Monday, September 5, 2011

All Too Clear

All Too Clear
by Scott Bradley

Because it's so very clear,
It takes so long to realize.
If you just know that flame is fire,
You'll find your rice has long been cooked.
— Wu-men (Aitkens)

This verse is Wu-men's (1183-1260) reply to the seventh koan in his compilation, Mumonkan (The Gateless Barrier). That koan is the one in which a new monk asks Chao-chou to teach him, only to be asked if he's has eaten his rice gruel. "Yes, I have." "Wash your bowl," the master tells him.

Buji is, I understand, a common Japanese expression which has its roots in Zen. It means "nothing special". And that is essentially the point of this koan. That which the young monk seeks does not reside in some esoteric teaching, but in the everyday experiences of life. Like the air which sustains us, it is "so very clear", we cannot see it.

"If you just know that flame is fire, you'll find your rice has long been cooked." If you realize that your reality is Reality, you will see there is nothing to attain. This life you live, in the way you live it, is the fire. The flame is the fire.

There is, of course, something that can be attained, and that is a profound realization of this reality which results in a liberating turning about in one's being-in-the-world. Or, so they tell us.

I have not had this experience, and ironically, if I ever do, I will probably shut up and stop writing these posts. In the mean time, however, I write on, and nibble at the edges of this experience. But there is also liberation out here in the bushes and brambles, for there is liberation in just washing one's bowl.

Zen seems to be telling me that I must do zazen until my bones scream with pain. I must focus on mu (nothingness) until it becomes a red-hot ball in my guts which I cannot vomit up. And I do not doubt that all this has led many (but far from all, though no doubt they feel pride in having given it a go) to satori. More than that, and perhaps more importantly in terms of my own psychology, it tells me I must accept a certain world view and a specific metaphysics. All this renders it a foreign entity for me. I can admire it at a distance and learn from its crumbs, but (scratch, yawn) must create that way for myself which expresses who I am.

I call this way, the Simple Way. I might also call it the Painless Way. I think I hear a voice saying, Then you will never be enlightened. Yes, but I will have fun in the failing. Buji.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. How after understanding that your rice has long been cooked do you then fall back into the place where you sit waiting for the flame to boil your water? g been cooked do you then fall back into the place where you sit waiting for the flame to boil your water?

  2. Aitken!!! When you quote someone, please spell the name right.


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