Yunyan asked Daowu, “How does the bodhisattva of great compassion use all those hands and eyes?”
Daowu answered, “It’s like feeling behind you for a pillow in the middle of the night.”
“I understand.”
“What do you understand?”
“The whole body is hands and eyes.”
“That’s very well expressed, but it only says 80%.”
“What would you say, older brother?”
“All through the body are hands and eyes.”

– Blue Cliff Record, Case 89

I am too connected to you to
Slip away, to fade away.
Days away I still feel you
Touching me, changing me.

– Tool, H.

As I drive to work in the dull glow of the sun’s first yawn, a small wild hare sprints across the road.  We’ve been meeting like this most mornings for some time now. Sometimes I feel the rain before it comes and on occasion I discover I know things about people that I have no way of knowing. The deer outside my house munch on leaves and when they crane their necks to regard me with their dark eyes, there is a minor startle as I feel them noticing me.

This world of ours is deeply in love. Trees converse about the weather and trade nutrients while subatomic particles perform for us when we look at them and have long-distance relationships with each other. What we call empathy–that socially adaptive threesome between humans and neurons–isn’t a phenomenon of its own so much as an indicator of a fundamental operating principle of reality.

The mind is a leaky vessel by nature. We tell ourselves mostly that we move through the world in daylight, but we laugh without knowing why and hurt when we see injustices done to others. Love at first sight is real, but we depend unfairly on the unwieldy metrics of time and circumstance to carve away the protective lacquer of cynicism.

When explanations run dry, a dark space inside is revealed, but we need not be afraid of the glowing eyes that peer out at us. This is the secret meeting place between our tiny, tender hearts and the heart of the universe, a cosmic speakeasy where metaphor is conceived below the censuring squeeze of the ego. There are so many things about this life that we can’t know, but if we listen closely enough there are clues—a memory, a shred of dream, a line from a poem or song repeating itself, entreating us to listen closer, listen closer, do not disregard us.  This is the universe talking to itself, written in the cipher of our imagination.

We need each other and we must have each other, not out of obligation or for survival but because existence itself depends on it. We are alive because the pine trees smell their sharp odor through our nostrils, because the sun feels itself warming our faces and the thunder clouds shudder at feeling their rumble in our chests. We exist for the world and it for us, each inside the other.

So much sensation is appearing in each moment that we cannot possibly perceive all of it, and yet we manage to eat and make love and feel the afternoon breeze on our necks. How is this so? There is a drum playing somewhere and we dance a somnolent waltz even though we can’t hear it; countless hands pass us along while we slumber.

We have constructed metropolises within ourselves to block out what cannot and need not be ignored. We build roads where there were well-worn already paths and then tell ourselves we have lost the way. But if we reach inside and forget deeply enough, we can remember the silent language of our ancestors. The way the trees talk with the stars and the wind with the moon calls us back to the warm embrace of the home we never left.


It’s Alive! Zen is a home for Zen meditation and koans in San Antonio, Texas

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