Into the Pit of Birth and Death

When our personal and/or community life seems to be falling apart, what then? Our proclivity to use the practice as a safe refuge. This is an important developmental stage, but really only gets us some limited peace. What about when our safe refuge falls apart?

All the ancient teachers in our Zen school have encouraged us to turn into the mess, into the pit of birth and death. Below you'll find a passage from Master Huanglong Nan's (a Linji lineage successor in the Dogen transmission) that I stumbled upon yesterday after talking with several students dealing with just this issue.

Huanglong of holds up the key for going beyond:

“'Where people of the time dwell, I do not dwell; where people of the time go, I do not go.'

"To perfectly understand the intended meaning here, you must know how to enter a pit of fire with your whole body. [Drawing a line with the whisk:] Foul smoke fumes, red flames rage. But those whose eyes are not yet clear are all inside.

"The ancient sages since time immemorial have all gone into the pit of birth and death, into the fire of ignorance, to lift out sentient beings.

"As for you people, how will you go in? If people can go in, they can be said to be in fire without burning, in water without drowning. If they can’t enter, not only can they not help themselves, they can’t help others either. If you can’t help yourself or help others, there’s no benefit to a shaven head and monastic robes."