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In the Holes of Lotus Threads

The following are the words of that great man, Hakuin, on subtle confusions:

Zen master Rinzai said, "When the titans fought the king of gods, on losing the battle he led his eighty-four thousand troops into the holes of the lotus threads, where they hid. Unable to attack them there, the king of gods withdrew."

This is a scriptural story. I used to wonder why a titan with such miraculous powers would particularly seek out a lotus thread hole to hide when defeated in battle, whereas it could freely hide anywhere- in the eye of a moth, in the nostril of a mosquito, in an atom, on the tip of a needle. Even if all eighty-four thousand troops where inside a subatomic particle, it would not seem confined; so why especially single out lotus thread holes?

Furthermore, once the king of gods had won, given the great power and legendary swiftness of the gods, what time was there to find a lotus pond, break a lotus stem, extract the threads, and then hide inside them? And even if the titans managed to hide, the perception of the gods takes in the whole universe like a crystal in the palm of the hand- how could anything be overlooked?

What if, furthermore, it were early spring, before the lotus leaves have surfaced- there would be no place to hide. Out of luck, would the titans have wound up staining the weapons of the gods with their blood?

I really wondered about this for a long time, until I recently had an unexpected insight into the matter while meditating. Unable to bear my joy, I wrtoe it down to pass on to my students.

On reflection, it seems that what this is all about is a subtle scriptural metaphor that has a great deal of benefit for working on the path. Let me try to expound this.

Suppose you are working on the path. As you sit up quietly, your body and mind pass away into quiescence, all things are empty and still. The profound void is like infinite space.

Suddenly feelings and thoughts start arising in confusion, like clouds and fog enfolding the whole sky, like gigantic waves swallowing huge mountains. Valleys roar, mountains snort, odiferous mist spews hailstones, toxic fog encages lightning and thunder.

This is the time when the titan prevails in battle, manifesting a giant body so enormous it makes the ocean seem shallow, and the sky seem narrow. Shaking the precious throne room, it hollers and cries with rage; grabbing the sun and moon, it goes berserk in frustration. The pedestal of spirit is shaken up by this, the heart is rent in pieces.

At this point, if you suddenly wake up and bring the mind to the saying you have been contemplating, or else turn to what is inherent in yourself, that is like pouring a dipperful of cool water into a pot of boiling water. The ocean of essential nature becomes calm; the mind source becomes open and aware.

This is the time when the king of gods prevails in battle. The four guardian kings take their proper places; all the gods rejoice together. The web of the cosmos has infinite dimensions, each reflecting everything else, with infinte centers and peripheries.

At this time, no trace is left of the eighty-four thousand demon troops; above, below and all around, they cannot be found, even by psychic powers. Now you jump for joy, thinking everything is settled. What you do not realize is that the demons have gone into these subtle thoughts of joy and are hiding there, completely intact.

What are these subtle thoughts? They are subtle streams of consciousness, confusions of thinking that are hard to cut through. So the titan led his followers into the confusions of thinking, as hard to cut through as lotus fibers, and hid there. Once they had hidden in the subtle lotus threads of confusion of thinking, it makes sense that the gods withdrew, unable to attack.

In ancient times, Gyozan asked Isan, "How long have you had no subtle streams of consciousness?" Isan replied, "Seven years." This refers to getting entirely rid of the lotus fibers.

How does one do this? Master teachers have a clever technique that cuts through the subtle roots of birth and death like an enormous sword reaching to the sky, crushing your old nest of deluded feelings like a ten-ton hammer. A seeker asked Joshu. "Does a dog have Buddha-nature?" Joshu said, "No." This story has miraculous effects; students who wish to reach the realm of authentic peace and happiness should be sure to gnaw through this story. Gnaw on it vertically, gnaw on it horizontally, and one day you will gnaw through the root of life, die away, and then come back to life.

All this talk is an embarassment. I urge you not to wait until you've grown old and tears are streaming down your cheeks.

Now see for yourself
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