Questions & Koans

Zen

Ananda’s peculiar thing (1)

One day Ananda said to the Buddha, “Sir, when I went to the castle today, I saw a peculiar thing.” The Buddha said, “What peculiar thing did you see?” Ananda said, “When I entered the castle, I saw a group of people dancing, but I didn’t see them dancing at all when I came out of the castle.” The Buddha said, “I also saw an unusual thing when I entered the castle yesterday.”  Ananda asked, “What unusual thing did you see?” The Buddha answered, “When I entered the castle, I saw a group of people dancing, and I saw them still dancing when I left the castle.”

Student: “What is the difference between the peculiar thing that Ananda saw and the peculiar thing that the Buddha was?”

Master: “If there is difference between them, they are not the peculiar thing.”

Commentary:

All things being different from each other is ordinary, but all things being identical is peculiar.

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Zen

Rinzai 200

Rinzai asked a nun, “Did you come to the right place, or the wrong place?” The nun gave a Katsu. Rinzai held up his stick and said, “Speak again, speak again!” The nun again gave a Katsu. Rinzai hit her.

Commentary:

Rinzai’s question means, “I know that you have come to see me. However, do you know the place without coming and going that is the true-Self?” Rinzai asked this question to see whether the nun was still deluded by the illusions of right and wrong, and the Pure Land and mundane world. The nun lost no time in responding by giving a Katsu. Rinzai raised another challenge by holding up his stick and saying, “Speak again, speak again!” The nun immediately made a proper response with another Katsu. Rinzai approved her by hitting her.

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Zen

Q. Where is the Buddha when illusions arise?

A. The Buddha is not different from illusions. All illusions are the forms and functions of the Buddha. People are prone to think that the Buddha is friendly and holy whilst illusions appear to be hostile, ugly and malicious. In fact, it is impossible to distinguish the Buddha from illusions by appearances because the Buddha is formless and so doesn’t have any fixed form. That is, you actually see the Buddha all the time, but you don’t recognise him because he takes on different appearances each time you see him.

When you are faced with a phenomenon, whether it is the Buddha or an illusion depends on your perspective, that is, whether or not you see it as it truly is. If you are deluded by illusions of the phenomenon, you take the Buddha for an illusion. If you see the phenomenon as it is, you recognise the Buddha. My answer to your question is that the Buddha is hidden in the illusions when illusions arise.

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Zen

The Buddha’s Words (2)

The Diamond Sutra says, “The Buddha is one who speaks true words, who speaks words that are not a lie, and who doesn’t say different words.”

Student: “The Buddha said on his deathbed that he had never said a word. What are the Buddha’s true words?”

Master: “How did he teach then?”

Commentary:

Don’t mistake your deafness for the Buddha’s dumbness.

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Zen

Rinzai 199

Rinzai asked a monk, “Sometimes a Katsu is like the precious sword of the Vajra king; sometimes a Katsu is like a golden-maned lion crouching on the ground; sometimes a Katsu is like a probing pole for fishing to which a grass bushel is fastened to cast shade; and sometimes a Katsu is not used as a Katsu. How do you understand that?” When the monk was on the point of answering. Rinzai gave a Katsu.

Commentary:

The key point of Rinzai’s question is “All things are different from each other, and nothing is the same as anything else. However, everything is the same in essence and nothing is different from anything else. In the same way, a Katsu can seem to have diverse appearances and uses, but the essence of it is the same. Do you know this principle?” When the monk, failing to respond to the question immediately, was about to say the answer he had figured out with his best effort, Rinzai showed him a right answer by giving a Katsu.

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Zen

Q. How do we feel when we see the true-Self for the first time?

A. An ancient master described the moment he saw the true-Self as follows; “I have wandered about in search for you for decades since I heard that I have to see you so far. However, seeing you now at long last, I can see that you are not you.” Prior seeing the true-Self, we try to see it. However, once we have seen it, it turns out that we ourselves are none other than the true-Self we are looking for and that we have merely struggled to see ourselves.

This is why ancient masters would say that after enlightenment we realise that all the efforts we made were of no use at all. The purpose of Buddhism is not to find the Buddha hidden somewhere far away out of reach but to realise that you are the Buddha.

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Zen

The Buddha’s Words (1)

The Diamond Sutra says, “The Buddha is one who speaks true words, who speaks words that are not a lie, and who doesn’t say different words.”

Student: “What are the Buddha’s true words?”

Master: “He never said a word.”

Commentary:

The Buddha’s words cannot be dictated but can be said again, without effort, anytime.

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Zen

Rinzai 198

Mogog came for an interview. Spreading out his prostration mat, he asked, “Of the twelve faces of Avalokiteshvara, which is the true one?” Rinzai came down from his seat, took up the prostration mat with one hand, with the other grabbed Mogog, and said, “Where has the twelve faced Avalokiteshvara gone now?” Mogog twisted his body and moved as if to climb Rinzai’s seat. Rinzai lifted his stick and hit him. Mogog grabbed the stick, and both went together to the master’s quarters.

Commentary:

Mogog’s question may seem to ask about the twelve faces of Avalokiteshvara, but it actually meant means, “What is the true-Self?”. Rinzai’s response to Mogog’s question may sound eccentric and illogical but this is a perfect answer to Magog’s question. You should be able to recognise the true-Self that Rinzai showed, just as you can recognise the invisible wind by seeing leaves moving, and the invisible autumn by seeing leaves turning red and yellow. (Refer to Rinzai 7, 8 about Avalokiteshvara).

Then, Mogog, admitting Rinzai’s answer, raised another question by twisting his body and moving as if to climb Rinzai’s seat. This action included both approval and another question: “I know that you mean just this as your answer to my question. Then, what is this? Tell me another answer.” Rinzai made an immediate answer by lifting his stick and hitting him. ‘Mogog grabbed the stick, and both went together to the master’s quarters’ means that both of them approved each other’s enlightenment.

You should know that however leaves may flutter and sound, it’s all just the function of the wind.

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Zen

Q. What do you think of the idea that Buddhism is philosophy?

A. It can be treated as an academic discipline. However, Buddhism as a subject of academy is one thing and Buddhism as a religion is another. The former is based on literature, but the latter on practice. The latter pursues enlightenment, but I have never heard that a Buddhist scholar has attained enlightenment.

Let me offer a glimpse into the difference between Buddhism and philosophy by comparing Buddhist masters with philosophers. Philosophers seem to adhere to their unique opinions that are different from those of their predecessors, or their contemporaries, although sometimes being partially in accord with them. They pursue new thought whilst disputing, or negating, or finding fault with existing theories by others.

However, all Buddhist masters who have realised the true-Self, or the Buddha that they believe is the essence of everything have the same opinion concerning it throughout history; what it is like and what its characteristics are, even though their ways of describing and expressing it are diverse from each other. Masters who have realised the true-Self can tell whether a person is enlightened or not by testing him with koans, Zen questions in the same way as elementary school teachers test their students with arithmetic questions to see whether they have mastered arithmetic rules.

Accordingly, Buddhism as a religion is quite different from philosophy.

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Zen

One who doesn’t say that there is enlightenment

One day Chungwon said to Sukdo, “People say that there is enlightenment.” Sukdo said, “There is one who doesn’t say that there is enlightenment.” Chungwon said, “Who is it?” Sukdo answered, “Not only all the Sutras but also everything comes out from him.”

Student: “Who is the one that all the Sutras and everything come out from?”

Master: “Everything is coming out from him now.”

Commentary:

He is always in sight, but invisible when you look for him.

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