Norman gives the first talk on the Zen’s Women Ancestors series on Zhaozhou And The Old Woman’s Obstacles. This series is based on Record of the Hidden Lamp: One Hundred Koans of Awakened Women, edited by Florence Caplow and Susan Moon (forthcoming from Wisdom Publications, 2013
Zhaozhou And The Old Woman's Obstacles-Talk 1 Zen's Women Ancestors
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | August 29, 2012
Excerpted by Barbara Byrum
The story that I want to bring up tonight is the same story that I brought up on Sunday. It's called, "Zhaozhou and the Old Woman's Obstacles."
An old woman asked Master Zhaozhou, "I have a body that contains the five obstacles. How can I be free of the world of suffering?"
He said to her, "Pray that all beings are born in heaven and that you yourself suffer forever in a sea of hardships."
When you see the words on the page, and you don't know Zhaozhou, it might seem like some harsh Zen guy, throwing this back in the woman's face, dismissing her. But when you know Zhaozhou, you realize that he could not have said those words in that spirit. He must have said them in a quiet voice, with a lot of kindness, because he really is trying to help her out. He is really trying to tell her the best way to be free from suffering.
If you want to end your own suffering, this is how you do it. Not by hating the suffering; not by doing battle with it; not by trying to fix it; not by trying to figure it out; not by trying to get around it; not by trying to shrink it; not by trying to minimize it; not by trying to explain it away.
The way to reduce your suffering is to open up to it, to make it bigger, to make it wider. To see that your suffering – if you really know what it is – is the suffering of everyone. The way for anyone to end his or her suffering is to love others and be concerned for their suffering.
When you really love others, and you are willing to have your heart broken by their suffering, that is liberation. Your eyes and your heart are open, and even if you yourself are suffering, it is perfectly okay, and you don't mind at all.
This is your homework assignment:
First, think of some suffering of your own, evoking it, breathing it in, and then breathing out relief and love. Then generalize that suffering to everybody in that moment, who is feeling that same suffering – breathing in their suffering, and breathing out relief and love, and sending it to them. It is a version of a compassion practice.