There is an old story of a monk who came to his teacher and asked “What is the essence of the Dharma?” and his teacher replied “A mud buffalo walks on water.” Think about this story. In what way would it express Buddha Dharma? All of these Zen stories are symbolic. The “mud buffalo” in the story is a form; it can represent all forms: physical beings, thoughts, beliefs, opinions. In this case we are asked to visualize an animal formed from mud. It may look like a fired clay animal, but it was made from the mud of the lake, and when something made of mud hits water, you can guess what happens. And yet that buffalo walks on water…perhaps for only a second or two before it sinks and dissolves. The water represents underlying empty awareness. That buffalo may not know what will happen when it hits the water; it may not know it came from the mud of the lake, but back to the lake it goes. We step out there as that buffalo, on the surface tension of the lake: all that we are, all forms, all thoughts, all identity, perhaps imagining our frozen egos, seeing ourselves as the conventional center around which the universe revolves. All of our lives and history…on the skin of a lake. For a moment. But we have gone there willingly.
[after a meditation lecture by Jian Ying Shifu, 12/13]