Thinking of koans in the midst of an existential crisis, in the midst of a late winter snowstorm...

In the Zen tradition there is the concept of the Koan. The koan is generally a brief conversation between a student and the student's teacher that seems to make little to no sense. A few of the more famous ones are the following:

A monk asked Jōshū, “Has a dog the Buddha Nature?”
Jōshū answered, “Mu.”

One day Master Ju-Ching was scolding another monk for sleeping, and said, "The practice of Zazen (Sitting Meditation) is the dropping away of body and mind. What do you think dozing will accomplish?" Upon hearing these words, Dogen became fully Enlightened.

Tozan was asked by a monastic, “What is Buddha?” Tozan replied, “Three pounds of flax.”  

When Linji arrived at the Dayu's monastery and related his unhappy treatment at the hands of Huangbo the master Dayu listened patiently.
Dayu: "Huangbo treated you with great compassion. He merely wanted to relieve your distress."
Linji suddenly understood that Huangbo was transmitting the wordless insight to him 

I was thinking about the Dogen story. I was thinking about how many seemingly throwaway comments Ju-Ching had said in Dogen's presence--or even to Dogen--throughout the years that Dogen was training under him. And how many of those seemingly throwaway lines were full of enlightenment juice, and how all those comments went over Dogen's head until the the "body-mind drop" comment. Then, suddenly, just another seemingly random comment brings Dogen to Satori. 

Through tree branches
in the midst of a snowstorm--
light from a street lamp
can easily be mistook
for blindingly bright moonbeams

While thinking about all that, I realized that it's an inspiring story. And it's not rare in the Zen annals. There are dozens, if not hundreds of stories of people becoming enlightened from seemingly insubstantial words. But it's inspiring--or should be inspiring--for anyone who works with people. Teachers, counselors, doctors, etc. Or even just someone who spends a lot of time working with a friend or relative on a difficult issue that the friend or family member just can seem to figure out. 

It's inspiring because when you work with people in such a way, most of the time it feels as if nothing is working. Nothing you say or do seems to really help that other person. they just don't get it. Why even bother?


You never know when it's going to click for that person. When you say just the right thing, at just the right time that helps them to figure it all out. All those words aren't a waste. They can eventually accumulate to some grand realization.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah--
the sound of the Universe
is also mere words. 

A sleepless midnight--
laying under the covers
as the windows crack.

A too cold March night--
the cat too must've been cold
purring next to me

After a bad dream--
Issa stands in the doorway
telling me about it.