Rinzai 226

When Rinzai came to Ryoko during his period of wandering, Ryoko was giving a Dharma talk at the High Seat. Rinzai stepped forward and asked Ryoko, “Without drawing the sword, how could one conquer?” Ryoko clutched his seat. Rinzai said, “How could a great teacher not have skilful means?” Ryoko stared and let out a long sigh. Rinzai, pointing at him with his finger, said, “This old fellow, today he was reduced to bewilderment!”


Rinzai’s question ‘Without drawing the sword, how could one conquer?’ meant ‘Do you know the true-Self that is so free from illusions that there is no one to conquer and be conquered not mention the sword?” Ryoko responded by revealing the true-Self by clutching his seat. Rinzai, pretending to disapprove his answer, asked him again so that he might see if Ryoko was deluded by the words ‘How could a great teacher not have skilful means?’ which could appear to be humiliating. Ryoko lost no time in showing skilful means by staring and letting out a long sigh. Rinzai’s last words and attitude towards Ryoko might sound rude and degrading, but his intention was to show how great Ryoko was to his students, and to test them to see if they could grasp his appraisal of Ryoko as the function of the true-Self.

Student: “What would you say if you are asked ‘Without drawing the sword, how could one conquer?’?”

Master: “I would say, ‘Why are you wielding the sword so dangerously?’”

Student: “How would you answer if you are asked ‘How could a great teacher not have skilful means?’?”

Master: “I would say, ‘A great teacher’s skilful means is visible to none but the wise’.”

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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