Norman gives the ninth and final talk of the Zen’s Women Ancestors series on Zhaozhou’s Intimate Touch. 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's Intimate Touch – Talk 9 Zen's Women AncestorsBy Zoketsu Norman Fischer | October 31,
Excerpted by Barbara Byrum
The process of practice is organic and intuitive. It is not the kind of thing that you figure
out how to do and diligently go about doing it.
It sort of flows somehow. It is
hard to figure out, because it does not make sense in the usual way that our
conceptual mind understands things, as if things were consistent and
For instance, we say, and we really feel, that practice is
an urgent matter. We all feel that we
are all approaching the total loss department, so we are all in a desperate
situation. So practice is not a nice
option; it is an absolute necessity.
Like they say in a traditional chant in a monastery, "You should practice
as if your hair were on fire," with that amount of concern and urgency. Anybody who really devotes himself to
practice knows that this is actually so.
You do have to take it seriously and not goof off and not take anything
for granted. You realize that life is
shockingly brief. Suffering is
completely inevitable. There are no
other options but practice.
On the other hand, we also say, and we also feel, that
everything is pretty good. Everything is
fundamentally okay. Our life, just the
way it is, without doing anything else about it, is okay. Even the world, just the way it is, is
good. All of the problems of our lives
and of the world that seem so rough, we realize, are the necessary
problems. These are the problems that
provide the energy and the motivation that everybody needs to go on
living. So everything is as it should
be, and we can have a light-hearted approach to life.
This doesn't quite add up – these two feelings that are the
opposite of each other. What is it? Is it a desperate situation in which we have
to make this grim effort, or is everything fine? How could it be that we have these two
contradictory attitudes at the same time?
It seems like a joke or some puzzling Zen paradox.
But no, it is not a joke or a puzzle or a paradox. In the process of our practice, we see how we
can keep these, and many other attitudes that seem so contradictory, all
together. We have a feeling for why it
is necessary to have these and other contradictory attitudes at the same
time. We see that one requires the other. More than that, we see that one actually is
the other. There isn't any difference
that seems to exist on the surface.
When you appreciate your practice, you really get that. This is what makes it possible for us to go
on with a balanced effort: serious, alert, alive, paying attention. But, also, without pressure, without
stress, without striving.