A SOLITARY CLOUD

by Sensei Robert Joshin Althouse

(c) 1996

"The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud. The white cloud is the son of the blue mountain. All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other. The white cloud is always the white cloud. The blue mountain is always the blue mountain."

Zen Master Tozan

The blue mountain and the white cloud co-arise together, yet they do not depend on each other. Each is full and sufficient unto itself. The white cloud, solitary and alone in the vast blue sky hugs the blue mountain and gracefully rises over it. The mountain does not hinder the cloud. The cloud does not obstruct the mountain. The cloud doesn't look back from where it came. It doesn't worry about where it will go. It moves along leaving no trace. It blesses the mountain with its moisture as the mountain blesses it with it's warmth. Where does the cloud begin and where does it end? The cloud has no skin that separates it from the sky or the mountain. When conditions change, the cloud will disappear and arise again when the conditions are right.

Each of us is this white cloud. We are solitary in a vast blue sky of emptiness. This is our life. Our life is absolute, moment by moment and this is all we have. Like the cloud, we can hug the mountain, but we cannot hold on to it. There is nothing to grasp or cling to. We move along with the wind. There is no need to contemplate impermanence. Arising and disappearing, we are impermanence itself.

When we see our life as the life of a solitary cloud, nothing is missing or left out. Such a life is full and rich as it is. It is alone and sufficient unto itself. It is only when we feel separated and lonely, that we miss something, feel anxiety and fear that something has been taken from us. Then we suffer the life of a hungry ghost and chase after something outside ourselves, always eating but never satisfied, always looking but never finding.

In the same way, our practice doesn't depend on something else, yet we wake up together with everyone. Part of my root teacher, Maezumi Roshi's name was Koun which means, "solitary cloud". My Dharma grandfather, Yasutani Roshi's name was Hakuun which means "white cloud". Now, after his death, I see how this solitary cloud watered the soil to nurture and support the Buddha-Dharma in this country. It wasn't always easy for Maezumi Roshi living in America. He had his difficulties, but he kept on going. The strength of his own vows carried him over the blue mountains. He always told us, "Just keep on going".

There are many distractions that can take you away from this practice. But if you do not lose touch with the inner imperative that calls you to be upright and awake, then you will continue, regardless of the difficulties or obstacles that may be presented to you. You may fear sitting alone in silence and develop resistance to practicing and easily rationalize away the need to sit zazen. But when you do this you are only cheating yourself. A solitary cloud doesn't exist forever, so it always practices without delay.

If you do not live your life as this solitary cloud, you will simply miss your life. You will be blown by the wind here and there, lost at sea. You will be pushed and pulled by attraction and aversion. If someone complements you, you will feel good, but if they criticize you, you will easily feel offended. Such a life is not free and does not hug the blue mountain intimately.

So please have confidence in your basic sanity and do this practice of zazen regularly. Maezumi Roshi said, "Put yourself in the house of Buddha". That means be that solitary cloud in the vast empty sky, blessing the land with your moisture, sailing along leaving no trace. In this way you dignify everything you meet and touch. You open all dharmas moment by moment. It doesn't matter how long you live or which mountain you are hugging at the moment. What matters is to be this cloud yourself and have confidence that living your life in this way, you may fully realize blue mountains and white clouds.

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