Zen

Q. What is your take on the opinion that religion is a political system based on faith and that Buddhism is not a religion even if it shares religious status?

A. Considering religions historically, the idea that religion is a political system based on faith makes sense. However, saying that people made political use of religions is one thing and saying that religion is politics is another. The truth is the former, I think.

Whether Buddhism is a religion or not depends on the viewpoints of people. Whatever it may be called, its name is not the essence of Buddhism, nor does it change it. The core of Buddhism is to teach how not to be deluded by names, labels that are imaginary lines. To become able to see and hear things without names is to attain enlightenment. Whatever you’d love to call it, be free to call it as you please.

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Student: “Is Buddhism religion or philosophy?”

Master: “It’s neither religion nor philosophy.”

Student: “What is it then?”

Master: “If people call a lion a dog, it becomes a dog.”

 

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Zen

Juzhi Holds Up One Finger

Master Juzhi, whenever he was asked what the Buddha is, held up one finger.

A young monk in his assembly was asked by someone when the master was away, “What kind of essential dharma does your master teach?”

The young monk held up one of his fingers.

When Juzhi heard about it, he cut off the young monk’s finger with a knife.

The monk cried out in pain and began to run away.

Juzhi called the monk.

As the monk turned his head, Juzhi held up a finger.

At this moment the monk had realisation.

When Juzhi was about to pass away, he said to the assembly, “I inherited Hangzhou Tianlong’s one-finger Zen and have not exhausted it throughout my entire lifetime. Do you want to understand it?” He then held up a finger and died.

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Student: “Why did Juzhi, whenever he was asked a question, hold up one finger.”

Master: “Because he had no other fingers.”

Student: “Why did Juzhi cut off the young acolyte’s finger with a knife?”

Master: “Don’t blame the master for your cruelty. He transmitted his finger to the young monk.”

 

Commentary:

The reason why you are suffering is that you cut the finger.

 

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Zen

Rinzai 52

Instructing his monks, the master said: “Followers of the Way, it is most important that you come to see clearly. Then you can go your way freely all around the world without letting yourselves be deceived by those delusive fox sprites. Nothing is more precious than to be a man who has nothing further to seek. Just do not give rise to any fancies and be your ordinary selves.”

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Commentary:

‘See clearly’ means to see everything as it is, which is to see everything as empty. ‘Delusive sprites’ symbolises fake masters who mislead people by giving wrong teachings. That is, if you can see everything as it is, you are not deluded by illusions, wherever you may go, and no fake masters can deceive you.

‘A man who has nothing further to seek’ is an enlightened man who has realised that everything is empty. ‘Give rise to any fancies’ means to discriminate and make illusions. ‘Be your ordinary selves’ means ‘Be enlightened’ or ‘Be the Emptiness itself’. In short, Master Rinzai is encouraging his monks to attain enlightenment by ceasing to discriminate and enjoy full freedom.

 

Student: “How can I become the Emptiness?”

Master: “Strip yourself of all labels attached to yourself.”

 

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Zen

Q. What do you think of the view that religions have caused a lot of suffering and confusion?

A. What do you think of the idea that fire has caused a lot of suffering by devastating our shelters and taking the lives of our beloved people, or that knives have caused plenty of suffering by being used as weapons to harm people?

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However, we cannot blame fire or knives for all the suffering mentioned above because fire and knives have no intention to damage or benefit people. Whether they are of use or harmful depends on how we use them. In fact, the reason that they are still in use in our everyday life is that they have been more beneficial than harmful and destructive to human beings.

 

In the same way, it was not religions themselves but those who misused them that ought to be blamed for having caused a lot of suffering and confusion.

 

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Zen

Should I have meat and alcohol or not?

One day an official asked Master Majo, “Should I have meat and alcohol or not?” Majo said, “Having them is a national salary and not having them is Buddha’s blessing.”

 

Student: “What is the difference between a national salary and Buddha’s blessing?”

Master: “You have to pay for the former but not for the latter.”

Student: “I still don’t understand why.”

Master: “Because the former becomes your debt since it comes from outside, but the latter is originally yours.”

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Commentary:

Starving before delicious food for the sake of Buddha’s blessing is distorting Buddha’s teaching that Buddha’s blessing is limitlessly full.

 

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Zen

Rinzai 51

There are old bald-heads who cannot tell true from false. They see spirits and devils; they point to the east or indicate the west; they fancy fine weather or are fond of rain. One day they will have to face Yama (Judge of the Dead) and repay their debts and swallow red-hot iron balls. Men and women of good families, possessed by these foxes and apparitions, do weird things. Blind old fools! The day is sure to come when they will have to pay back the cost of their meals retroactively.

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Commentary:

‘Old bald-heads who cannot tell true from false’ implies old monks and nuns who are still deluded by illusions even though they have been monastic practitioners for a long time. ‘They see spirits and devils’ means ‘they make believe they are enlightened while arguing that they can see spirits and devils’. This is actually the way they follow illusions. ‘They point to the east or indicate the west’ means that they give wrong teachings to people. Giving wrong teachings in the name of the Buddha is making Him an imposter. ‘They fancy fine weather or are fond of rain’ is an example of their being attached to illusions. ‘One day they will have to face Yama (Judge of the Dead)’ symbolises that they cannot transcend the yoke of life and death. ‘Repay their debts and swallow red-hot iron balls’ implies that they, still caught in the net of causation, will have to pay for their wrong teachings.  ‘Men and women of good families, possessed by these foxes and apparitions, do weird things’ means that ordinary people, misled by fake masters, pursue enlightenment in wrong ways.

 

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Zen

Q. What is monkey mind?

A. When a monkey is in front of a mirror, it mistakes its reflection for another monkey and tries to attack it or play with it. That is, the monkey is being deluded by its own reflection. 

 

Monkey mind implies sentient beings’ minds that are deluded by the illusions created by themselves. Ancient masters would say that before enlightenment you see things in the same way a monkey sees its reflection in a mirror, but after enlightenment you see things in the way a mirror sees a monkey. A mirror reflects everything just as it is, but never discriminates for or against it however attractive it may be, or however ugly it may be. So, enlightened mind is referred to as the ‘Grand Perfect Mirror’. 

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Student: What is monkey mind? 

Master: You a stupid donkey! 

Student: Why do you abuse me instead of answering my question? 

Master: Thats monkey mind. 

Student: “What is the Grand Perfect Mirror?” 

Master: Monkey mind. 

Student: What is the difference between them? 

Master: “If you can see monkey mind clearly, that is the Grand Perfect Mirror. If you can’t see the Grand Perfect Mirror, that is monkey mind.”   

 

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Zen

The Sixth Ancestor’s “Your Mind Is Moving”

The Sixth Ancestor, Huineng, went to Faxing Monastery, where the temple flag was waving in the wind. Two monastics were arguing about whether it was the wind or the temple flag that was moving. They discussed this back and forth but could not agree on the truth of the matter. The Sixth Ancestor, seeing this, said, “It’s neither the wind nor the flag that is moving. It’s your mind that is moving.” The two monastics were immediately awestruck.

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Student: “The Sixth ancestor said, ‘It’s neither the wind nor the flag but your mind that is moving’. Then, what is mind?”

Master: “The wind and the flag.”

 

Commentary:

The wind and the flag are to mind as a breeze and a storm are to air.

 

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Zen

Rinzai 50

An old master said: Yajnadatta thought he had lost his head. When he ceased from his frantic looking for it, he had nothing further to seek. 

Venerable ones, just be your ordinary selves and refrain from fanciful imaginings. 

 

Commentary: 

Once upon a time there was an empty shrine deep in the mountains in China. It had been deserted for a long time because it was known for being haunted. A master decided to reside there. One night a ghost whose name was Yajnadatta appeared before the master and asked a favour of him. The master, never embarrassed at all, asked what he could do for him. Yajnadatta, lamenting his difficult fate, confided to the master, “Sir, I lost my head a long time ago. How can I find my lost head?” Then, the master said, “If you had no head now, how could you speak to me like this? Is your mouth separate from your head?” On hearing this, he ceased looking for his head. ‘Yajnadatta’ can be compared to those who make vain efforts to seek the true-Self externally, chasing fanciful illusions of the Buddha, without realising that they are the Buddha itself.  

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Student: Where is the Buddha? 

Master: Where are you? 

 

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Zen

Q. Does karma govern our rebirth?

A. It can be seen in both ways; the point of view of the realm of forms and that of Emptiness, the true-Self.

From the viewpoint of the realm of forms, karma is the law of cause and effect. Your question is like asking, “Does my today’s life govern my tomorrow’s life?”. Taking your today’s life into account, what you are today is the karma of how you lived yesterday. Compared with what you were yesterday, you today are not what you were yesterday but the result of rebirth. In the same way, how you live today will be the karma of what your life will be like tomorrow. If you, for example, go to bed without dinner, you will be reborn as a hungry person tomorrow. What is certain is that how you live now will govern what your life will be like in the future, which shows that karma governs our rebirth.

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However, from the viewpoint of Emptiness, everything is empty. There is nothing that is not empty. Then, not only karma but also rebirth is empty. Once you have realised that everything is empty, even when faced with an unfavourable result of karma, you, not caring about it, are untroubled by it because you are aware that it is empty. That is said to be escaping or being freed from karma.

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