The answer to the last question in Shitou’s koan is extremely poignant and beautiful to me.
Daowu asked again, “Can you say anything further?”
Shitou answered, “The expansive sky does not obstruct the floating white clouds.”
The white clouds are the five skandhas and the form world which appears, changes shape and then dies. The boundless sky is the entirety of interconnectedness, eternity or timelessness. How do these so-called opposites, the absolute and the relative, relate to each other? They are the background and the foreground but in Buddhist practice their positioning switches back and forth. The expansive sky does not obstruct the floating white clouds. But neither does the white clouds or form, obstruct the boundless awareness of emptiness. Can we practice developing the ability to have the foreground and background displace each other, dance with each other, with ease?
This reminds me of the tantric teaching in Tibetan Buddhism. Every single object of form IS the tantric mystical energy of life. Whatever is appearing; an object, an emotion, a thought IS the energy of the mystery. The clouds and the sky do not obstruct each other because they are one and the same thing. There is no subject/object separation. When we deeply know this, we have a changed attitude towards each side.
“The great sky does not obstruct the drifting of the white clouds” is Shitou’s expression. Nor does the great sky obstruct the great sky. The great sky does not impede the great sky itself from drifting, and also the white clouds do not impede the white clouds themselves. White clouds are drifting without obstruction; furthermore, the drifting of white clouds does not impede the great sky from drifting. Not obstructing others is non-obstruction of the self. The great sky and the white clouds do not require each other’s non-obstruction. For this reason, they don’t obstruct each other. This is how we uphold the nature and form of “the great sky”, “non-obstruction,” and “the drifting of the white clouds”
The dynamic flux of life is movement and change. The opposites move and change and do not interfere with each other. No disturbance. The whole network of movement is impermanent and changing. In order for there to be an obstruction, something has to be stagnant, solid and immoveable. Our five skandhas or our self does not obstruct anything. They move and change in accordance with the energy of the circumstances.We are completely dependent and emerged with inter-connection and the network of beings.
Because white clouds and boundless sky are really one thing, they don’t need to negotiate. Shohaku Roshi wrote, “White clouds and boundless sky are both moving simultaneously without talking about which way they should go. They just go wherever they should go. That means there is no separation between the white clouds and the vast sky, they are simply one.”
Shohaku Roshi adds: “Not gaining and not knowing, we try not to control the moving because we are a part of it. There is no way to objectively observe the total movement because we are a part of it even though we often try to control, observe or hinder the moving to our liking. Within the interconnectedness, we are one musician within the symphony. We are part of the music, we cannot be the observer or audience, otherwise we disturb or destroy the music. We are already completely and totally participating.”
How do we “go with the flow” without obstruction? How do we let go of our likes and dislikes so that we can accept what is, as exactly the pivotal point?