The Dry Creek

A monk asked Seppo, "When the old creek of Zen dries out and there is not a drop of water left, what can I see there?" Seppo answered, "There is the bottomless water that you cannot see." The monk asked, "How can one drink that water?" Seppo replied, "Not with the mouth."

Later, the same monk went to Joshu and repeated this dialogue. Joshu commented, "If one cannot drink the water with his mouth, neither can he take it in through his nose." The monk then said, "When the old creek of Zen dries out and there is not a drop of water, what can I see there?" Joshu answered, "The water will taste as bitter as quinine." "What happens to one who drinks that water?" asked the monk. "He will lose his life," came the reply.

When Seppo heard of their conversation, he paid homage to Joshu, saying, "Joshu is a living Buddha. I shall not answer questions hereafter." And from the time on he sent all newcomers to Joshu.

The Zen creek has bottomless water and never dries out. But it seems to dry out for some students: they reach a dead end. No matter how hard they discipline themselves, or to what extremes they push themselves physically and mentally, the impasse remains. In one very real sense if this continues, they will die: asceticism borders on abuse.

On the other hand, one must die in order to be born into a new life. The ego self must die in order for the selfless self to emerge. In the Jodo, or Pure Land, school of Buddhism the word "ojo" means both death and birth. "O' means "to go," and "jo" means "to be born" or "live" in the Pure Land, or Nirvana. Where there is self there is no Nirvana; where there is Nirvana there is no self.


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