Zen

Rinzai 156

As I see it nowadays, I do not differ from the patriarchs and Buddha. One who attains enlightenment at the first phrase will be a teacher of patriarchs and Buddhas; one who attains enlightenment at the second phrase will teach men and the heavenly world; and one who attains enlightenment at the third phrase cannot even save himself.

Commentary:

The first phrase is one of the expressions frequently used to indicate the true-Self in Zen. It looks so tricky that people are very likely to be fooled into trying in vain to distinguish it from the second phrase and the third phrase. To explain this literally, the first phrase means a phrase beyond words. Attaining enlightenment at the first phrase means attaining enlightenment before hearing a phrase. Attaining enlightenment at the second phrase means following words and attaining intellectual understanding after hearing a phrase. Attaining enlightenment at the third phrase means following words and attaining incorrect intellectual understanding after hearing a phrase. The final goal of Zen meditation is to attain enlightenment at the first phrase.

The point here is that there are no specific words for each phrase. Whatever word or whatever phrase you may hear, if you can grasp it as the function of the true-Self without being deluded by words, it is the first phrase. Any words, any sounds, and even rude names can be the first phrase if you can hear them as they really are. On the contrary, even sweet and plausible words and phrases are no better than the second and the third phrase if you just follow the literal meaning of them, which is to be deluded by words. This is why ancient masters would say that all the Sutras are just Mara’s talks if we follow words. Rinzai’s words ‘one who attains enlightenment at the second phrase will teach men and the heavenly world; and one who attains enlightenment at the third phrase cannot even save himself’ can be the first phrase, or the second and third phrases depending on how you accept them.

Student: “What is the first phrase?”

Master: “Before a word is spoken.”

Student: “What is the second phrase?”

Master: “It was already spoken.”

Student: “What is the third phrase?”

Master: “It is what the first phrase plus the second phrase is.”

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

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