It is true with everyone who takes up Zen. To compensate for our lack of insight into pure Mind we find consolation in reading the Zen stories and koan collections like the Blue Cliff Records and others. This effort is more like trying to pump up water from a dry well using one of the old cast iron hand pumps. And maybe it’s not dry. There is water but our well is not deep enough. We have to go much deeper. But we don’t think that way.
We decide to turn our intellectual talents on these Zen stories and koans. We begin to concoct complicated rationalizations. We might join a Zen center. Maybe talking to the Roshi will help. But now we are on the hamster wheel of our own intellect. After we read the various Zen stories and ponder a few koans, it seems that we haven’t moved. We are just as unawakened as we were the first day we decided to study Zen. We have no depth nor can we give up our intellect. As Zen master Yuanwu put it, “You are just climbing up the pole of your own intellect and imagination.” When we get to the limit of our intellect and imagination we have to slide back down and start over again.
No, we haven’t as yet had our dark night of the soul, our La noche oscura del alma, when we thoroughly part company with the darkness of our all-too-human world, including our cunning reason. And why this need? Because the pure, radiant Mind we are seeking can never be found in this world. This world’s truth, in the end, is darkness and suffering because it is severed from spirit and life. And we have yet to face that truth—that dark abyss.
Going through this darkness or despair is really purification at its most profound level. This is the time when we are most able to behold pure Mind; not before. Our courageous seeking of pure Mind has brought us here, to the edge. There is nothing more we can do. We have exhausted our skillful, cunning ways.