Case 23 never ends, yet now comes ...
Case 24: Seppo's Poison Snake
Many Koans (each a tale of long dead and buried Zen Ancestors) speak of freedom from death. In the piercing of "no coming no going" one finds no death, and we are never really "born" either. Where can birth and death be found, from start to finish, when the mind stops measuring "starts" and "finishes"? Since one is never born, never dies ... one loses even that contrasting state called "life" as apart from "death".
Such birthless-deathless can be (must be) realized even as this short lived life of birth and death. "No coming no going" comes and goes. Oh, in their Wisdom, the long dead Ancestors live even now!
Dogen (also dead some 700 years) wrote in Shinjin Gakudo ...
In Shoji Dogen spoke of a further viewless view hand-in-hand with transcending life-death. It is a view running right into birth and death, of living that is thoroughly living, for one's life depends on it ... of dying or die trying, right to the death ...When we are born, is one speck of something added to us? At death, does one mote of something depart from us? Where are we to find this birth-and-death, along with our views about it? Up to the present, they have been just one moment of the mind and then a second moment of the mind. One moment of the mind and then a second moment of the mind is one great earth with its mountains and rivers and then [in another moment] a second great earth with its mountains and rivers. Since such things as the great earth with its mountains and rivers are beyond a matter of existing or not existing, they are beyond being large or small ... they do not change in accordance with our having awakened or not.
The Preface to the Koan seems to refer to several Now Dead Teachers who demonstrated the Deathless in various ways ... by barking as a dog or braying as a donkey. The carp can manifest a powerful dragon. They were great, but the Koan reminds us, one must get bit by this snake oneself. This poison does not kill one, for where is there for such a snake to bite?Living and dying is what nirvana is, for there is nothing to despise in living and dying, nor anything to be wished for in nirvana. ... In the time we call ‘living’, there is nothing except life, and in the time we call ‘dying’, there is nothing except death. Thus, when life comes, it is simply life, and when death comes, it is simply death. When facing up to them, do not say that you want to cling to the one or push away the other. This living and dying is precisely what the treasured life of a Buddha is. If we hate life and want to throw it away, that is just our attempt to throw away the treasured life of Buddha. And if we go no farther than this and clutch onto life and death, this too is our throwing away the treasured life of Buddha by limiting ourselves to the superficial appearance of Buddha. When there is nothing we hate and nothing we cling to, then, for the first time, we enter the Heart of Buddha.
Questions: Did you ever experience a moment of the spark of life (such as a child's birth) or brink of death, yet taste something in the instant beyond such mental categories?
Have you ever tasted something of Dogen's existential way of living and dying: when life comes live, when death comes die, do not cling to one or push away the other?
Buddhists are not big for a soul or eternal spirit, by the way, but we do know something timeless and most intimate goes on and on ...