Questions & Koans

Zen

Rinzai 174

The ultimate principle of the Way cannot be revealed by theorising or controversy, and it is not by quarrelling loudly that other Ways are refuted. There is no special meaning in the transmission of Buddha and patriarchs. Though there is a verbal teaching, it falls into the temporary explanation of the Three Vehicles, the Five Natures, and the cause and effect of men and Devas. But this does not apply to the teaching for complete and sudden enlightenment. The young Sudhana did not go to look for 53 enlightened teachers.

Commentary:

The ultimate principle of the Way can neither be better revealed by theorising or controversy nor be hidden or covered by silence or speechlessness, both because theorising and controversy are not different from silence or speechlessness in the Way and because the former and the latter are the functions of the Way. ‘There is no special meaning in the transmission of Buddha and patriarchs’ means that there is on other meaning than what is seen and heard clearly at this moment since there is nothing but it. All verbal teachings such as the Three Vehicles, the Five Natures, and the cause and effect of men and Devas are no better than temporary expedients. Ending up in intellectual understanding by clinging to words is not the essence of the teaching for enlightenment. Although the Avatamsaka Sutra says that the young Sudhana went to visit 53 enlightened teachers for enlightenment, it is just a fictional story produced as an expedient, not an historical fact.

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Zen

Q. What is the meaning of ‘Although I say that I have to see him, he is neither he nor you’?

A. Before enlightenment, we are told that we should see the true-Self, the Buddha. We even define enlightenment as seeing or realising it as though there were difference and distance between us subject, and the true-Self object.

However, once we have attained enlightenment, that is, once we have seen it, we come to the realisation that the true-Self is no other than ‘I’ and that words such as ‘I have to see the true-Self’ can’t be established since we are neither separate nor different from the true-Self. Therefore, ‘he is neither he nor you’ means that the Buddha is none other than me ‘I’.

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Zen

Seven Sisters (2)

When the Buddha was alive, seven wise sisters happened to pass a cemetery. One of them, pointing to a dead body, asked the others, “The corpse is here. Where is the man?” One of them said, “What? Why? Why?” All of them attained enlightenment upon hearing these words. Then, surprised to see them get enlightened, a heavenly God, spraying flowers, said, “Oh, my glorious sisters, what do you need? I will be willing to provide you with whatever you need forever.” The sisters answered, “We have everything we need. But if you want to help us, we hope to have three more things; one is a tree without a root, another is a patch of land without light and shade, and the third is a valley that doesn’t make any echo even if we shout.” The heavenly God said, “I have everything needed, but I don’t have the three things you mentioned.” The sisters responded, “If you don’t have these things, how can you save people from their suffering?” The heavenly God went to the Buddha and asked him about the meaning of these things. The Buddha answered, “Even my students who have practised a lot don’t know the meaning of these things. Only Bodhisattvas can know the meaning of them.”

Student: “What is the tree without a root?”

Master: “You are not different from it.”

Commentary:

Seeing things just like dreaming of them is seeing the true-Self.

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Zen

Rinzai 173

You heard of this old fellow Rinzai, and so you came here asking difficult questions, trying to shut me up. If I give you the actualisation of the whole body, you students can but stare stupidly, unable to utter a word. And I tell you that the ass cannot follow the path that the king-elephant walked on. But you, on all occasions, hit your chest, point at your ribs, and claim, “I understand Zen, I know the Way.” And yet whether you come here in pairs or three at a time, these such attitudes are of no use here. Bah! With this body and heart, you deceive innocent men and women of middle-class homes by wagging your tongues wherever you go. The day will surely come when you receive the iron rod. You are not monastics, and you will fall into the world of Asuras.

Commentary:

‘If I give you the actualisation of the whole body, you students can but stare stupidly, unable to utter a word’ means that when Rinzai responded to their questions by revealing the whole body that is the true-Self, they were at a loss for words because they couldn’t grasp his meaning. So, in order to say that the unenlightened cannot make sense of the meaning of the enlightened, Rinzai used a metaphor ‘the ass cannot follow the path that the king-elephant walked on’. He also warns that monastics should not mislead innocent laypeople with plausible and sweet words whilst they themselves don’t know what they are talking about and that they cannot be said to be true monastics. ‘The day will surely come when you receive the iron rod’ implies that such monastics cannot avoid paying for what they do, which is to fall into the world of Asuras that are warlike ghosts.

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Zen

Q. What does ‘You only know that the end of an ice pick is pointed, but don’t see that the handle of it is rounded’ mean?

A. Seen from the perspective of the realm of form, all things are different from each other, and nothing is the same as anything else. However, when we see things as they really are, that is, from the perspective of the realm of emptiness, everything is the same and nothing is different from anything else.

The end of an ice pick symbolises the realm of form and the handle of it the realm of emptiness. This means that we are so addicted to seeing things merely from the perspective of the realm of form that we fail to see them from the perspective of the realm of emptiness. The purpose of Buddhism is to enable people to see things in both ways; the perspective of the realm of form and the perspective of emptiness.

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Zen

Seven Sisters (1)

When the Buddha was alive, seven wise sisters happened to pass a cemetery. One of them, pointing to a dead body, asked the others, “The corpse is here. Where is the man?” One of them said, “What? Why? Why?” All of them attained enlightenment upon hearing these words. Then, surprised to see them get enlightened, a heavenly God, spraying flowers, said, “Oh, my glorious sisters, what do you need? I will be willing to provide you with whatever you need forever.” The sisters answered, “We have everything we need. But if you want to help us, we hope to have three more things; one is a tree without a root, another is a patch of land without light and shade, and the third is a valley that doesn’t make any echo even if we shout.” The heavenly God said, “I have everything needed, but I don’t have the three things you mentioned.” The sisters responded, “If you don’t have these things, how can you save people from their suffering?” The heavenly God went to the Buddha and asked him about the meaning of these things. The Buddha answered, “Even my students who have practised a lot don’t know the meaning of these things. Only Bodhisattvas can know the meaning of them.”

Student: “How did they attain enlightenment when they heard a sister say, ‘What? Why? Why?’?”

Master: “She didn’t say any words and they didn’t hear any words.”

Commentary:

Seeing and hearing are the source of all calamities.

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Zen

Rinzai 172

Followers of the Way, do not seek for anything in written words. It will tire your heart. Inhaling icy air is of no profit. These are not as good as going beyond the expediential Bodhisattvas of the Three Vehicles through realising that karma is empty in a single thought. Venerable Ones, do not delay and spend your days idly. In former days when I could not yet see clearly, all the world seemed dark to me. I could not get beyond light and shade. I ran around in a flurry, asking about the Way. Later I gained strength, and now I am here, preaching deliverance to you, followers of the Way. I advise you not to think of your food and clothes. Life in the world passes quickly, and meeting an enlightened teacher is as difficult as meeting the flower of Udumbara that only blooms once in 3000 years.

Commentary:

Pursuing enlightenment by following the literal meaning of Buddhist literature will consume your time and energy fruitlessly. Inhaling icy air, that is, listening to Dharma talks clinging to each word, is of no profit as well. These efforts are not as good as realising that all the Buddhist teachings of the Three Vehicles are no more than the expediential Bodhisattvas which are the functions of the true-Self.

Life is too short to be spent doing worldly things. Once one has become a monastic, one should apply oneself to pursuing enlightenment without being distracted with concerns about food and clothes. Meeting Buddhism and an enlightened teacher is as rare a lifetime opportunity as meeting the flower of Udumbara which is an imaginary flower symbolising the Buddha. When we meet a good teacher, we should make the most of the good opportunity by devoting ourselves to practice.

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Zen

Q. Does the Buddha really exist?

A. In fact, the Buddha cannot be explained as existent or non-existent, because it is the state perfectly free of discrimination and words that come from it. Being existent and being non-existent are also words resulting from discrimination. The Buddha is the state that transcends being existent and being non-existent. In this state there cannot even be anyone who can ask or answer a question. So, the historical Buddha said on his death bed, “Not a word have I said,” for fear that his disciples would cling to his words. This is why ancient masters would say, “Some people say that the Buddha doesn’t exist, but the whole universe is full of it without any rift. Although the Buddha is said to exist, thousands of saints have difficulty finding it.”

Student: “What is the Buddha?”

Master: “You are already wrong. If I answer your question, I will also be wrong.”

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Zen

Dayi’s ‘No Mind’ (2)

Dayi asked his teacher Sengcan, the Third Ancestor, “What is the mind of the ancient Buddhas?” Sengcan said, “What kind of mind do you have now?” Dayi said, “I have no mind.” Sengcan said, “Since you have no mind, why would you think Buddhas have mind?” Dayi immediately ceased to have doubt.

Student: “I still don’t understand. What is the mind of the ancient Buddhas?”

Master: “It is identical to yours.”

Student: “Then, what is the identical mind like?”

Master: “Ask me again.”

Student: “What is the identical mind like?”

Master: “I am not deaf.”

Commentary:

Don’t mistake the envelop for the contents of the letter.

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Zen

Rinzai 171

Followers of the Way, even if you know how to explain and interpret a hundred volumes of Sutras and Treatises, better it is to be peaceful and a master who has nothing further to seek. If you know how to interpret and explain, you hold others in contempt and create hellish Karma with the competitive mind of the Asuras and the ignorance of man’s ego like the monk Sonsong who completed the study of the Twelve Divisions of the Teachings, yet fell living into hell. The earth no longer could hold him. Far better to have nothing further to seek, and to put oneself at ease. When hungry, I eat my food. When sleepy, I shut my eyes. Fools laugh at me; the wise understand.

Commentary:

Having intellectual knowledge of Buddhism and enlightenment, no matter how vast it may be, is not as good as being a peaceful man who has nothing further to seek by realising that everything is empty. You should know that enlightenment cannot be attained by accumulating knowledge but rather by doing away with it because what can be increased or decreased is an illusion. Despising people with less knowledge than yours and feeling competitive towards those who have more knowledge than you do is to create hellish karma. Once you have realised that you are the true-Self itself you are looking for and that whatever you do and speak is the function of the true-Self, eating a meal when hungry and sleeping when sleepy is much better than pursuing enlightenment through intellectual understanding.

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