Questions & Koans

Zen

Rinzai 46

Followers of the Way, as I see it, once and for all sit down and cut off the heads – both of the Sambhogakaya Buddha and of the Nirmanakaya Buddha. Those satisfied with merely completing the ten stages of the Bodhisattva are like serfs. Those content with equality-awakening and subtlety-awakening are but fellows carrying a knife and chains around their necks. Arhats and Pratyeka-Buddhas are like cesspits. Awakening and Nirvana are like tethering posts for donkeys.

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Commentary:

‘Cut off the heads – both of the Sambhogakaya Buddha and of the Nirmanakaya Buddha’ means that we should not be deluded by illusions such as the Sambhogakaya Buddha and of the Nirmanakaya Buddha since they are just names employed for the sake of convenience. It is said that there are the ten stages of the Bodhisattva which we should go through to attain enlightenment. We should not be satisfied with merely completing them because all of them are just illusions created as expedients. Equality-awakening and subtlety-awakening are said to be kinds of sub-enlightenment, and Arhats and Pratyeka-Buddhas symbolise the figures who reached such stages. They are also illusionary expedients made for the purpose of encouraging people. The true-Self, Emptiness is such a perfect state beyond description that even the words ‘Awakening’ and ‘Nirvana’ are a kind of illusion.

Student: “What is the true-Self?”

Master: “If you say a single word about it, you come to defile it.”

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Zen

Q. How can I love myself?

A. Before answering your question, I’d like to ask you whether you know what you are and whom you hate, or don’t love. If you don’t know what you are when your body is not you, how can you hate yourself? If you don’t know what you are, whom do you hate? In the same way, if you don’t know what you are, how can you love yourself? You cannot truly love yourself without knowing what you are.

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If you hate yourself whilst not aware what you are, you should realise, you are fighting with the illusion of yourself created by you. I’d like to advise you to try to know who is producing the illusion of yourself, instead of struggling with it. Your steady effort to realise what you are will make your hatred for yourself wane and gradually turn it into love.

 

The source of our unhappiness is not knowing what we are and knowing what we are is the source of our eternal happiness.

 

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Zen

Dongshan’s “Cold and Heat”

Dongshan was once asked by a monastic, “When cold or heat comes, how can we avoid it?”

Dongshan said, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?”

The monastic said, “What is the place where there is no cold or heat?”

Dongshan said, “When it is cold, let the cold kill you. When it is hot, let the heat kill you.”

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Student: “What happens when the cold kills me?”

Master: “There is no one who complains of being cold.”

Student: “How can I let the heat kill me?”

Master: “Enter the heat.”

 

Commentary:

Emptiness swallows everything. Every name is the name of Emptiness.

 

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Zen

Rinzai 45

Why do I speak thus? It is only because I see you, followers of the Way, all running about with an agitated heart, quite unable to stop, fretting yourselves over the playthings of the old masters.

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Commentary:

‘The playthings of the old masters’ means the words of the old masters. ‘Fretting yourselves over the playthings of the old masters’ implies that we struggle to attain enlightenment by understanding Buddha’s and ancient masters’ words literally. Ancient masters would say, “However plausible and meaningful the words of Buddha and the masters may be, they are no better than poison.” However, this doesn’t mean that we should ignore all their words but means that we should accept them in the right way and that we should not miss their original meaning by clinging to their superficial meaning. Their words are pointing to what cannot be reached by explanations and thoughts.

 

Student: “What is it that can’t be reached by explanation and thoughts?”

Master: “It can’t be discarded by them, either.”

 

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Zen

Q. Does thinking prevent us from seeing our true-Self?

A. ‘Thinking prevents us from seeing our true-Self’ is often interpreted as ‘Zen practitioners and enlightened people should live without thinking’. This is a very common misunderstanding shared by Zen practitioners.

This means that we shouldn’t try to see the true-Self in the same way we seek answers to our problems at school. Trying to see the true-Self logically prevents us from seeing our true-Self. The harder we try in this way the farther we become away from the true-Self.

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However, once you have attained enlightenment, or you have realised that everything is empty, you don’t have to worry about it, because you are aware that whatever you may think, your thinking is just the action of the true-Self. Then, you can widen the horizon of your thinking because you can see and hear what you couldn’t before and can be more insightful. Zen meditation does not make a person into an idiot without thinking but rather a wise man with insight.

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Zen

Guijong’s cutting a snake

Master Guijong, while cutting grass, discovered a snake and cut it to death with his hoe. A monk who was cutting grass near him said to him, “I’ve heard much of you but you seem to be ill-behaved.” The master said, “Are you ill-behaved? Am I ill-behaved?”
 
Student: “Which one is ill-behaved, the Master or the monk?”
Master: “The one who killed the snake is ill-behaved.”
Student: “Then the Master is ill-behaved because he broke the first precept which forbids the killing of living things.”
Master: “How cruel you are to kill the living thing so many times!”
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Commentary:
One with precepts in one’s mind cannot attain enlightenment.
One with ‘purity’ in one’s mind cannot enter Nirvana.
 
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Zen

Rinzai 44

But as I see it, there is nothing that is not profound, nothing that is not deliverance. Followers of the Way, the Dharma of the heart has no form and pervades the Ten Directions. In the eye, it is called seeing; in the ear, hearing; in the nose, smelling; in the mouth, talking; in the hands, grasping; in the feet, walking. Fundamentally, it is one light; differentiated, it becomes the six senses. When one’s whole heart comes to a full stop, one is delivered where one stands.

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Commentary:

‘There is nothing that is not profound, nothing that is not deliverance’ means that there is nothing that is not the true-Self, Emptiness. ‘The Dharma of the heart’ implies the true-Self that is formless and boundless. ‘In the eye, it is called seeing; in the ear, hearing; in the nose, smelling; in the mouth, talking; in the hands, grasping; in the feet, walking. Fundamentally, it is one light; differentiated, it becomes the six senses’ means that ‘eye’ ‘seeing’ ‘ear’ ‘hearing’ ‘nose’ and ‘smelling’ are all illusions, imaginary lines created by us. In other words, these may look separate and different from each other due to our discriminating, but they are, in fact, Oneness. ‘When one’s whole heart comes to a full stop, one is delivered where one stands’ means that when we stop discriminating or making illusions, Oneness, the true-Self reveals itself before us.

 

The Sutras say, “Many are one and one is many.” This means that we make Oneness, the true-Self into many by drawing imaginary lines, illusions. This causes the true-Self to look like many, but the many are one in essence. Seeing only the many and clinging to them is to be deluded by illusions. Enlightenment is to be able to see and hear in both ways; many as one and one as many.

 

Student: “What is the difference between seeing this vase as many and seeing it as one?”

Master: “When you see this as many, it is a vase. When you see this as one, it loses its identity.”

 

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Zen

Q. What will become of us after death?

A. No one knows what will become of us after death since there is no one who has died before. However, we can say that what we will be after death depends on how we live, just as we can say that what our lives will be like tomorrow depends on how we live today, even though no one has ever lived tomorrow.

Scientifically speaking, how everything is now is the result of causation, which is endless although we don’t know what has caused us to be what we are in detail. If causation is endless and we are part of causation, it is true that we are also endless as part of causation.

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In brief, saying that death is the end of life is just like saying that December 31st is the end of the year. December 31st doesn’t mean the end of time but means a new start of the next month and the next year. In fact, every moment is the end of the previous life and the start of a new life. And everything is not what it was a moment ago because not only our bodies but also all other things are changing ceaselessly according to causation. So, after death we will be what our causation will cause us to be.

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Zen

Manjushiri’s “Three Three”

Manjushiri asked Longquan, “Where are you from?”

Longquan said, “From the south.”

Manjushiri said, “How is Buddhadharma being maintained in the south?”

Longquan said, “Monastics in the declining age seldom follow the precepts.”

Manjushiri said, “How large are the assemblies?”

Longquan said, “Some three hundred—others five hundred.”  Then Longquan asked, “How is Buddhadharma maintained here?”

Manjushiri said, “Ordinary people and sages are living together, dragons and snakes are intermingled.”

Longquan said, “How large are the assemblies?”

Manjushiri said, “In front, three by three; in back, three by three.”

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Student: “What does ‘Ordinary people and sages are living together, dragons and snakes are intermingled’ mean?”

Master: “That’s the core of Buddha’s teaching.”

Student: “What does ‘In front, three by three; in back, three by three’ mean?”

Master: “That is not different from the number of the hairs on your head.”

Student: “I am still lost.”

Master: “You should know your age.”

 

Commentary:

Don’t try in vain to see what is beyond words with your eyes covered with words.

 

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Zen

Rinzai 43

When there is no cessation even for moment in all your time, everything looks as it is.

But when discriminating mind arises, wisdom is disrupted, your thoughts are changed, and the body ceases to look as it is. This is the cause of transmigration in the Three Worlds with its various sufferings.

 

Commentary:

‘When there is no cessation even for moment in all your time, everything looks as it is’ means that when there is no discrimination at all, everything looks empty. Then, everything is perfect, and you are eternity itself, perfection itself and happiness itself. This is enlightenment which all practitioners should pursue.

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‘Wisdom is disrupted’ means that you have no wisdom of seeing everything as empty. ‘Your thoughts are changed’ means that you are deluded by illusions. ‘The body ceases to look as it is’ implies that the true-Self doesn’t look as it is, or you can’t see the true-Self any more. ‘This is the cause of transmigration in the Three Worlds with its various sufferings’ symbolises the way we sentient beings are living our lives, being deluded by illusions. To sum up, when discriminating mind arises, you are deluded by illusions. Then, you can’t see the true-Self, that is, you don’t realise that you are perfection itself, happiness itself and eternity itself. This is the cause of our various sufferings.

 

Student: “How is it when there is no cessation even for a moment?”

Master: “I can’t avoid answering your question.”

Student: “How is it when discriminating mind arises?”

Master: “I can’t answer your question.”

 

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