Zen

Why do you violate the five precepts?

Master Woon-moon asked one of his students, “Where are you coming from?” The monk answered, “I am coming from the tower after praying to it.” Woon-moon said, “You are teasing me.” The monk said, “I mean it. I actually prayed to the tower.” Woon-moon said, “Why do you violate the five precepts?”

Student: “Why did the Master say that the monk was telling a lie even though he wasn’t?”

Master: “Because the monk was not aware that he had actually done a good thing.”

Commentary:

The wise do not blame the foolish for their foolishness since they have compassion for the foolish.

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Zen

Rinzai 77

As I see it, there is not a thing to be disliked. If you love the sacred, the sacred becomes a mere word and a snare. There are some students who claim that they saw Manjushri on Mount Godai. What nonsense this is! They are deceiving themselves. There is no Manjushri on Mount Godai. Do you want to know Manjushri? He is here right before your eyes functioning ceaselessly without change, everywhere clearly perceptible and beyond doubt. This is the living Manjushri.

Commentary:

‘There is not a thing to be disliked. If you love the sacred, the sacred becomes a mere word and a snare’ means that both the disliked and the sacred are just words, imaginary labels which come from discrimination. If we are attached to them, they become snares which bind and restrict us. ‘There are some students who claim that they saw Manjushri on Mount Godai. What nonsense this is! They are deceiving themselves’ implies that such people are still deluded by the illusion of Manjushri Bodhisattva, believing that Manjushri is different and separate from the Buddha and that they can see the Buddha only in temples, and Manjushri only on Mount Godai. You should know that there is nothing else but the Buddha and that all Bodhisattvas, including Manjushri, symbolise the functions of the Buddha. Even you are the Buddha as well, and your actions are Bodhisattvas. In fact, we cannot do other than always see and hear the Buddha and cannot escape from Him even for a moment. The problem is that we cannot recognise Him now.

Student: “What is Manjushri?”

Master: “You are showing him to me, and I am showing him to you now.”

Student: “I don’t understand. Show him to me again.”

Master: “He is on Mount Godai.”

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Zen

Q. Is everything really perfect, or is it that one no longer resists the imperfection of existence thereby making it perfect?

A. Everything is perfect by itself unless you make it imperfect with your imaginary standard. Imperfection comes into being when you see things with an imaginary standard created by your greed, or desire. The imaginary standard cannot help but be imperfect since it varies depending on the perspectives of beholders.

A tree in the mountain, for example, is perfect as a tree. However, when you look for a tree for landscaping your new house, it can be problematic. It is not easy to find a perfect tree for your garden in terms of its shape, size, the type of tree, the cost for transporting it to your house, etcetera because you have your own imaginary standard of a perfect tree.

To conclude, we make imperfection out of perfection through our discrimination. Dissatisfied with the imperfection, we struggle to turn it into imaginary new perfection, which is compared to trying to grasp one’s shadow. The frustrated emotions we feel when we fail to grasp the shadows are referred to as suffering in Buddhism.

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Zen

Jinfeng’s “The Way of Going Beyond”

Jinfeng was once greeted by a monastic. Jinfeng grabbed the monastic and said, “The way of going beyond is not easy to attain.”

The monastic gestured to listen. Jinfeng then slapped him.

The monastic said, “Why did you slap me?”

Jinfeng said, “I want to have this koan practised.”

Student: “Why did Jinfeng say that his slapping was a koan to be practised?”

Master: “Because you have not gone beyond.”

Commentary:

The way of going beyond is not to trip over a shadow on level ground.

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Zen

Rinzai 76

Why is this so? Because you have come to understand that the four elements are like a dream, or a phantom. Followers of the Way, he who is now listening to the Dharma, he is not the four elements; he is the one who can use the four elements. If you can see it thus, then you are free in your going and staying.

Commentary:

‘Why is this so?’ means ‘How is it possible for you to walk on water as if it were land and on land as if it were water?’ ‘Because you have come to understand that the four elements are like a dream, or a phantom’ means that it is possible because we can realise that the four elements; earth, water, fire and wind which compose our physical body are empty. ‘He who is now listening to the Dharma, he is not the four elements; he is the one who can use the four elements’ implies that the essence of your being is not your physical body but the one who controls it. What is making your body read this article at this moment? ‘If you can see it thus, then you are free in your going and staying’ means that if you can see clearly what is controlling your body, you can be free to see everything in both ways, which is also known as transcending birth and death.

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Zen

Q. If there is nothing to grasp why do we suffer much less by the practice of letting go?

A. The key problem is that, in fact, we still strive to grasp what cannot be grasped even though there is nothing to grasp. Our suffering is from the failure to grasp it, or from losing what we believe we have succeeded in grasping.

The reason why we do not cease struggling in vain for what cannot be grasped is that we are not aware that there is nothing to grasp, that is, all we try to grasp is empty. The purpose of Buddhism is to help people to realise this fact.

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Zen

What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s sitting for nine years?

A monk asked Master Ja-myung, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s sitting facing the wall for nine years?”

Ja-myung answered, “There was no reward despite many years of effort.”

The monk asked the same question of Master Yang-ki, who answered, “He didn’t know Chinese because he was an Indian. The monk asked the same question of Master Hoe-dang, who responded, “He had no blanket to cover himself in spite of cold weather.”

Student: “Each of three masters made a different answer to the same question. Which is a right answer?”

Master: “All their answers are wrong.”

Student: “What is the right answer?”

Master: “It was not said.”

Commentary:

Calamity comes in taking what was not said as what was said.

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Zen

Rinzai 75

Followers of the Way, right now realise the four shapeless boundaries and don’t be entangled in them.

One asked,“What are these four boundaries?”

The master said,“A moment of doubt in your heart is your being obstructed by earth; a moment of desire in your heart is your drowning in water; a moment of anger in your heart is your burning in fire; a moment of joy in your heart is your being carried away by the wind. If you can realise this, you will no longer be at the mercy of circumstance but will make use of circumstances wherever you are — rise in the east and set in the west, appear in the south and vanish in the north, rise in the middle and disappear at the circumference, appear at the circumference and vanish in the centre. Then you will walk on water as if it were land and on land as if it were water.”

Commentary:

Earth, water, fire and wind are said to be the four elements which our physical body is composed of in Buddhism. Master Rinzai compared them to our typical illusions; doubt, desire, anger and joy, which are thought to lead people to suffering. If you realise that they are all illusions by seeing them as they are, you will be above being deluded by them. Rather, you will be able to take advantage of them as you please. ‘Rise in the east and set in the west, appear in the south and vanish in the north, rise in the middle and disappear at the circumference, appear at the circumference and vanish in the centre. Then you will walk on water as if it were land and on land as if it were water’ are the metaphors that show how free we are to see things in both ways; with land implying Emptiness and water implying forms, when we are free from being deluded by illusions. Similar phrases are found in the Bible as well: Matthew 14:25 “Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water.” Matthew 14:29 “So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus.” Here, walking on the water implies not sinking in the ocean of illusions.

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Zen

Q. Should we not have any doubt regarding the object of our faith?

A. Sound faith is based on reasonable doubt. World history shows well what suffering blind faith, accepted without doubt, has caused mankind. Our preposterous behaviour of sacrificing our visible siblings and neighbours in order to please invisible, imaginary figures results from the blind faith that comes from belief without doubt.

True faith comes only after we see what the object of faith is in person. The duty of religion is not to encourage people to worship the object of faith but to help them to realise what it is. To achieve this, all doubts should be admitted of and thought through with sensible explanations given. The Buddha would not fail to say at the end of his talk, “Never accept my words blindly. Return to your places and think through what I’ve talked about. Accept it only when you understand it, but bring it back to me and ask again if it is not understood.”Keep doubting.

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Zen

Is Bodhidharma also a Patriarch?

A monk asked Master Daegwang, “Is Bodhidharma also a Patriarch?” Master said, “No, he isn’t.” The monk said, “Why did he come if he was not a Patriarch?” Master said, “Because you don’t recognise a Patriarch.” The monk said, “How is it after I recognise a Patriarch?” Master answered, “Only then can you know that Bodhidharma is not a Patriarch.”

Student: “How can I know that Bodhidharma is not a Patriarch?”

Master: “The Patriarch was already there before Bodhidharma came from India.”

Commentary:

To see the immovable in the moving is to see the Buddha.

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