Voice of the Raindrops: A Zen Koan

Voice of the Raindrops: A Zen Koan June 2, 2018



As we continue on our Zen retreat up in Seattle, I offer another reflection. While it is actually sunny here, I cannot visit the Pacific Northwest without thinking, at least in passing, about rain. With that here are a few thoughts on a koan I wrote last year.


One of my favorite koans was anthologized in the Biyan Lu, in Japanese the Hekiganroku, in English, the Blue Cliff Record. Case 46 in the collection of one hundred koans, “Jingqing’s Voice of the Raindrops” in my paraphrase:

Jingqing asked a student of the way, “What is that sound outside?” “Dripping rain,” the student replied. “Jingqing responded, “Ordinary people are always topsy-turvy. They chase after things and tumble into delusions. With that they pursue things beyond their own hearts.” The student replied, “What about you, sir?” He responded, “I almost do not fall into delusion about myself.” The student pursued this. “What does that mean?” And Jianqing responded, “To attain the world of boundlessness is not really difficult. But, to speak to the bare substance is hard.”

Jingqing Daofu was a dharma sibling of the renowned Yunmen Wenyan, and with him a successor to Xuefeng Yicun. There are a couple of stories about Jingqing’s first encounter with his teacher. That noted, when he arrived at Xuefeng’s monastery according to Taigen Leighton, himself citing the renowned Japanese Soto master, Eihei Dogen, Jingqing is said to have said to the master: “As a student entering this monastery, I ask you to point me on the way.” The master replied “Do you hear that water flowing over the dam?” Jingqing responded, “Yes, sir.” To which Xuansha replied, “Enter there.” So, we have a repetition of a wondrous pointing. One we can hear for ourselves. If we are willing.

Listen. Notice. Attend.

Commenting on this case the Eighteenth century Japanese  Soto master Tenkei Denson tells us, “The sound of rain is simply the sound of rain. Whatever it may be, it is all the marvelous function of mind.” And with that, an invitation.

And in our own times, the Zen teacher John Tarrant comments, “Of course, (Master Jingqing) was talking about more than just rain: we are all hoping that that love relationship arrives, that a certain job comes in, or that our children graduate fruitfully from high school.

“Of course we delude ourselves and chase after things: we are people anxiously awaiting the sound of the rain drops! It is in that dynamic gap before the drop hits that life really appears. I look forward to the time when the creeks overflow again and the hills turn green again. I have no idea when that will be, but isn’t it sweet just listening for it?”

Nothing complicated.

Just raindrops.

Just listening. Just meeting it. Whatever it might be.

Just raindrops.

But, it is the secret of our healing, the balm of our wounds, nothing less than the great way itself.

For me the project of our lives, certainly my project, has been to explore what it means to be alive. And not in some abstract way. But as my life. This life. And, I’ve been rewarded. It has been a dance. It has been meeting the dark. It has been meeting the light. It has been a call to presence. Just raindrops.

The great twentieth century Zen teacher Hakuun Yasutani sings the mystery into our hearts:

Just listening, body having no self,
The raindrops falling from the eaves of the house
Are nothing if not myself.

Myself. Yourself.

Each of us complete and independent. Like a raindrop. All of us the great ocean itself.


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