Leaping Free, the Primal Life, Deep and Bright

Recently, at the end of a long day of sorting and packing and hauling (omg, the hauling and stacking!) for our big move from house/zendo to our Portland, ME, Great Tides Zen destination for July 1, I opened up Dogen’s Extensive Record and a lovely koan lept from the page as if I’d never encountered it before.

This one doesn’t occur in any of what have become the standard collections. Dogen found it in the Shumon Toyoshu (Collection of the Essence of the Tradition in the Essential Gate) – a text from the Huanglong branch of the Rinzai lineage, the branch that Dogen inherited and we in Soto Zen continue to transmit, the branch that seems to have specialized in the entangling vines approach to koan introspection.

In any case, it is another lovely koan. This one has become sustenance for road. It’s about the nature and practice of freedom, of course – how to be free in this world of traps and cages, sorting and hauling.

Here it is:

Two monks named Deep and Bright once arrived at the Huai River and saw people pulling a fishing net. A carp escaped through the net. Deep said, “Brother Bright, how fleet, just like a patch-robed monk.”

Bright said, “Although that is so, how can it compare to not pushing into the net in the first place?”

Deep said, “Brother Bright, you lack realization.”

Later, in the middle of the night, Bright finally had some insight.”

Dogen’s Verse:

The flowing waters of the Huai River reach Deep and Bright.
Leaping free, the primal life of the golden-scaled fish is vivid.
If this life does not return to the river depths,
Sadly, it never sees the great wave rolling.

Here we find ourselves as patch-robed monks traveling with just a few things – robes, begging bowl, perhaps an umbrella. A far cry from the two pods we packed with clothing, furniture, and the inheritance from Wild Fox Zen that now becomes the beginnings of the physical manifestation of our new training center (zafus, zabuton, art, instruments, etc.).

As Deep and Bright are already free of so much of the world. Perhaps Deep more than Bright, knowing that without the entanglement of the net, there’s no freedom.

And we are more than the Deep and Bright patch-robed monks – also the carp leaping free, the net, the village people fishing.

As Bright, we receive our companion’s directness to heart and roll with it through the night – carp, net, village people, and Deep. What did Bright see such that the koan reports that he finally had some insight?

Happily, in the bright depths of this rolling life – the great wave.

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