Questions & Koans

Zen

Yabo’s Gem (2)

Master Yabo said, “A beautiful pearl is hidden in a shell. A beautiful gem is hidden in a stone. When we see things around us, it doesn’t seem to exist. However, there is nothing that isn’t revealing it.”

Student: “How can I get the gem from a stone?”

Master: “You don’t have to break the stone.”

Commentary:

The sun appears to be hidden from the blind.

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Zen

Rinzai 185

Then, Rinzai asked his senior attendant who was waiting on him, “Was there a fault or not?” The attendant said, “There was.” Rinzai said, “Was the fault with the guest or with the host?” The attendant said, “Both were at fault.” Rinzai asked what the fault was. At that, the attendant left. Rinzai remarked, “Better not say there is no work.” Later on, a monk related the above to Nanzen, who commented, “Two fine horses hit and trampled each other.”

Commentary:

In fact, Rinzai tested his senior attendant with the same pattern of question the old monk had used; the alternative of a fault or not. The attendant made a wise answer to Rinzai’s question by saying, “There was”, which didn’t mean that there was a fault but just revealed the true-Self in the same way that Rinzai had done by giving a Katsu to the old monk. In order to test the attendant a little further, Rinzai raised another question ‘Was the fault with the guest or with the host?’. This was a very crafty question that could entice the attendant into clinging to words, because although Rinzai pretended to ask about the old monk and himself by using the words ‘guest’ and ‘host’, he actually meant forms and Emptiness, the true-Self. To rephrase Rinzai’s question, he meant, “Do you know Emptiness, the true-Self from forms in the conversation and acts that I exchanged with the old monk? The attendant, knowing better than to be deceived by the trick, responded by saying, “Both were at fault.” He might seem to have said that both Rinzai and the old monk were wrong, but he meant, “What I am showing to you by giving my answer is not different from what you and the old monk showed to each other.” Rinzai asked him once more what he meant by the answer ‘Both were at fault’. The attendant also showed the true-Self yet again by leaving Rinzai. ‘Better not to say that there is no work’ means that the short dialogue and acts traded between the attendant and him were not merely worthless wordplay but rather showed the core of Buddhism.

Nanzen’s comment ‘Two fine horses hit and trampled each other’ implies two things; approving two people’s enlightenment and revealing the true-Self, by which he meant, “My act of answering your question is essentially not different from what Rinzai and his attendant revealed to each other.”

Student: “What did Rinzai and his attendant reveal to each other?”

Master: “You and I are revealing it to each other, too.”

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Zen

Q. Master Yabo said, “When we see things around us, the Buddha doesn’t seem to exist. However, there is nothing that isn’t revealing it.” How can I see it?

A. In fact, anything on the face of the earth and even in the sky is revealing the Buddha. However, you don’t even have to understand the earth, or the universe. All you have to do is to see any single thing such as a simple spoon you use every day, or a flower in your garden just as it is, and you will see in it the Buddha that is the essence of your being.

Every moment of your search is the moment of encountering the Buddha. Every movement of your search is the function of the Buddha. The universe, including you, is merely the visible aspect of the Buddha. You can escape from the true-Self no more than you can escape from yourself.

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Zen

Yabo’s Gem (1)

Master Yabo said, “A beautiful pearl is hidden in a shell. A beautiful gem is hidden in a stone. When we see things around us, it doesn’t seem to exist. However, there is nothing that isn’t revealing it.”

Student: “How is it when the gem doesn’t appear even when I break the stone into pieces?”

Master: “It is not broken.”

Commentary:

What can be broken is stone, and what cannot be broken is the gem.

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Zen

Rinzai 184

There was an old monk who came to consult Rinzai. Instead of going through the usual formalities, he at once asked, “Should I bow, or not?” Rinzai gave a Katsu. The old monk bowed. Rinzai said, “A petty thief!” The old monk left shouting, “Robber, robber.” Rinzai remarked, “Better not say there is no work.”

Commentary:

The old monk tested whether Rinzai would be deluded by words through presenting the alternative of a bowing or not bowing. The old monk meant, “Can you recognise the true-Self I am showing to you now without being fooled by my words?” Rinzai, seeing through the tricky question, responded in no time by giving a Katsu, which means, “Of course, I know the true-Self you are revealing to me. This is the very true-Self you are asking of me.” Then, the old monk admitted that he couldn’t deceive Rinzai by offering a bow. Rinzai also approved the old monk’s enlightenment by calling him a petty thief. The old monk praised Rinzai as a great master by addressing him as a robber. Rinzai’s remark ‘Better not to say that there is no work’ means that the short dialogue and acts traded between the old monk and him were not a wordplay but showed the core of Buddhism.

Student: “What is the work?”

Master: “There is no work.”

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Zen

Q. What is the interpretation of ‘If someone, when seeing the Buddha, is not attached to Him, he is the one who knows the Buddha’?

A. This scripture can sound a little confusing because the final goal that all Buddhists want to reach is to see the Buddha. Once upon a time a monastic asked his master, “We live on the offerings which laypeople make to the Buddha. Why do you tell us to kill the Buddha?” The master answered, “Because that is the way you can see the Buddha in person.” The Buddha is Emptiness that is the state without any illusion.

Seeing the Buddha means realising Emptiness. When you realise that everything is empty, there is nothing except Emptiness, which is also referred to as Oneness. Then, you yourself are also empty and part of Emptiness, which implies that you are the Buddha itself. The Buddha is Oneness and you are the Buddha. If you happen to see another Buddha other than yourself, that is not the Buddha but an illusion of the Buddha. This is why one who knows the real Buddha is never attracted or allured by the illusion of the Buddha.

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Zen

Solbong’s divine power

When Solbong was a kitchen steward, Master Dongshan asked him, “You always serve meals at the same time every day. What divine power have you got?” Solbong answered, “I take a look at the moon and stars.” Master Dongshan said, “How do you know the time if it is cloudy and rainy all of a sudden?” Solbong couldn’t say anything.

Student: “How would you answer Dongshan’s question if you were in Solbong’s shoes?”

Master: “I would say, ‘I take a look at the moon and stars’.”

Commentary:

The problem is not in seeing it but in not recognising it while seeing it.

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Zen

Rinzai 184

Fuke always used to roam about in the street markets, ringing a bell and shouting, “When it comes in brightness, I hit it with brightness. When it approaches in darkness, I hit it with darkness. When it comes from all directions, I hit it like a whirlwind, and if it comes out of the empty sky, I thrash it like a flail.” Master Rinzai made one of his attendants go there, instructing him to grab Fuke while speaking and ask him, “If it does not come in any of these ways, what then?” When he did as he was told to, Fuke freed himself from the grasp of the attendant and said, “Tomorrow there is a vegetarian banquet in the monastery of Great Compassion.” The attendant returned and told Rinzai, who remarked, “I have always been doubtful of this fellow.”

Commentary:

Fuke’s unusual behaviour was an expedient to attract people’s concerns toward Buddhism and Zen. To rephrase his words, he meant, “The true-Self appears in countless forms such as brightness, and darkness, everywhere in all directions, even out of the empty sky. However, I know that they are all the functions of the true-Self and I am not deluded by them. When it comes in brightness, I know that brightness is the shape of the true-Self. In whatever forms it may come, I am never deluded by them but see them as the same as the true-Self.” Rinzai tested Fuke by getting one of his attendants to ask him, “If it does not come in any of these ways, what then?” Through this question Rinzai asked Fuke, “What is the true-Self like, that is, what form does it take on when it doesn’t appear in the forms that you narrated?” Fuke demonstrated how it appears otherwise by saying, “Tomorrow there is a vegetarian banquet in the monastery of Great Compassion.” When Rinzai was told about Fuke’s response by his attendant, he said that he had been doubtful of Fuke, which may sound as if he didn’t approve Fuke’s enlightenment, but he actually approved it. Rinzai used the distorted expression to see if his attendant could recognise the true-Self without being deluded by his distorted words.

Student: “How would you have answered Rinzai’s question ‘If it does not come in any of these ways, what then?’ if you had been in Fuke’s shoes?”

Master: “I would have said, ‘I don’t respond in any of these ways’.”

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Zen

Q. Is the nature of the Buddha different from or the same as that of sentient beings?

A. When everything is empty just as the Buddha said, not only the nature of the Buddha but that of sentient beings is also empty. Both of them are from the same root, Emptiness. In essence, they are identical rather the same since being the same or different is a concept used for separate things.

The difference between them is that one knows the root, and the other doesn’t. In fact, irrespective of whether we know the root or not, it is true that we are the same as Emptiness. This is why ancient masters said that the Buddha is a sentient being who knows the root and a sentient being is the Buddha who doesn’t know it.

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Zen

What Mahakasyapa received from the Buddha other than the Buddha’s garment and alms bowl.

When the Buddha was alive, there was a monk whose name was Ananda. He as the Buddha’s assistant, listened to the Buddha’s Dharma talks more than any other monastic. However, he was scolded for clinging to words by the Buddha, who said, “Clinging to words for a thousand days is not as good as practising for a day.” After the Buddha passed away, some of his disciples congregated to make a book of the Buddha’s Dharma talks. Ananda thought that he should attend the meeting because he, the Buddha’s assistant, had listened to the Buddha’s Dharma talks more than anyone else. However, he was not allowed to join the meeting since he was not enlightened. Then, he went to Mahakasyapa who was the successor to the Buddha and asked him, “I know you received the Buddha’s garment and alms bowl. What else did you take from the Buddha other than them?” Mahakasyapa called him by his name, “Ananda.” Ananda answered, “Yes.” Mahakasyapa said, “Get out and break the flagpole in front of this building.” Ananda couldn’t grasp what Mahakasyapa meant in the beginning but after twenty-one days of practice he attained enlightenment and could join the meeting.

Student: “What else did Mahakasyapa receive from the Buddha other than the Buddha’s garment and alms bowl?”

Master: “He showed it to Ananda.”

Commentary:

What can be given and taken is the shadow of what cannot be given and taken.

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