Seeing Through the Troubles of Life

Cloud Goes Blue Mountain Appears

“Cloud Goes, Blue Mountain Appears” is a metaphor for zazen.  We might think of the clouds as thoughts and the mountain as what is real, or beyond thought.  Or the clouds may be our deluded views and the mountain as Enlightenment.  Or the mountain could be our very body/mind and the clouds our thoughts that prevent us from seeing the full picture. 

Clouds could also be symbols for fluidity, acceptance, letting go, and not being obstructed by forms or social norms.  Mountains are a symbol for stability, power, and groundedness.  A Zen practitioner needs to have both qualities available depending on the circumstances.  Sometimes we need to demonstrate flexibility, like a cloud, not getting too attached to ideas and views.  Other times, like a mountain, we need to be rooted, not being swayed by the delusions of the masses, being strong in our physical posture and clear about the causes and end of suffering.

Clouds come and go in an endless cycle.  In the same way, delusion and Enlightenment are a pair.  There’s not a “once and for all” Enlightenment in our practice, but rather brief moments of clarity when the clouds’ part.  But even when the clouds part, are we sure they have completely parted?  Do they ever part completely?  Is there not always something blocking our view?

Often, we are impatient with our practice and are looking for that “mountain.”  We may try to forcefully remove the clouds from our minds.  But this approach is to go against the natural flow of things, just as you can’t get a cloud to move by blowing at it from down on Earth.  The cloud has its own timing and movement that needs to be respected.  Developing patience in the process and not constantly seeking results is imperative.

However, is it a problem that the cloud obscures the mountain?  What if we were to accept that our view of the world is almost always concealed, limited, and incomplete?  What if we were to accept that what we are seeing is never the full picture?  When anger arises, for example, can we notice how we are, in effect, desperately blowing at the clouds to no avail?

In one fascicle of Shobogenzo Dogen Zenji gives the image of looking at one corner of the sky through a bamboo pole.  We mistake the one corner for the whole sky and don’t know it.

Practically speaking, it’s not until we socialize with those that have different views than our own that we realize the limits of our understanding.  For example, on my travels, when I meet people for the first time, engaging in pleasantries, they eventually ask about my robes and ask what I do.  I say, “I’m a Buddhist priest.”  For some, this is a delight to hear, as it confirms their own beliefs.  For others, however, they don’t know what to think or how to respond, as they have never met a Buddhist priest.  I can sense their discomfort in that moment.  There’s nothing I can do or say to such people, as I can sense them either reaching for some defense of their own views or having to modify existing prejudices.  We all do this to some extent, and we must move outside of our social comfort zones to see this.


The words Zen Fields and a signature stamp next to a spare ink pen outline of a meditator in a field


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