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 Message of the skeletons

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Join date : 2009-05-19

PostSubject: Message of the skeletons   Thu Aug 13, 2009 6:28 am


      Ikkyu  (1394-1481)

These thin lines of India ink reveal all truth.

Students, sit earnestly in zazen, and you will realize that everything born in this world is ultimately empty, including oneself and the original face of existence. All things indeed emerge out of emptiness.  This original formlessness is “Buddha,” and all other similar terms-Buddha-nature, Buddhahood, Buddha-mind, Awakened One, Patriarch, God—are merely different expressions for the same emptiness.  Misunderstand this and you will end up distracted for eons.

Filled with disgust and longing to liberate myself from the realm of continual birth and death, I abandoned home and set off on a journey.  One night, I came to a lonely little temple, looking for a place to rest.  I was far off the main road, at the base of a mountain, seemingly lost in a vast Plain of Repose.  The temple was in a field of graves, and suddenly a pitiful-looking skeleton appeared speaking these words:

A melancholy autumn wind

Blows through the world:

The pampas grass waves,

As we drift to the moor,

Drift to the sea.

What can be done

With the mind of a man,

That should be clear

But, dressed up in a monk’s robe,

He just lets life pass him by?

All things become naught by returning to their origin.  Bodhidharma faced the wall in meditation, but none of the thoughts that arose in this mind had any reality. The same held true for Buddha’s fifty years of proclaiming the Dharma.  The Mind is not bound by such conditioned things.

Such deep musings made me uneasy and I could not sleep.  Toward dawn I dozed off, and in my dreams I found myself surrounded by a bunch of skeletons, acting as they did in life.


One skeleton came over to me and said:


Flee and

Are no more:

All are empty dreams

Devoid of meaning.

Violate the reality of things

And babble about

“God” and “Buddha”

And you will never find

The true Way.

Still breathing,

You feel animated,

So a corpse in a field

Seems to be something

Apart from you.

I got on well with this skeleton—he had renounced the world to seek the truth and had passed from the shallows to the depths.  He saw things clearly, just the way they are.  I lay there with the wind in the pines whispering in my ears and the autumnal moonlight dancing across my face.

What is not a dream?  Who will not end up as a skeleton?  We appear as skeletons covered with skin, male and female, and lust after each other.  When the breath expires, though, the skin ruptures, sex disappears, and there is no more high or low.  Underneath the skin of the person we fondle and caress right now is nothing more than a bare set of bones. Think about it—high and low, young and old, male and female, all the same.  Awaken to this one great matter, and you will immediately comprehend  the meaning of “unborn and undying.”

If chunks of rock

Can serve as a memento

To the dead,

A better headstone

Would be a tea mortar.

Humans are indeed frightful beings.

A single moon

Bright and clear

In an unclouded sky:

Yet still we stumble

In the world’s darkness

Have a good look—stop the breath, peel off the skin, and everybody ends up looking the same.  No matter how long you live, the result is not altered.  Cast off the notion the “I exist.”  Entrust yourself to the windblown clouds, and and be Free Forever.
Ikkyu (1394-1481)

Excerpted from Wild Ways translated by John Stevens 2003

White Pines press

 commentary by Elana at Daily Zen                                       *

Death, the great equalizer, has a way of bringing life into a different kind of focus.  Ikkyu’s skeletons share teachings from their point of view, which is accessible to those of us who remember we too will be those skeletons, and in fact carry them with us daily.  Getting caught up in the world of form, we meditate and put our toes into formlessness, then get enmeshed again in form.  To realize the teaching of the Heart Sutra is one of the highest teachings we can “attain.”

"Form is emptiness; emptiness is form; form is not other than emptiness; emptiness is not other than form."  

That about sums it all up, but realizing the depths of this teaching can take lifetimes or no time.  Just to hear this and contemplate this teaching plants seeds that will awaken when the conditions are right.  

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha

Humbly yours,

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PostSubject: Re: Message of the skeletons   Thu Oct 22, 2009 9:35 am

La Loba

There is an old woman who lives in a hidden place that everyone knows but few have ever seen. As in the fairy tales of Eastern Europe, she seems to wait for lost or wandering people and seekers to come to her place.

They say she lives among the rotten granite slopes in Tarahumara Indian territory. They say she is buried outside Phoenix near a well. She is said to have been seen traveling south to Monte Alban in a burnt-out car with the back window shot out. She is said to stand by the highway near El Paso, or ride shotgun with truckers to Morelia, Mexico, or that she has been sighted walking to market above Oaxaca with strangely formed boughs of firewood on her back. She is called by many names: La Huesera, Bone Woman; La Trapera, The Gatherer; and La Loba, Wolf Woman.

The sole work of La Loba is the collecting of bones. She is known to collect and preserve especially that which is in danger of being lost to the world. Her cave is filled with the bones of all manner of desert creatures: the deer, the rattlesnake, the crow. But her speciality is said to be wolves.

She creeps and crawls and sifts through the montanas, mountains, and arroyos, dry river beds, looking for wolf bones, and when she has assembled an entire skeleton, when the last bone is in place and the beautiful white sculpture of the creature is laid out before her, she sits by the fire and thinks about what song she will sing.

And when she is sure, she stands over the criatura, raises her arms over it, and sings out. That is when the rib bones and leg bones of the wolf begin to flesh out and the creature becomes furred. La Loba sings some more, and more of the creature comes into being; its tail curls upward, shaggy and strong.

And La Loba sings more and the wolf creature begins to breathe.

And still La Loba sings so deeply that the floor of the desert shakes, and as she sings, the wolf opens its eyes, leaps up, and runs away down the canyon.

Somewhere in its running, whether by the speed of its running, or by splashing its way into a river, or by way of a ray of sunlight or moonlight hitting it right in the side, the wolf is suddenly transformed into a laughing woman who runs free toward the horizon.

So it is said that if you wander the desert, and it is near sundown, and you are perhaps a little bit lost, and certainly tired, that you are lucky, for La Loba may take a liking to you and show you something - something of the Soul.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves. Pp.26-28.
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