Questions & Koans

Zen

Q. Is there ease and difficulty in the Way?

A. There is a beautiful conversation about the Way that enlightened layman Pang had with his wife and his daughter. He said, “The Way is as difficult as spreading 1800 litres of sesame seeds out on a tree.” His wife responded, “The Way is as easy as climbing out of bed and stepping on the floor.” Then, his daughter said, “The Way is neither difficult nor easy. All kinds of grasses are the meaning of the Way.” In essence the Way, like all other things, is neutral; neither easy nor difficult. It is not the Way itself but our perspective that determines whether it is difficult or easy. This means that difficulty and ease are not real but imaginary, illusionary conceptions created by our discrimination.

Student: “Then, is his daughter right and are he and his wife wrong?”

Master: “Right and wrong are also illusions.”

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Zen

Dayi’s ‘No Mind’

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: “That’s it. Nothing else.”

Commentary:

Don’t wander around looking for yourself with a picture of you in your hand.

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Zen

Rinzai 170

Followers of the Way, there are certain bald fellows who try to attain the Dharma for getting out of the world by applying their efforts to this. They are doing wrong. To seek the Buddha is to lose the Buddha. To seek the Way is to lose the Way. To seek the patriarchs is to lose the patriarchs. Venerable ones, do not be deceived. I do not care whether you are well versed in the Sutras and Treatises. I do not care whether you are imperial ministers. I do not care if your eloquence is like a mountain torrent. I do not care whether you are sagacious and wise. I only care whether you have true and genuine insight.

Commentary:

‘Try to attain the Dharma for getting out of the world by applying their efforts to this’ means trying to attain enlightenment by directing their efforts to words such as the Three Vehicles and the Five Natures, as well as the Complete and Sudden Teachings mentioned previously. Trying to attain enlightenment by clinging to words is running counter to it since it can be attained only beyond intellectual understanding. ‘To seek the Buddha is to lose the Buddha. To seek the Way is to lose the Way. To seek the patriarchs is to lose the patriarchs’ means that seeking them is chasing after illusions of the Buddha, the Way and the patriarchs and being deluded by the words such as the Buddha, the Way and the patriarchs. This is why ancient masters would say that we should treat the Sutras and masters’ words as enemies. In other words, no matter how well read you are in the Sutras and Treatises, no matter how high and powerful your position is, no matter how fluently you speak, and no matter how clever and wise you are, they are nothing before the true and genuine insight, enlightenment because they are merely illusions.

©Boo Ahm

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Zen

Q. What is the meaning of ‘The Buddha is illusionary. Illusions are to speak ill of him’?

A. ‘The Buddha is illusionary’ implies that there is no other Buddha than that which reaches your eyes and ears. If you, imagining that there is a Buddha who is almighty, holy, glorious and splendid somewhere else out of your reach, seek to see or meet him, you are being deluded by the illusion of the Buddha, that is, you are chasing after the illusion of the Buddha.

In fact, there is nothing but the Buddha. We cannot stop seeing and hearing him even for a moment. Only when we are deluded by the names and forms of that which we see and hear are they referred to as illusions. In essence they are all part of the Buddha. When we see them as they really are, we can recognise them as the Buddha. So, calling the Buddha an illusion is belittling him. This is why illusions are to speak ill of him.

©Boo Ahm

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Zen

Yunmen’s “End of the Ninety-Day Training Period”

Yunmen was once asked by a monastic, “If, at the beginning of autumn, after the summer retreat period is over, someone asks me about the future, what shall I say?”

Yunmen said, “The assembly adjourns.”

The monastic said, “What will happen after that?”

Yunmen said, “Pay me for the ninety days of meals.”

Student: “What did Yunmen mean by ‘The assembly adjourns’?”

Master: “He meant the assembly that never adjourns.” 

Student: “What does ‘Pay me for the ninety days of meals’ mean?”

Master: “He who attends the assembly that never adjourns is excused from paying.”

Commentary:

Those who attend an assembly are bound to break up and those who were served meals for ninety days can’t help paying for the meals.

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Zen

Rinzai 169

Followers of the Way, there is no Buddha to be attained. The Three Vehicles and the Five Natures, as well as the Complete and Sudden Teachings are not really existent. All are but expedient means, temporary remedies for curing diseases. Even if they appear to be existent, they are all but surface manifestations, like printed letters on a sign board to indicate the Way. This is my teaching.

Commentary:

There is no Buddha to attain both because we are the Buddha itself and because there is nothing else but the Buddha. There is no more Buddha to attain or to lose than there is the universe to attain or to lose, because we are the universe itself. ‘The Three Vehicles and the Five Natures as well as the Complete and Sudden Teachings’ are nothing but the explanations of how to recognise the Buddha and descriptions of what the Buddha is like. All words, no matter how plausible they are, are no more than illusionary labels created and used for the sake of convenience, not real. In the same way, all Buddhist teachings are but expedient means that lead us to enlightenment and are just temporary remedies for curing us of the disease of being deluded by illusions. Even if they appear to be existent and real, we should not be deluded by them but see what they point to beyond their appearance.

Student: “How can I see beyond what things appear to be?”

Master: “See me beyond what I appear to be.”

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Zen

Q. It is said that our souls go to Heaven or Hell after death. How can we believe it?

A. Don’t believe it. If death were the gateway to Heaven, why wouldn’t those who argue for this idea go there right now instead of struggling to escape from the ocean of suffering? The sooner a good thing happens, the better it is. The later a bad thing happens, the better it is. If they could be sure that they go to Heaven after death, why would they go to see a doctor and struggle to avoid death by all available means when they are not well instead of praying to God to take them to Heaven as soon as possible?

If you want your soul to go to Heaven, you should realise what your soul is and what and where Heaven is above all. If not knowing not only who wants to go to Heaven but also what the destination to go to is, how could you wish to go there? Trying to go to Heaven without knowing either of them is not different from striving to attain the horn of a rabbit, or the hairs of a turtle.

You should remember that to realise either your soul or Heaven is to open the gate to Heaven. The moment you realise it, you will realise that you are already there and have never left it as well. Heaven is no other than where we are at this moment and realising the fact is to go to Heaven. So, Heaven is where you should go while alive, not after death.

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Zen

Cuiwei’s ‘Meaning’

Qingping asked his teacher, Cuiwei, “What is the exact meaning of the Bodhidharma’s coming from India?” Cuiwei said, “I will tell you when no one is around.” After a while Qingping said, “There is no one now. Please tell me, Master.” Cuiwei got down from the meditation platform and took Qingping into a bamboo garden. Qingping said again, “There is no one here. Please tell me.” Pointing to the bamboos, Cuiwei said, “This bamboo is tall just as it is. That bamboo is short just as it is.”

Student: “What did Cuiwei mean by ‘This bamboo is tall just as it is. That bamboo is short just as it is’?”

Master: “He showed the exact meaning of the Bodhidharma’s coming from India.”

Commentary:

See and hear what is neither tall nor short in the tall and short bamboos?

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Zen

Rinzai 168

Followers of the Way, do not grasp hold of what I am saying. Why not? My words have no fixed foundation; they are, as it were, pictures provisionally painted as makeshifts in space. This is the same as the metaphor that words colour the appearance of the true-Self and are only designs of an instant in space, like images painted in colour, or other teaching devices. Followers of the Way, do not take the Buddha for the supreme aim. I myself see him as a privy hole, and the Bodhisattvas and Arhats are things that bind men like a pillory and chains. This is why Manjushri grasped the sword to kill Gautama, and Angulimala took the knife to assassinate the Buddha.

Commentary:

When we read or listen to masters’ talks, the last thing that we should do is to accept them literally, as merely intellectual understanding whilst clinging to words. In fact, they are doing two things at once; explaining or describing the true-Self and revealing the true-Self in person. Whatever they say is just an expedient to reveal the true-Self in person. This is why Rinzai advised his students not to grasp hold of what he was saying.

People, however, pay all their attention only to the explanation or description in the way they are accustomed to, overlooking the true-Self they reveal. In order to rid us of this bad habit Rinzai said, “I myself see him as a privy hole, and the Bodhisattvas and Arhats are things that bind men like a pillory and chains”. ‘Manjushri grasped the sword to kill Gautama, and Angulimala took the knife to assassinate the Buddha’ was mentioned to show how hard they tried to put into practice the teaching that we should kill the Buddha when we meet him and not be deluded by the illusion of him.

Student: “Why should we kill the Buddha that we respect and are so anxious to see?”

Master: “Because that is the way we can see him.”

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Zen

Q. Who determines what actions create good and bad karma?

A. You do. However, you should know that every action is empty and neutral, not good, not bad, and so all karma created by actions is also empty and neutral.  A certain action is said to create good karma or bad karma, not because the action creates good karma, or bad karma in essence but because you think it does. That’s why an action can appear to be different; a cause of good karma and a cause of bad karma, depending on the beholder’s perspective.

Determining what actions create good and bad karma is no other than discriminating, that is, being deluded by illusions, which runs counter to enlightenment. So, ancient masters would say that creating good karma is not as good as creating no karma. In the Bible, Luke 6:37 says, “Do not judge others, and God will not judge you; do not condemn others, and God will not condemn you; forgive others, and God will forgive you.” The best we can do is not to be deluded by illusions by realising that karma is also empty.

©Boo Ahm

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