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Rinzai 4

Rinzai 4

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.”

Commentary:
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.”

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Q. How can we check our practice when we can’t see a master?

Q. How can we check our practice when we can’t see a master?

A. Enlightenment is to realise that everything is Buddha, the true-Self and that every sound is a dharma talk. The ripeness of your practice is indicated by how ready you are to see and hear reality as Buddha and his dharma talk.

The best time for you to check your practice is when you are faced with humiliation, or difficulty in your life. How swayed and troubled you are by it is a barometer of how well you are practising and how ripe your practice is. The riper your practice is and the better you are practising, the less swayed or troubled you are because you regard such unfavourable situations as your practice or try to see them as empty.

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Practising in a quiet place for many hours is not as good as staying calm for a moment when faced with an unjust treatment, difficulty, or a shameful situation. Trying to see such things as empty is much better practice than sitting silently in a quiet place. Saying hundreds of times that everything is empty is not as good as seeing a single thing as empty just one time. The purpose of Zen meditation is not for the former but for the latter.

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Baizhang’s “Fundamental Principles of the Great Matter”

Baizhang’s “Fundamental Principles of the Great Matter”

One day Master Baizhang, addressing his assembly, said, “Plough the rice field for me, and I’ll instruct you in the fundamental principles of the great matter.” After the monastics had ploughed the rice field for the master, they said, “Now Master, please instruct us in the fundamental principles of the great matter.”

The master spread open his arms.

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Student: “What did the Master mean by spreading open his arms?”
Master: “He spread his arms instead of opening his mouth again because his opening his mouth had not worked a while before.”

Commentary:
See what is common between Master Baizhang’s addressing his assembly and his spreading his arms and you will be able to laugh at the master.

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Rinzai 3

Rinzai 3

Another monk asked: “Master, from whom is the song you sing? Where does your style come from?”
The master said: “When I was with Obaku, I questioned him three times, and three times was beaten.”
The monk hesitated. The master gave a Katsu, then hit him and said: “You should not drive a stake into empty space.”

When the monk asked Rinzai the question ‘From whom is the song you sing?’ ‘Where does your style come from?’, he didn’t mean to ask who Rinzai’s master was or where he had attained his enlightenment with ‘from whom’ and ‘from where’, because Rinzai was so famous at that time that contemporary Zen students knew that Obaku was his master. He asked about the Great Matter, the true-Self from which the song Rinzai sang was from and from which his style came.

However, the master answered the monk’s question by summing up how he got enlightened by his master Obaku. It was an unexpected answer to the monk who expected some comment about the Great Matter, the true-Self, so, the monk, not grasping what Rinzai meant, was at a loss for words. Then, Rinzai, finding him struggling with illusions, or following words, had the kindness to give him two more teachings by shouting a Katsu and hitting him. Furthermore, he had compassion to give the monk one more teaching so that he might not be deluded by his words, by advising him not to drive a stake into empty space. Following words or forms is said to be being deluded by illusions, which is compared to driving a stake into empty space, or colouring empty space. In short, Rinzai said, “Don’t follow the words and forms, but grasp the teaching I’ve already given you.”

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Student: “Why did Rinzai talk about how he had attained enlightenment under his master Obaku when the monk asked about the true-Self?”
Master: “Because you are driving a stake into empty space.”
Student: “What did the master mean by shouting a Katsu and hitting him?”
Master: “He rephrased his first answer.”
Student: “Shouting a Katsu and hitting him sound so different from the first long answer that they seem to have nothing to do with it.”
Master: “That is the way the true-Self is because it doesn’t have any fixed form, but its essence never changes.”

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Q. Are you enlightened? If you are, how can we believe it?

Q. Are you enlightened? If you are, how can we believe it?

A. What matters now is not whether I am enlightened or not but whether you think that what I say makes sense in the light of Buddha’s teaching, the Sutras. If you were enlightened, you would not ask such a question since you can see whether or not I am enlightened as easily as a good maths teacher can judge how good other maths teachers are. If you are not enlightened, you can’t judge whether I am enlightened or not, no matter what I say, just as a layman who doesn’t know science cannot recognise how good a scientist is.

What I want to tell you is that you should turn your concerns to the question ‘How can I believe Buddha is enlightened?’. You should know that Buddha is not enlightened until you attain enlightenment. I mean that Buddha’s enlightenment is meaningless to you if you cannot recognise it, even if Buddha had enlightenment hundreds of times. In order to confirm Buddha’s enlightenment, you should attain enlightenment since you can’t recognise his enlightenment unless you yourself are enlightened.

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We often compare Buddha to a great doctor and us sentient beings to patients suffering from an incurable disease. However great a doctor Buddha is, he is meaningless and not a great doctor to you if you are not cured of your disease by him. No matter how much good teaching Buddha delivered about how to attain enlightenment, he is not a great teacher but a just storyteller, a liar to you if you don’t grasp what he means. In other words, to believe in Buddha blindly without knowing the essence of his teaching is no better than to disgrace Buddha. Therefore, ancient masters would say, “Don’t scratch Buddha’s body”, or “Don’t make Buddha a liar”.

In order to confirm Buddha’s enlightenment, you should be doubtful about his teachings. After giving his teaching, Buddha used to say to his students, “Don’t believe what I have told you blindly. Contemplate it seriously. Accept it when it makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense, bring it back to me and ask me.”. The ability to confirm Buddha’s enlightenment is enlightenment. You should remember that Buddhism is not to believe in Buddha but to doubt him.

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Dongshan’s “Deep or Shallow”

Dongshan’s “Deep or Shallow”

Crossing a river with Yunju, Dongshan asked, “Is the water deep or shallow?”
Yunju said, “It’s not wet.”
Dongshan said, “That’s coarse.”
Yunju said, “Tell me, Master, how would you say it?”
Dongshan said, “It’s not dry.”

Student: “Why did they answer, ‘It’s not wet’ and ‘It’s not dry’ to the question ‘Is the water deep or shallow?’
Master: “Because they knew the water.”
Student: “What would you say?”
Master: “Dry, wet and hard.”

Commentary:
When you are not entangled with words, every word is exactly right.
When you are entangled with words, no word is right.

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Rinzai 2

Rinzai 2

Master Rinzai said, “Is there some skilful general to deploy his troops and hoist his standards? Let him step forward and prove his skill before the assembly.”

A monk asked, “What is the essence of Buddhism?”
The master gave a Katsu.
The monk bowed.
The master said, “This one can hold his own in debate.”
Exchanging questions and answers between a master and his students during a dharma talk seems to have been one of the Zen masters’ common teaching methods at that time. So, Master Rinzai encouraged the assembly to demonstrate their enlightenment if they were enlightened, or to ask questions if they had any.

The monk asked the question in order to demonstrate his enlightenment, or to have his practice checked rather than because he didn’t know. So, when the master answered the monk’s question by giving a Katsu, the monk could respond to the master’s answer by offering a bow. The master, knowing that he was grasping his answer, the Katsu, approved the monk by saying, “This one can hold his own in debate”, when the monk bowed to him.

To give you another example, one day the first Patriarch Bodhidharma, in order to check his students’ practice, asked them what they had realised. When one of them offered three bows, he approved him, saying, “You’ve got the pith of my teaching.” We should ask ourselves why the master gave a Katsu instead of detail explanation about the essence of Buddhism and why he approved the monk when he bowed on hearing the Katsu just as Bodhidharma had approved his student when he responded to his question by offering three bows.

Student: “Why did the master give a Katsu when asked what the essence of Buddhism is?”
Master: “He showed it to the monk.”
Student: “Why did the master approve the monk when he bowed?”
Master: “Because the monk revealed what he grasped from the master’s Katsu.”
Student: “What did he grasp?”
Master: “Why don’t you grasp it now?”
Student: “Will you approve me if I also bow you?”
Master: “Why don’t you know that I am approving you now?”
Student: “I don’t know what you mean.”
Master: “What is difficult is not to give but to take.”

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Life seems to be meaningless to me.

Life seems to be meaningless to me.

It is very natural for life to seem to be meaningless. It is true that not only life but also all other things have no meaning whatsoever on their own unless you give meaning to them. There is nothing that has its own meaning or nature without being given by you. It is not because life has its own meaning but because you yourself give meaning to it that it has meaning. That’s why life looks and feels different to each of us and each of us has different values of life. How life looks depends on how you see it and what meaning you give to it. If life seems to be meaningless, it can be likened to a white canvas. You can start to design a beautiful life on it anew by giving your own meaning to it as you please.

What you must bear in mind is that the fact that you are alive now is the most meaningful to you. A meaningful life is to you as an art work is to an artist. However meaningful and great an art work may be, it cannot be as meaningful as its creator himself.

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Xuefeng’s “Thirst and Starvation”

Xuefeng’s “Thirst and Starvation”

Xuefeng said, “There are many people who sit beside a rice bucket dying from starvation. There are also many who sit beside a great body of water dying of thirst.” Xuansha said, “There are many who sink their heads inside a rice bucket and still starve to death. There are also many who stick their heads into the water and yet die of thirst.”
Yunmen later said, “Throughout the entire body is rice. Throughout the entire body is water.”

Student: “Why do many people starve to death with their heads inside a rice bucket and die of thirst with their heads in the water?”
Master: “Why are you starving to death with your head inside a rice bucket and dying of thirst with your head in the water? Eat quickly, drink quickly.”

Commentary:
The foolish, vomiting rice, struggle to get rice.

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Rinzai 1

Rinzai 1
The Provincial Governor 0 Joji and his staff invited the master to take the High Seat.

From the High Seat the master said: “I cannot refuse your request to ascend this seat today. In the tradition of the patriarchs I should not even open my mouth in praise of the Gr_srh6576a_thumbeat Matter. But then you would find no foothold anywhere. So today, being invited by the Governor, how could I conceal the fundamental principle of the Great Matter?”

Commentary:
The Great Matter implies the true-Self, Emptiness. The reason why master Rinzai said, “I should not even open my mouth in praise of the Great Matter” is that the true-Self is so perfect that it is beyond description. So, ancient masters would say that we are wrong if we even open our mouths to describe the true-Self. Even Buddha, when he first attained enlightenment, hesitated to teach it to others before starting his teaching because he found it impossible to describe the true-Self. This implies that Buddha and ancient masters expressed what can’t be explained in words, which means that we should grasp what is beyond words without being deluded by their words. So, Buddha also said on his deathbed, “Not a word have I said.” to advise people to grasp what is beyond words without clinging to his words. Prior to his talk, Rinzai was warning the congregation not to cling to his words but to grasp what is beyond his words when he revealed the Great Matter, the true-Self.

 

 

Student: “Provided that is wrong even to open our mouths to explain the true-Self, is it not wrong to keep our mouths shut?”
Master: “Keeping them shut is also wrong.”
Student: “What shall we do if we are wrong when we open our mouths and also wrong even when we don’t open our mouths?”
Master: “You should neither open nor keep your mouths shut.”
Student: “How is it possible?”
Master: “Grasp what is beyond words.”
Student: “How can I grasp what is beyond words?”
Master: “Words are just a finger pointing to the moon, not the moon itself. Take a close look at what they are pointing to but don’t cling to them.”

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