Chih Men’s Lotus Flower, Lotus Leaves

Route 128 ViewThe twenty-first case of “The Blue Cliff Record” is as follows:

A monk asked Chih Men, “How is it when the lotus flower has not yet emerged from the water?” Chih Men said, “A lotus flower.”

The monk said, “What about after it has emerged from the water?” Men said, “Lotus leaves.”

(trans. Thomas and J. C. Cleary, Shambala Publications, pg 139)

Here’s the first paragraph of Yuanwu’s commentary:

As for dealing with people in accordance with their potentials, Chih Men has attained a little. When it comes to cutting off the myriad streams, he’s a million miles away. But say, is this flower before and after it emerges from the water the same or different? If you can see this way, I’ll grant that you’ve had an entry. Nevertheless, if you say it’s the same, you confuse your buddha-nature and becloud true thusness. If you say it’s different, mind and environment are not yet forgotten, and you descend to travel the road of interpretation. When will you ever cease?

(Ibid, pg 140)

The parallel between Chih Men’s answers and Gautama the Buddha’s descriptions of some of the meditative states is close. The third of the initial meditative states is described as like a pond of lilies of various colors that never break the surface of the water, but are filled and suffused “from tip to root” (with water). The fourth of the initial states is described as like a clean cloth wrapped around the head and the entire body, such that no part of the surface of the body is not covered with the cloth (lily leaves are most often in contact with the surface of the water, in much the same way as Gautama’s clean cloth is in contact with the surface of the skin).

Lately I’ve written about what I consider to be two mechanisms of support for the lower spine, and their coordination in the natural movement of breath.* By natural here I mean “autonomic”, a movement of inhalation or exhalation that takes place without any conscious activity in the body to effect the breath.

That there could even be a challenge in experiencing such a breath with full awareness is the open secret of meditative states. When Yuanwu wrote, “When will you ever cease?”, he pointed to the moment when the force of gravity is the only agency in the movement of breath, when mind and body drop off yet the body is upright.

“Beholding cessation” in connection with inhalation and in connection with exhalation was one of sixteen elements in the way of living that Gautama described as his own (more on the sixteen), and the cessation of (habitual activity in) inhalation and exhalation was the mark of the induction of the fourth of the initial meditative states.

*Post: Turning to the Left, Turning to the Right, Following Up Behind

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