Raven 86: The Essence

You may recall, as told in #1, that Jackrabbit was the first teacher Raven visited. Asked what the Buddha Macaw realized when she saw the morning star, Jackrabbit said, "the truth of mutually dependent arising." It turns out Raven picked up a few other teachings from Jackrabbit before moving on to Prairie Dog.

When Zen teachers of old did the repetition thing (as in the case below -- albeit with a little twist), several things are probably going on. One of them is that repetition renders the words "flavorless" -- a strategy for not getting all wrapped up in the words and concepts. It shifts the emphasis from meaning to doing: saying these words is just something we do. It's a reminder that there is no meaning for words outside of the context of what we do with them.

"The mind is compassion and its essence has no qualities." Show me how you live that!

One evening Owl asked, "I've heard that Jackrabbit Roshi said that the mind has no qualities and its essence is compassion. What do you think of that?"
Raven said, "The mind is compassion and its essence has no qualities."
Compassion is not a quality.
I put it to you,
Didactically, as if it were
A thing you could believe
Or that I could.

Yesterday I did, and tomorrow will again,
Speak of the quality of compassion --
Of a person, or an act --
As if compassion were a moral virtue
That might not have been there,
That could disappear in a mean moment,
That the discovery of ulteriority
   could render fraudulent.

Today I tell the truth:
Compassion is ontological, not ethical.
It is the stuff reality is made of.

I say it
As if you should be taking notes,
As if I should apologize.

I say it, and outside is the winter mountain,
Made of rock and soil, trees and snow.
No qualities there either,
I whisper. Or was that you?
Case by Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon

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