Moment to Moment, Non-Stop Flow

Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi
The Blue Cliff Record, Case 80
Zhaozhou's Newborn Baby

Featured in Mountain Record 24.1, Fall 2005


The Main Case

A monastic asked Zhaozhou, “Does a newborn baby also have the sixth consciousness?”

Zhaozhou said, “It’s like tossing a ball on swift-flowing water.”

The monastic also asked Touzi, “What is the meaning of ‘tossing a ball on
swift-flowing water’?”

Touzi said, “Moment to moment, non-stop flow.”

Master Xuedou's Verse

Sixth consciousness inactive—he puts forth a question.
The adepts have both discerned where he is coming from—
On the boundless swift-flowing water, tossing a ball:
Where it comes down, it doesn’t stay—who can watch it?


This koan deals with moment-to-moment samadhi, a very important aspect of zazen. In a way, zazen is moment-to-moment samadhi. But be aware that when I say zazen I don’t just mean the seated meditaton of Zen: Zazen includes everything. Moment-to-moment samadhi becomes the moment-to-moment experiencing and functioning of our lives.

White water canoeing calls for this state of awareness amidst acitivty. When you’re in the rapids, there’s no opportunity to reflect, no time to plan a course. You don’t know what the current will be like from one turn to another. If you’re paddling with another person, the two of you need to function as one. You have to work as one person, one mind, spontaneously responding to the circumstances as they come. The minute you hesitate, you’re in trouble. And there might be a lot at stake. If you lose the canoe on the river, you lose everything. It’s not a thing to be taken lightly.

To me, life is like a long canoe trip. There are times when you are in the eddy where it’s nice and calm. And there are times when you find yourself in the rapids, and there are times when a waterfall appears ahead and you need to have the wisdom to go ashore, get out of the canoe, and portage around the obstacle. If you’re not smart enough to do that you end up with a broken canoe or a broken head. Our life unfolds moment-to-moment. Our tendency is to get caught up in our ideas and make elaborate plans. And though there’s nothing wrong with plans, the problem arises when we get stuck on them and we lose our flexibility.

A newborn has no plans. She is constantly prepared for direct, intimate discovery. She is totally open and receptive. It’s only later that abstractions begin to arise and she gradually closes down and becomes protective. At first her vulnerability is covered over with a thin shell. Later the shell grows thicker and thicker, until it becomes a wall that no one can get through.