Book of Serenity, Case 63
Joshu asked master Touzi: “When someone who has undergone the great death returns to life, how is it?”
Master Touzi said, “He can’t go by night, he should arrive in daylight.”
Enlightenment is often referred to as the great death, particularly in Rinzai. Practitioners in that tradition are encouraged to have dramatic and extreme experiences. Likewise, ‘night’ or ‘darkness’ is often used in Koan stories as a way of talking about non-duality. In the dark we can’t see individual things, so everything is whole; likewise in the non-dual state, although the metaphor is not exact: in the non dual state, this and that don’t disappear into an ambient mush, yet things cease to exist in the familiar way. So Joshu’s question is: how does the person who has experienced non duality function in the world?
The tone of ‘great death’ and ‘night’ however is different. In Joshu’s question, there is the seed of our self sickness. The assumption that practice is to get something, some special experience. Master Touzi’s answer is less dramatic, more realistic: night and day balance each other, duality and non duality are in a dance of forward and backward.
We call it the great death because the experience does not belong to the self.