We’re back with the rhinoceros-horn fan. The fan in the picture is special; it is dyed peacock feathers and was my grandmother’s. That’s the story anyway though I have serious doubts about the material. The feathers are lush and I recall drawing the tip of the fan over my face, relishing the soft tingle. In my grandmother’s hands, the fan was a material expression of her moods. By turns, it would project coyness, affect joy, arrogantly dismiss, or capriciously summon. The fan was special and she believed that by extension she was too. I, as a child on the other hand, only worried about the butt-naked peacocks running around in the jungles.
One of the learned men in Yen Kuan’s presence, upon hearing Yen Kuan’s call for the rhino, said, “The rhino is still there.”
Hsueh Tou’s prodding is fascinating; he reminds us that the rhino is right there in the room. The horn, cut away from the animal, is no less a rhino than the beast itself intact with horn. But we are so very willing to cleave things off and pretend that cutting away generates a whole new thing, separate and unique to itself. In fact, it’s this very willingness to cleave off things we deem as special that has resulted in the extinction of the Northern white rhino and the Western black rhino. Soon I suspect we can add polar bears, frogs, sharks, seals, elephants, bears, lions and tigers – oh my!
It happens in relationships too. I enshrine those parts of my relationships that I declare special. By that I mean those parts that declare ME special. Like my grandmother’s peacock fan, these disembodied chunks of interactions serve to draw people closer, hold them in some purgatory, or (and?) dismiss them with a flick of a wrist. And it’s all enabled by a deeper delusion that these portions of my relationship have nothing to do with the flesh-and-blood, heart-and-soul sentient being in whose true presence they were born.
I wonder what would happen if the rhino entered the room. What might happen if we were able to see the whole being, the entire gnarly, smelly, grumbly beast? The whole body crevassed by skin, hair spiking out of pores, stinking of life and death. Would Yen Kuan look into the eye of the rhino and see the unreality of his fan? If we bring the whole smelly mess of our lives into the room and look into its eyes, would we too see the uselessness of the bits and pieces we hacked off to prove our worthiness?
Roshi Enkyo said in dokusan that shikantaza is the most difficult practice. I took away the understanding that it is an unrelenting awareness of the entirety of my life moment-by-moment, not just those moments on the cushion. It is the whole rhino lumbering kinhin through the halls and rooms of my being, leaving behind it a trail of poop and pee.
Not a comfortable thought. But it beats visions of all those butt-naked peacocks in the jungle.