Nov 10, 2020
Martin Goodson

Just Look At The Place Where Your Own Feet Stand!

Stories from the life of Zen Master Daiyu Myokyo

Underneath our distractions is a desire to avoid an unpleasant truth, underneath that desire is fear! Plus: "The Heart rolls with the 10,000 things, this rolling is truly mysterious!"

Study of a pair of feet crossed, 1847, by Margaret Louisa Herschel



Ven. Myokyo-ni’s teacher Sesso Roshi died in 1966. He was succeeded by Sojun Roshi, who had a very different style of teaching. Yet Ven. Myokyo-ni always said that the phrase she heard from both of them more than any other was, “Look at the place where your own feet stand”. Inevitably the question arises, “What am I looking for there?” The response is “Look at the place where your own feet stand”. But the questioner might retort “And then?” At which the teacher repeats “Look at the place where your own feet stand!” Finally the student begins to look down at the very place where the own feet stand and at that moment a little voice rises from the depths: “Better not!” There’s a reason why we don’t see clearly in the first place.

When Sesso Roshi died, the senior monk Soko Morinaga paid a visit to Myokyo-ni. The passing away of one’s teacher is a momentous event and he wanted to see if she was alright. When she opened the door and saw him, she knew immediately why he was there and said “With his death he is now available for everyone.” With this Soko knew she would be fine.

The Roshi is a remote figure in a training monastery. He is only seen for teisho and sanzen. He has no other relationship with his students. Discipline is maintained by the senior monks and the day to day problems of students are dealt with by them as well. However the teacher represents more than just flesh and blood to the student. He is the living embodiment of the teachings. And the teachings themselves are only expressions of a spirit that cannot be seen directly. This spirit moves through every heart that is moved to follow those teachings. Thus the spirit of the teacher and the spirit that aspires to train are one and the same. They have the same face too. When we make room in our hearts for someone, particularly when we look up to them, we form a relationship with that which they represent. With the physical death what remains is that for which their life stood. It is this that is now freely available to all. Sesso Roshi made a deep impression upon her, which showed every time she referred to him.

“Just hatch it out!” was a frequently used phrase when a student came to Ven. Myokyo-ni with some problem. This hatching process was one she herself used on several occasions to good effect. During the interregnum - the period after the death of Sesso Roshi and before the new incumbent took up his position as head of Daitoko-ji temple - Christmas Humphreys sent Myokyo-ni a plane ticket to come back to London but she was reluctant to leave. Having recently acquired a small flat that was well placed near the monastery, and having paid a large sum as key money, she was afraid she would now lose it. She tried putting up notices to see if she could rent it out but to no avail. As the date of the flight drew nearer she had to make a decision. What to do? So she did what she tended to do in these circumstances: she locked herself away for three days. Suddenly the answer came to her: “All this time as a Buddhist and Zen student I had heard about the followers of the Buddha being referred to as ‘leavers of home’. Here I was worrying over just that and making a meal of it. So without further ado I decided to give it up and marched over to the rental agency to notify them of my intention to leave.” Apparently they were taken aback and warned her that she would lose that valuable sum in key money but she had already made up her mind. She left the office and felt somewhat lighter once the decision had been taken. As she drew near the entrance to her building a dark figure loomed up from the steps and introduced himself as a visiting mathematics professor from America. He was looking for somewhere to rent for a temporary period and had seen her advert on the university notice board. She showed him around the flat. Yes, he would like to take it and so it was agreed. She took him back to the agency and announced that she had a tenant and so would not be leaving the premises after all. At this point in the story Ven. Myokyo-ni would often laugh and add that this wasn’t the only time she experienced this phenomenon: “when something has truly hatched out and whatever is being grasped is relinquished, remarkably the Dharma comes up with something quite out of the blue!”

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