The monk asked, “What is the third phrase?”
The master said, “Behold the puppets prancing on the stage, and see the man behind who pulls the strings.” And added, “Each phrase contains three profound gates; each profound gate contains three essentials; there is power; there is the use of it. How do you all understand this?”
And he came down from the seat.
When master Rinzai, as an answer to the question ‘What is the third phrase?’, said, “Behold the puppets prancing on the stage, and see the man behind who pulls the strings”, the puppets symbolise our physical bodies and the man behind who pulls the strings our true-Self. He meant that we should recognise the true-Self that is controlling our bodies when we behold our bodies moving in our lives. In other words, Rinzai said, “Recognise what controls my body when you behold me responding to your question without being deluded by my words. That is the very answer to your question.”
He had the kindness to sum up the three phrases; the first phrase, the second phrase and the third phrase so that he might help his students to grasp his answers. ‘Each phrase contains three profound gates; each profound gate contains three essentials’ means that each phrase as the function of the true-Self, contains the essence of the true-Self, the action of the true-Self and the form of true-Self, and that each of the three has its essence, its action and its form. This means that the true-Self is the same in essence no matter how many pieces it may be divided into, that is, how many phrases it is divided into. So, he meant that we can attain enlightenment if we can grasp just one of them regardless of whichever it is, since each phrase is the perfect gate to enlightenment.
In fact, there is no fixed ‘the first phrase’, ‘the second phrase’ and ‘the third phrase’. There is no difference at all among them. They are all the expression of the true-Self. If you can hear any single word or any single phrase as it is, it is no other than the first phrase, the second phrase and the third phrase.
Student: “What is the third phrase?”
Master: “The first phrase plus the second phrase.”
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway