No-Path is the Path

Overflowing Compassion
The Spirit’s Hands

dewdrops on the morning glory

On Non-Dependence of Mind

Coming, going, the waterbirds

don’t follow a trace,

don’t follow a path.


(The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry edited by Stephen Mitchell, p.50)


“Dogen Kigen (1200-1253) [was a] Japanese Zen Master, philosopher, poet, painter [and the] founder of the Soto Zen school in Japan . . . . [Dogen said,] ‘To be enlightened by all things is to drop off the mind-body of one-self and others. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues forever. Enlightenment is like the moon reflected in the water. The moon doesn’t get wet; the water isn’t broken . . . .  The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in the dewdrop on the grass’” (ibid. p.157).

Full Moon

Years ago I had a dream that relates to Dogen’s words: I was lying on the grass among the dewdrops at night. The moon was full. I felt peaceful and connected. I felt a connection with (not an immersion in) the dew, the earth, the moon and the night sky.

The Divine Dew

In retrospect, I wouldn’t necessarily interpret this dream as an experience of enlightenment. In fact, at the time I viewed the dream as an experience of grace. Viewed alchemically through the process of solutio, “. . . something hard is melted and made soft and gentle, and that’s the aspect where grace and renewal is brought by the dew of the moon . . .” (The Mysterium Lectures: A Journey through C.G. Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis by Edward F. Edinger, p.109).

Lunacy or Grace

On one hand, the moon experience can result in grace. On the other hand, the moon experience can result in lunacy. “Lunacy can be transmitted . . . . Or grace can be transmitted . . .“ (ibid. p.106). Luckily for me, my days after the dream were grace-filled. I didn’t turn into a lunatic. Unless, of course, you consider my writings to be the ravings of a lunatic.

The Razor’s Edge

Seriously though, possibly eliciting symptoms of mental illness in those predisposed by engaging in a spiritual process is no laughing matter. When I was a young man, I studied yoga and meditation with a specific yoga society. The monk who headed this organization in the United States approached me one day and asked for my help in understanding why a small number of frequent and deep meditators developed mental disturbances.

When the monk explained the nature of the mental disturbances, I told him that the meditation was probably not causing the symptoms but because of the frequency, duration and intensity of the meditation, it could be eliciting symptoms in those predisposed. Nowadays, I would have referred the monk to Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis by Stanislav Grof to help reframe certain of those individuals’ experiences. Even if you are well-adjusted, a spiritual or psychotherapeutic growth process can put you on the razor’s edge. Don’t be afraid to grow slowly.

The Koan

Interestingly enough, moon in a dewdrop: writings of zen master dogen (edited by kazuaki tanahashi) contains the following different and contradictory version of the above poem’s last thought: “but they never forget their path.” This seemingly contradicts the Mitchell translation of [they] “don’t follow a path.” How can waterbirds remember a path they don’t follow? One answer to the koan is no-path is the path.

Photo Credit: Photo by Bev Wagar at Flickr Creative Commons.

Overflowing Compassion
The Spirit’s Hands

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