Thursday, 22 September 2011

100 Days on the Mountain: The Rain Owl Koan

I received my koan the first night on the mountain:

"Who cooks for you?" they asked. "Who cooks for you?"

First from Raven Ridge, then, powerfully, from the edge of the Squirrel Grove, then downslope to the Maple Ravine, then the fir plantation, and finally the river.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

One following the next, first notes overlapping last with conducted precision, growing fainter but still clear, to the bottom.

Throughout the ango I'd hear it, again and again, in late evening, dark morning, at dawn, at dusk. And once, in broad daylight.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

In the woods there's no future. You live in the present, and you live with the past. You think of the wrongs done, the rage raged, the scars sustained.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

And the blessings, all the blessings. The good fortune ignored, God forbid despised, in the moment.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

Sitting under the Tyvek, with a bowl of rice in my hand and another of tea at my knee.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

Who indeed.

Half-conscious, bound in my bedroll, with the mounded marble ground and the seamless silent black.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

You mean at the moment? Or just generally?

It's a deep question. It's a spiritual question.

It's a political question. It's a practical question.

It's a sarcastic question.

Sometimes I'd go weeks without hearing it, conclude their time had passed. Then it would drift in on the blue night, from Bear Ridge, from Moon Dog Hill. Distant, but not gone.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

Summer rose higher, and I moved to the edge of the ravine. One of them took to roosting on a low branch during the night sit, lighting without the slightest sound, watching how long I don't know, before shouting "Who?" at the top of his lungs. A descending kiai: HOO-UH!

That was the Rinzai one. The path is difficult. You must be difficult, too.

For a hundred days I lived with it, with them.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

Days longer than years, nights without end or beginning.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

I sat, I listened, I doubted, I delved. They asked again. And again.

"Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?"

Who cooks for me? Who cooks for ME? I'll tell you who cooks for me!

Don't rush me.

(To hear the koan: .
To hear the kiai: )

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)


  1. Beautiful writing. "mounded marble ground" "Sitting under the tyvek..." "Days longer than years..." This piece quietly evokes (invokes?) the setting, your resolve and sense of humor. Lovely.

  2. Thanks, Ian! It was great fun to write. (And even more fun to live.)



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