Back in the day when I used to drive up from El Paso to the Las Cruces Zen Center to sit on my ass and stare at a wall for an hour, Harvey SoDaiho Hilbert used to talk about that damned koan with the monk atop a 100 foot pole. You sit on meditate and you study and you get to the top of the pole. But what's the next step? There are several like-minded stories in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones where, for example, the hero is hanging over a cliff for dear life. A hungry tiger is waiting for her if she climbs back to the top and she falls to her death if she lets go. She has to make a decision. Well, of course, the answer is to let go. But who, for God’s sake, wants to let go? You can understand the answer intellectually and speak or write it, but that’s not nearly enough. You really got to let go.
So I remembered all of this when I was reading Philippe Coupe's commentary on Dogen's Fukanzazengi in Simply Sitting. Coupey is talking about the two kinds of “faith”—the faith of the small mind that says if I do that then something good (or bad) will happen; and faith of the big mind, the universal mind, which arises out of the emptiness of the universe itself and simply allows for us to let go:
Not long ago there was an interesting news story about a sailor who was crossing the Pacific Ocean on a freighter. He was at the bow of the ship when he was overcome by a wave and thrown overboard. It was dark out and no one noticed that he had fallen into the sea. It wasn’t until nine hours later that his cabin-mate realized it and informed the captain. Nine hours is a long time. But the captain decided to go back to see if they could find him, or what was left of him…if he hadn’t been eaten by sharks! Miraculously, eighteen hours later, they found the sailor. He was floating on the waves, sleeping peacefully atop the swells. They woke him up with the foghorn. He opened his eyes and saw the boat. They threw him a ladder and he climbed onto the bridge.Also apropos, Harvey even kept a little plastic bathroom ducky on the altar for a while as an example of how to live the life. The duck floats, like the sailor in the Coupey story, atop the waves and, come rain or shine, gives herself over to the powers of the water. Of course I didn’t like that little ducky. It was too cute and, besides, I didn’t want to let go. But some time or another we got to let go. We have no other choice.
“How did you do it?” asked the captain.
“Since I couldn’t get anywhere by swimming,” replied the sailor, who was, obviously in the middle of the ocean, “I decided there was nothing to do but float on my back and give myself over completely to the powers of the ocean.”
I hope you're well.