Zen

Rinzai 105

If you take these empty names as being real, you make a big mistake. For although they exist, they belong in the realm of dependent change and are like robes to put on and off. There is the robe of Bodhi, of Nirvana, of deliverance, of the Trinity, of objective wisdom, of Bodhisattvas and of Buddha.

Commentary:

All names are just imaginary labels we have attached, for the sake of convenience, to whatever reaches our eyes and ears. ‘They belong in the realm of dependent change and are like robes to put on and off’ means that all names do not exist on their own but are created by us. Such names are dependent on our decisions, and so they are compared to robes that are put on and taken off, or changed and even discarded as we please. There are a lot of names that sound attractive and plausible such as Nirvana, Bodhisattvas, Buddha and so forth. We should not be dazzled by such names, aware that they, however wonderful they may sound, are not the essence of the true-Self just as the clothing a man is wearing is not the essence of him.

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Zen

Q. If Zen opposes dualistic thinking, does that mean that good and evil don’t exist? Can we do anything we like?

A. ‘Zen opposes dualistic thinking’ is a popular phrase in Zen meditation, which, if interpreted literally, can be highly likely to be misleading. How would it be possible to sustain our lives and our societies without dualistic thinking?

Zen doesn’t forbid us from having dualistic thoughts but discourages us from being attached to them through the realisation that everything, in essence, is neutral and that our dualistic thoughts are not immutable truth but just empty imaginary lines. This is referred to as wise dualistic thinking, or wise preference. An ancient master said to his students who were planting vegetables, “You are allowed to plant as many vegetables as you want, but you should not let them take root.”

Student: “How can I keep them from taking root?”

Master: “Plant them where there is neither day nor night.”

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Zen

A Lump of Rock

A layman asked Master Namjun, “There is a lump of rock in my house. It sometimes sits and sometimes lies. I am going to sculpt Buddha out of it. Will it be possible?” Master answered, “Possible.” The layman asked again, “Will it be impossible?” Master answered, “Impossible.”

Student: “I also have a lump of rock in my house. How can I make Buddha out of it?”

Master: “Even if you break your chisel and hammer whilst sculpting, you cannot leave even the slightest scratch on it.”

Commentary:

You will damage the Buddha the moment you touch a chisel to it.

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Zen

Rinzai 104

One asked, “What is the attitude of the heart which does not change from moment to moment?”

The master said, “From the moment you set yourself to ask this question, there is already the difference, and your essential nature and your action become separate. Followers of the Way, do not be deceived. In and out of the world there is not a thing that has a self-nature, nor a nature that is productive of a self. All is but empty names, and the very letters of these names are also empty.”

Commentary:

‘From the moment you set yourself to ask this question, there is already the difference, and your essential nature and your action become separate’ means that there is nothing that is not your essential nature, the true-Self: Not only you who is asking this question but also this question itself that you are asking is the true-Self. Asking this question is no better than asking where your mouth is, which implies that you don’t know that this question is the action of your mouth.

‘In and out of the world there is not a thing that has a self-nature, nor a nature that is productive of a self’ means that there is nothing that has its innate nature and that all the natures of  things are just given to them by human beings. For example, no tree says, “I am a tree.” No stone says, “I am stone, and I am hard.” A tree is a tree because we named it a tree. Stone is stone since we attached the label ‘stone’ to it, and it is hard only because we granted such a label to it. All the names are just imaginary lines that can be changed depending upon the situation, not immutable truth.

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Zen

Q. You said that ‘everything was originally in Nirvana as part of it before our discrimination.’ How do you know this?

A. No one can know it clearly until he experiences it in person, just as you cannot know clearly the taste of kimchi, traditional Korean food, no matter how well it is explained until you try it in person. You cannot help but fail to grasp Nirvana if you try to understand it through words because using words is no other than discrimination.

Then, you might raise a question, ‘What is the use of all the Sutras, Dharma talks delivered by the Buddha?’ It was because the Buddha was concerned about this that the Buddha said on his deathbed, “Not a word have I said.” You should know that the Buddha said what cannot be done and did what cannot be said. This is why ancient masters said that we should see beyond what reaches our eyes and hear beyond what reaches our ears.

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Zen

Caoshan’s Bell Sound

Hearing the sound of a bell, Caoshan said, “Ouch! Ouch!”

A monastic said, “Master, what is it?”

Caoshan said, “It struck my mind.”

Student: “What did Caoshan mean by, ‘It struck my mind’?”

Master: “It struck your mind as well.”

Student: “Then, why don’t I feel pain as Caoshan did?”

Master: “That’s why you are a patient.”

Commentary:

Patients who suffer from phantom pain without distinguishing it from true pain are sentient beings.

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Zen

Rinzai 103

When the attitude of your heart does not change from moment to moment, this is called the living patriarch. For if it changes, then your essential nature and your actions fall apart. But when your heart does not differ, there is also not any difference between your essential nature and your actions.

Commentary:

‘The attitude of your heart does not change from moment to moment’ implies that you are not swayed, or deluded from moment to moment by what you see and hear, since you see everything as empty. ‘If it changes, then your essential nature and your actions fall apart’ means that if you are deluded by illusions, that is, if you cling to words and forms, you cannot see your essential nature, the true-Self and your actions as one. In other words, if your heart does not differ, that is, if you don’t differentiate things by attaching different names, imaginary lines, you come to realisation that the true-Self is one with your actions as its functions.

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Zen

Q. If form is emptiness, and being is nothingness, then what are we doing here now?

A. Don’t mistake emptiness for nothingness. Emptiness is not different from fullness. I’d like to say that emptiness is undivided fullness. Form is to emptiness as waves are to the sea, or form is to emptiness as winds are to the air. Giving a name and granting meaning to each wave, according to its size and shape, and differentiating them from each other is to see things as form. From the perspective of form, all waves differ from each other, and each wave has its beginning and end. In this way, we sentient beings are addicted to seeing and hearing things.

However, to see all waves just as the sea, or water is to see things as emptiness. Then, all waves are just one as water, which is why emptiness is referred to as oneness. From the viewpoint of emptiness, all waves are just part of the sea and remain endlessly as water, just as they always have been. Although waves seem to appear and disappear, they were there as the sea before their appearance and are still there as water, or the sea after their disappearance.

What we are doing is determined by how we see it.

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Zen

Doksan’s ‘What’s your question?’

Once a monk asked master Doksan, “Where have all the Buddhas and patriarchs gone?” Doksan responded, “What’s your question?” The monk said, “I called for a fine racehorse to spring forward, but all that responded was a lame tortoise.” Doksan did not deign to respond to the remark.

Student: “Why did the monk say, ‘I called for a fine racehorse to spring forward, but all that responded was a lame tortoise’?”

Master: “Because you see just a lame tortoise without seeing a fine racehorse.”

Student: “Why didn’t Doksan say anything about the monk’s remark?”

Master: “Because you cannot hear him.”

Commentary:

Words and silence can be cut and broken. You should be able to hear that which cannot be cut and broken.

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Zen

Rinzai 102

Venerable ones, what do you seek? He who stands clearly revealed and distinct before your eyes, listening to this Dharma talk, this Independent Man of the Way lacks nothing at all. If you do not want to be different from the Buddha and the patriarchs, just see it thus and do not indulge in doubts and speculations.

Commentary:

The key point here is what or who is He who stands clearly revealed and distinct before our eyes. He contains everything and there is nothing that doesn’t belong to Him. We, of course, cannot escape from Him even for a moment. There is no ceasing to see and hear Him even for a second. In fact, although Rinzai says that He is listening to his Dharma talk, not merely the Dharma talk that Rinzai is delivering but also Rinzai himself is part of Him. He appears to be dark in dark places and appears to be bright in bright places. He reveals Himself as a mountain when you see a mountain and as your family members when you see them. This is why ancient masters said we fail to see Him, the true-Self that is clear before our eyes because we try to find Him whilst forsaking Him who is before our eyes. ‘Just see it thus and do not indulge in doubts and speculations’ means that we should see things as they are, that is, see things without attaching names to them. Attaching names is like blocking your sight with things.

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