Kyogen's "man up a tree" is the fifth koan of the Mumonkan. There is a man high up a tree whose hands and feet cannot touch the tree; a fatal fall is prevented only in that he holds a branch in his mouth. Meanwhile, someone below asks him the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West. "At such a time, how should he answer?"
I will presume to answer for him. He ‘should’ do whatever it is that he does. What is the meaning of Bodhidharma having come from the West? He came.
I speak much of meaninglessness and purposelessness as an antidote for their delusional opposites, but these concepts are as equally delusional. This is not to say, however, that they cannot be a useful place to begin. The egoic self requires meaning and purpose. To lose them is despair. To lose them and not despair is to have transcended the egoic self. It is likewise to transcend meaninglessness, as well as meaning.
Zenkei (Zen Comments on the Mumonkan) tells us that the key words in this koan are "at such a time". This, he further explains, means "just as he is". Where should he be? Just where he is. What should he do? Whatever he does. The dilemma is a canard, a diversion. "Should" is a blatant slap in the face of Reality. What is the meaning of this stone? What should it do? "Even a clod of earth," Shen Dao tells us, "never strays from the Dao." The 'meaning' of any- and everything is simply that it is, just as it is, whatever "is" may be. What does 'should' have to do with it?
Zenkei comments: "If he hangs from a tree, just as he is hanging, the essence of Zen is alive and manifest there." We need go no further. "What is essential to Zen," he concludes, "is 'to cast away the discriminating mind'. When this is done, for the first time one can transcend yes and no, good and evil, and declare that everything, everywhere, is 'it'."
The invented sage Zhouzi was given to sudden exclamations of sheer joy in the realization of just this "it". "This is it!" he might shout, hoe in hand while working in the garden. "This is it!" would reverberate among his disciples throughout the community, whatever they were doing, whether attending to the sick, cleaning the privies or arguing with their neighbor.
How could it be that who you are and what you are doing at this very moment is not "it"? Because you 'should' be doing something else? Or more likely, because you 'should' be something else? Have you strayed from the Dao, Grasshopper? So sad. The maligned Shen Dao realized more than his critics could imagine.
"This is it!" And you and I are "this", just as we are, in this very moment. Forget 'should'. When we are who we are, just as we are — when we are one with ourselves — ‘should' is who we are. In my case, I 'should' be this ego-bound should-ist, because, when I am, there is no more 'should' and no more bondage. Forget ‘True Self’. There is only the self that you are.
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