view of emptiness, repressing or belittling our direct experience.

“An” – keeping ones lot – dynamically balances the practice and points to just how close this is, like to this very person, this very thing.

And it isn’t one side and then the other, first equalizing and then keeping ones lot, first emptiness and then form.

“Koan” is total dynamic working.

“Koan” is actualizing life and death.

I remember the story about when Dongshan left Yunyan. “What can I tell people to describe you?” he asked.

Yunyan said, “Just this person.”

This phrase was used in Chinese courts when the defendant plead guilty. So the dialogue might be rendered,

“What’s your true (equalizing the unequal) likeness (keeping one’s lot)?”

“Guilty as charged.”

Because this life, this practice, this koan equalizes inequality, we keep our lot.

Just this person.

Guilty as charged.

How to keep warm on a cold night?

“It’s cold as hell!”

Or like a poet said,

Though I thought I had cast away the world
And was without self
Snowy days are all the colder.
– from Yasutani’s Flowers Fall  pp 68, appropriately attributed to “Anonymous” (thanks! to Vine student Janet for pointing this out)