Last night we sat at Wind-in-Grass. I was so heartened that even the day before one of the biggest holidays of the year, WiG had a house full of people wanting to give thanks together and sit.
We sat with the koan:
Once upon a time there was a young man who was deeply unhappy. He had many good things in his life but they didn’t help. When he was at the end of his tether he heard about a teacher who was supposed to be good with hopeless cases and he made the journey to see her.
“I am very unhappy,” he said. “I’m too restless to sit still and do a spiritual practice and I’m too selfish to practice compassion and service. I reach for what I want but when I get it, I’m not happy, and I’m always looking out for the next thing. I don’t have a clue where to turn. But I’m told that you deal with hopeless cases so perhaps you can help me. You are my last resort.”
“I’m glad you came,” she said. “I might be able to help but you will have to agree to do what I ask.”
“Why don’t you tell me?” he said “and I’ll decide if it will work for me.”
“Oh no,” she said, “The deal is that you agree to do what I say and then I tell you what you must do. There is no other way.”
He hemmed and hawed and went back and forth and finally surrendered and said, “OK I’ll do it, but I won’t do it forever.”
So she said, “Try it for a year and let me know.”
She said nothing.
“OK,” he said, “Give it to me.”
“I’ll give you the practice I do myself. Whenever anything appears in my mind or appears in the world, I say ‘Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever.”
“That’s all? That’s it? That’ll never work for me!”
“You agreed. For a year. Off you go now. Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever.”
So he left and she more or less forgot about him.
Then a year passed and he asked for an interview and arrived in her room.
“It’s as I suspected, I knew it would never work for me, I’m still just as unhappy and selfish as I ever was.”
Immediately she said, “Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever.”
With her words, he felt an eruption in his chest and began to laugh and immediately understood what she meant and laughed and laughed and laughed and his happiness didn’t subside though it did become quieter after some months. “Thank you very much,” he told people, “I have no complaints whatsoever.”
After sitting, we walked, then enjoyed the cornbread, fruit, green beans, tea and nuts. Then we played a game.
We went around the room. Each person was asked to give thanks for something for which they did not traditionally feel thankful. Then the person next to them was to tell them "thank you. I have no complaints whatsoever"...and give their own thanks
In the end, it went like this
I am thankful for...
7 years of migraines,
A class of children that make me cry everyday
a marriage that requires hard work everyday
noticing that I carry classist and racist presumptions
being far away from friends and family
having my best friend move far away
a forgetful mind that constantly strains my work relationships
not enough time with my daughter
illnesses and a pain in the shoulder that will not allow me to sleep...
Thank you. I have no complaints, whatsoever.
What did people notice? They noticed that the thanking felt sarcastic, but freeing as they were so used to having to paint a silver lining on everything. People mentioned that hearing it from other people, the thankfulness, was opening and allowed them to see their disappointments in new light and without the stories that it was miserable. They noticed saying thank you to the other person felt trite, but that it felt good to hear it. Someone mentioned how when she went looking for things that she did not feel thankful for, it allowed her to realize that she did, in fact, in some small way, feel thankful for it all.
Then we read the koan again, and opened the discussion to the entire group.
People loved the koan. They noted how they liked the man was not given a choice and had to commit without knowing the practice. How kind it was the the teacher shared her own practice. That it was wonderful that he did not feel happier or less selfish after a year- and then that he did, all at once. We noted how we liked how he was like us, and we noted how we liked that the teacher was a woman. We noted how good it felt just to hear the words:
I have no complaints, whatsoever.
And that just by hearing them, sometimes, we didn't.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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