The Journey of Not Taking a Step

Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei
Transmission of the Light, Case 7

Featured in Mountain Record 26.3, Spring 2008

The Main Case

Dhrtaka said to Micchaka, “To practice sorcery, thus learning something minor, is like being dragged by a rope. You should know for yourself that if you give up the little stream and immediately return to the great ocean, you will realize the uncreated.”

On hearing this, Micchaka realized enlightenment.

The Capping Verse

Though there be the purity of the
            autumn waters
Extending to the horizon,
How does that compare with the haziness
Of a spring night’s moon?
Most people want clear purity,
But though you sweep and sweep,
The mind is not yet emptied.

Transmission of the Light is a koan collection compiled by Master Keizan, who is in the lineage of Zen master Dogen. It is a record of the enlightenment experiences of the Zen ancestral lineage, beginning with the Buddha down to Dogen’s successor, Ejo. This koan is the story of the encounter between Micchaka—a master six generations after the Buddha—and his teacher, Dhrtaka.

One day, Micchaka came to pay respects to Dhrtaka. Upon their meeting Micchaka said, “In the past we both lived in the heaven of purity; I met the sorcerer Asita and learned the methods of sorcery, while you met a fully empowered Buddhist and practiced meditation. Thenceforth our lots differed and we have gone our separate ways for six eons now.”

How is it that any of us came to encounter the dharma? It has always been through some encounter with a person, with a teaching, with a book. Is it our karma? Is it our good fortune? The important thing is to have found our way to the Path.

In this case, Micchaka and Dhrtaka went in different directions, developing their respective paths. Dhrtaka said in response, “Having spent eons apart, what a lesson this is indeed! Now you should give up the false and return to the true, thereby to enter the vehicle of enlightenment.” Micchaka then became the disciple of Dhrtaka, received the transmission, and continued the lineage.