Questions & Koans

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Rinzai 31

Rinzai 31

The monk asked, “How is it when you snatch away both man and environment?”
The master said, “The provinces of Hei and Fu are cut off entirely, each alone in its own place.”
The monk asked, “How is it when you snatch neither man nor environment?”
The master said, “The king ascends the jewel-palace, and the peasants in the fields burst into song.”

Commentary:
‘To snatch away both man and environment’ means that, ‘There is neither you, your mind nor things’ for the purpose of eliminating all the illusions of you, your mind and things at the same time. The state without any illusions is referred to as Emptiness, the true-Self, Buddha. This state is so free of illusions and so perfect that it is impossible to express with words. That’s why we say that we are wrong if we even open our mouths to describe it. So, ‘The provinces of Hei and Fu are cut off entirely, each alone in its own place’ means that the realm of Emptiness is entirely cut off from that of Form. To experience this state is expressed as achieving a great death, which means the death of all illusions.

To snatch neither man nor environment means to say that Emptiness is Form and Form is not different from Emptiness, that is, Emptiness and Form are one, not separate and that illusions are the very true-Self. He meant that we should be able to see things in both ways; as Emptiness and as Form at the same time instead of staying in Emptiness. This state is expressed as revival from the great death. That’s why an enlightened man is often referred to as a man who revived from a great death. Then, all things look perfect. Master Rinzai described the perfect and peaceful state by saying, ‘The king ascends the jewel-palace, and the peasants in the fields burst into song’. This is the very Pure Land in Buddhism and the Kingdom of Heaven in Christianity that we should enjoy at this moment.

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Q. How can an impermanent self attain permanent enlightenment?

Q. How can an impermanent self attain permanent enlightenment?

A. The purpose of Zen meditation is to realise that an impermanent self is an illusion, or a bundle of illusions and that the essence of your being is not the illusions but the true-Self; permanent being. When you are stripped of all these illusions, your true-Self that is permanent being reveals itself just as all things covered with snow show themselves when the snow melts away.

To my best knowledge, the purpose of all religions is to help people who mistake impermanent illusions for the essence of their being, to realise that their essence is permanent being. That is why Christianity insists that we should attain eternal life and why Buddhism says that we should escape the yoke of birth and death through enlightenment.

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The National Teacher’s Dharma Realms

The National Teacher’s Dharma Realms

The National Teacher Yanguan asked a lecturer, “What kind of sutras and commentaries do you read?”
The lecturer replied, “The Flower Garland Sutra.”
The National Teacher then asked, “How many kinds of dharma realms are there in the sutra?”
The lecturer said, “Briefly, there are four kinds, but from a wider perspective, they’re really overlapping and infinite.”
The master straightened his fly whisk and asked, “In which dharma realm is this contained?”
The lecturer faltered and remained silent for a long time.
The master said, “Thinking about it, you’ll know it. Contemplating it, you’ll understand it. All of that, however, is just making a living in a ghost cave. In broad daylight the lamp has certainly lost its brightness. Get out of here.”

Student: “In which dharma realm is the master’s fly whisk contained?”
Master: “Where are the multiple realms from?”
Student: “What did the master mean by ‘In broad daylight the lamp has certainly lost its brightness’?”
Master: “Why do you pay attention to a lamp in broad daylight.”

Commentary:
Reading a map of London is no more residing in London than reading the Flower Garland Sutra is realising the true-Self.

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Rinzai 30

Rinzai 30

At the evening question period the master told his monks:
“Sometimes I snatch away the man but not the environment; sometimes I snatch away the environment but not the man. Sometimes I snatch away both man and environment; sometimes I snatch away neither man nor environment.”
A monk asked, “How is it when you snatch away the man but not the environment?”
The master said, “Warm sunshine covers the earth with a carpet of brocade. The hair of the child is white like silken thread.”
The monk asked, “How is it when you snatch away the environment but not the man?”
The master said, “As the king’s command reaches everywhere, the general at the frontier ceases to fight.”

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Commentary:
To snatch away the man but not the environment means, ‘There is nothing to be called ‘you’ and the ‘you’ that the you believe you are is only part of the environment.’ That is, he meant that we are just part of the universe in order that he might rid us of the illusion of ‘I’. So, the master described the landscape spreading before them when he was asked how it was when he snatched away the man but not the environment.

‘To snatch away the environment but not the man’ means, ‘Everything is from your mind and there is nothing that comes from outside of your mind.’ The purpose of this comment was to remove the illusions of things from us by saying that all the things are just illusions created in your mind. ‘The king’ implies mind, and ‘the king’s command reaches everywhere’ means that you know that everything is an illusion from your mind. ‘The general at the frontier’ means your body, or your action controlled by your mind. ‘The general at the frontier ceases to fight’ means that you have no feud with others or things because you know that they are just illusions, the products of your mind.

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Q. How does one pursue a practice that asks you to let go in a world that demands you to hold on?

Q. How does one pursue a practice that asks you to let go in a world that demands you to hold on?

A. Let’s suppose that you have a golden dish but are not aware that it is made of gold. Because you see it only as a dish, it is nice and valuable to you only while it stays as a dish. When it loses its shape as a dish for one reason or another, it becomes useless to you since it is not a dish anymore. Then, you are likely to give it up and discard it.

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However, the fact is that although the shape of the dish disappears, gold, the essence of the dish remains unchanged and has countless uses because it can be made into other beautiful things such as a vase or a cup. Sentient beings have been so addicted to the form of the dish since their births that they can’t recognise gold easily. So, when you are told to let go, you are advised to let go of the name ‘dish’ and its image for a while in order to realise that the essence of the dish is gold.

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Yunmen’s “Dharma Body”

Yunmen’s “Dharma Body”

Yunmen was once asked by a monastic, “What does it mean to go beyond the dharma body?”
Yunmen said, “It is not difficult to tell you about going beyond it. But how do you understand the dharma body itself?”
The monastic said, “Master, please show me an example.”
Yunmen said, “I will give you an example. But first, how do you understand the dharma body itself?”
The monastic said, “It’s just as it is.”
Yunmen said, “This is what you have learned in the monastics’ hall. Let me ask you, does the dharma body eat rice?”
The monastic could not respond.

Student: “Why didn’t Yunmen tell the monastic how to go beyond the dharma body?”
Master: “Yunmen’s fault was only in the monastic’s ears.”
Student: “Does the dharma body eat rice?”
Master: “Why don’t you go beyond it?”

Commentary:
What can be gone beyond is not the dharma body.
If you go beyond what you can go beyond, you will be where you are anxious to be.

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Rinzai 29

Rinzai 29

The monk asked, “What is the third phrase?”

The master said, “Behold the puppets prancing on the stage, and see the man behind who pulls the strings.” And added, “Each phrase contains three profound gates; each profound gate contains three essentials; there is power; there is the use of it. How do you all understand this?”

And he came down from the seat.

When master Rinzai, as an answer to the question ‘What is the third phrase?’, said, “Behold the puppets prancing on the stage, and see the man behind who pulls the strings”, the puppets symbolise our physical bodies and the man behind who pulls the strings our true-Self. He meant that we should recognise the true-Self that is controlling our bodies when we behold our bodies moving in our lives. In other words, Rinzai said, “Recognise what controls my body when you behold me responding to your question without being deluded by my words. That is the very answer to your question.”

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He had the kindness to sum up the three phrases; the first phrase, the second phrase and the third phrase so that he might help his students to grasp his answers. ‘Each phrase contains three profound gates; each profound gate contains three essentials’ means that each phrase as the function of the true-Self, contains the essence of the true-Self, the action of the true-Self and the form of true-Self, and that each of the three has its essence, its action and its form. This means that the true-Self is the same in essence no matter how many pieces it may be divided into, that is, how many phrases it is divided into. So, he meant that we can attain enlightenment if we can grasp just one of them regardless of whichever it is, since each phrase is the perfect gate to enlightenment.

In fact, there is no fixed ‘the first phrase’, ‘the second phrase’ and ‘the third phrase’. There is no difference at all among them. They are all the expression of the true-Self. If you can hear any single word or any single phrase as it is, it is no other than the first phrase, the second phrase and the third phrase.

Student: “What is the third phrase?”

Master: “The first phrase plus the second phrase.”

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Q. I was advised to accumulate merit by masters. How can we accumulate merit? Can we accumulate it by saving a puppy from drowning or by cultivating the Buddha dharma?

Q. I was advised to accumulate merit by masters. How can we accumulate merit? Can we accumulate it by saving a puppy from drowning or by cultivating the Buddha dharma?

A. Merit refers to what is helpful to your attaining enlightenment. You should not mistake a good deed for merit. What you think can be accumulated or used up may be good karma but not true merit. True merit is to practise hard, or try to realise the true-Self, Emptiness.

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However, I don’t mean that you should not do good deeds such as saving a puppy from drowning or helping those in trouble. When you do such a good thing as saving a puppy from drowning, trying to see it as empty instead of being secretly proud is true merit. To cling to the idea that you did good is not merit at all but rather adds another strong illusion. This is against your intention to attain enlightenment by removing illusions. That’s why ancient masters would say, “Doing good is not as good as doing nothing.”

As stated earlier, trying to see everything as empty is true merit. However, if you cling to even true merit, it is not merit but just an illusion of merit. So, you should look upon true merit as empty as well.

Student: “How can I accumulate merit?”
Master: “Discard.”

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Guishan’s Gift

Guishan’s Gift

Guishan said to Yangshan, “I have a lay student who gave me three rolls of silk to buy a temple bell in order to bestow happiness upon the people of the world.”
Yangshan said, “When the lay student brought you the silk for the temple bell, what did you give him in return?” Guishan hit the sitting platform three times and said, “This was my offering.”

Student: “What is the offering Guishan made for his lay student?”
Master: “It belongs to everyone.”
Student: “Why did Guishan give it to him if it belongs to everyone?”
Master: “He found him what he had lost.”

Commentary:
Buddha came to us not for giving us what we don’t have, but for letting us know what we have.

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Rinzai 28

Rinzai 28

The monk asked: “What is the second phrase?” The master said, “How should profound enlightenment permit Mujaku’s question? How should a skilful expedient forsake a person who has stopped discriminating?”

Commentary:
‘The second phrase’ may sound different from the first phrase, but it actually means the same, the true-Self. As I have said, if you can grasp any single word in your life, you get enlightened, so you can easily know what the second phrase means, if you can grasp the first phrase. ‘How should profound enlightenment permit Mujaku’s question?’ means ‘If you were enlightened, you wouldn’t ask such a foolish question as Mujaku asked, and you wouldn’t be deluded as Mujaku was deluded by the young monk in the following story.

Once Mujaku went to see Manjushri in Mt. Odae, which was well known for being Manjushri’s residence. Manjushri revealed himself in the form of a young monk to check Mujaku. Mujaku asked the young monk how many monks were practising there. The monk answered, ‘Three by three in the front and three by three in the back’, and then Mujaku, not grasping the answer, was at a loss. He was deluded by the illusions of numbers, ‘three by three in the front and three by three in the back’.

In other words, ‘How should profound enlightenment permit Mujaku’s question?’ means that if we are enlightened, we should not be deluded by the illusions of numbers such as ‘the first phrase’ and ‘the second phrase’ in the same way as Mujaku was deluded by the illusions of numbers, ‘three by three in the front and three by three in the back’.

Therefore, Master Rinzai added, “How should a skilful expedient forsake a person who has stopped discriminating?” This implies that an enlightened person, that is, a person who has stopped discriminating never fails to grasp the words ‘the first phrase’ and ‘the second phrase’ upon hearing them, a skilful expedient presented by Rinzai.

Student: “What is the second phrase?”
Master: “You already said it.”

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