Returning to the Ordinary World

A monk asked Kegon, "How does an enlightened one return to the ordinary world?" Kegon replied, "A broken mirror never reflects again; fallen flowers never go back to the old branches."

In the Zen life there are no "ifs" or "buts." The Zen life is always fully lived here and now. Many people live in the "if" world, speculating rather than doing. "If it does not work out"; "if I get hurt"; "if I die." "If" people always excuse themselves in the "but" world: "I wanted to do it but"; "I want to see you, but"; there are always excuses. The monk in this koan asks how an individual, once enlightened, relates to the ordinary world. Thus, he goes beyond his own experience and imagines the world of "ifs." Rather, he should work hard and enlighten himself; then he will know the answer. Kegon's reply will be misunderstood if one does not grasp that a Buddha, an enlightened one, lives this worldly life together with worldly people. For a Bodhisattva, everyday life is the enlightened life; the ordinary world is Nirvana. The broken mirror and fallen flowers have their places.


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