There was a scripture master who asked: “Do not the Three Vehicles and the Twelve Divisions of the Teachings bring to light the Buddha Nature?”
The master replied: “I never hoe a thickly weeded plot.”
The scripture master said: “How could the Buddha deceive people?”
The master said: “Where is he, the Buddha?” The scripture master was speechless.
The master continued: “Here in front of the Governor you would take the old monk for a ride! Away with you! You prevent others from asking their questions.”
Three Vehicles and the Twelve Divisions of the Teachings is often mentioned as a symbol of all theoretical and doctrinal teachings, or all the Sutras in the records of ancient masters. So, a scripture master means a Sutra master. The scripture master’s comment ‘Do not Three Vehicles and the Twelve Divisions of the Teachings bring to light the Buddha Nature?’ means ‘Do not Three Vehicles and the Twelve Divisions of the Teachings explain the Buddha Nature?’. This implies ‘I, as a scripture master, know the Buddha Nature as well as you do since I have studied Three Vehicles and the Twelve Divisions of the Teachings that explain the Buddha Nature for a long time’.
‘Plot’ symbolises mind, ‘weed’ means illusion. When the master said, “I never hoe a thickly weeded plot.”, he meant that he is never deluded by the words in the Sutras, comparing the words in the Sutras to weeds. Then, the scripture master retorted that the Buddha could not deceive people in the Sutras. This is a very critical point in how to accept Buddha’s teaching. Of course, Buddha never cheated people nor did Rinzai think that Buddha did. When he said that he was not deluded by the Buddha’s words in the Sutras, he didn’t mean that the Buddha deceives people but meant that if we cling to the words without grasping what is beyond the words, the words are no better than weeds, illusions that lead us to misunderstand Buddha’s teaching. In other words, Buddha doesn’t deceive us, but we deceive ourselves by misunderstanding his words when we cling to the words in the Sutra. So, Rinzai once said that all the Sutras are only Mara’s talks if we are deluded by the words in them.
Then, Rinzai said to the scripture master, “Where is he, the Buddha?” This is like saying, “You said that the Buddha could not deceive people. If you are not deceived by his words, or if you grasp his teachings, tell me where the Buddha is. According to the Sutras, the Buddha is everywhere all the time. If you have a clear-cut understanding of the Sutras, Buddha’s teaching, you should be able to show where the Buddha is.” However, the scripture master was at a loss for words when faced with Rinzai’s question, which proved that he actually didn’t understand the Sutras even though he had taught other monks the Sutras as a scripture master. This means not only that he was hoeing a thickly weeded plot, that is, he was being deluded by words but also that he was deceiving other monks. So, ancient masters would say, “If you cling to Buddha’s words, you will make him a liar.”
You should know that Rinzai’s comment ‘Here in front of the Governor you would take the old monk for a ride! Away with you! You prevent others from asking their questions’, contains more than it seems. Firstly, Rinzai meant that he was not deluded by the scripture master’s words, or that the scripture master could not match him with knowledge. Secondly, and less importantly, he advised the scripture master to retire in order to give other people the chance to ask questions. And finally, but most importantly, the comment is an answer to the question ‘Where is he, the Buddha?’ that Rinzai asked the scripture master.
Student: “I don’t understand how Rinzai’s comment ‘Here in front of the Governor you would take the old monk for a ride! Away with you! You prevent others from asking their questions’ can be an answer to the question ‘Where is he, the Buddha?’.”
Master: “It is because you are hoeing the thickly weeded plot.”
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway
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