Questions & Koans

Zen

Rinzai 60

But students nowadays do not know the Dharma. They are like goats, nuzzling and nibbling at everything they come across. They cannot distinguish the servant from the master, nor the guest from the host. Because they want to enter the Path with a wild heart, they cannot enter the Path in crowded places.

Commentary:

They are like goats, nuzzling and nibbling at everything they come across’ means they follow illusions and words. In ‘They cannot distinguish the servant from the master, nor the guest from the host’, the servants and the guests mean forms, and the master and the host means emptiness, the true-Self. This implies that they can’t tell forms from emptiness, which is to be deluded by illusions. ‘Enter the Path’ means to attain enlightenment, or to realise the true-Self and ‘a wild heart’ represents a discriminating mind. Because such students have discriminating minds, they, thinking that they cannot attain enlightenment in crowded and noisy places, avoid them and stick to only quiet places in order to enter the Path.

In fact, there is no place without the Path, regardless of whether a place is crowded and noisy, or quiet. He who can’t enter the Path in crowded places cannot enter the Path in quiet places as well. So, ancient masters would say that a loving child should be able to recognise his or her mother at first sight even in a crowded market place.

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Student: “How can we enter the Path in crowded places?”

Master: “Crowded places are the Path.”

Student: “Why can’t I enter it now?”

Master: “Because you are blocked by the Path.”

 

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Zen

Q. Do enlightened people experience intense emotions and can they easily control their emotions if they arise?

A. Of course, they do. The belief that the enlightened are emotionless like stone results from the misunderstanding of enlightenment. If Buddha, for example, had not experienced intense emotion, strong compassion, how would he have devoted all his life to helping sentient beings?

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They experience the same emotions as we do; the enlightened feel hungry when they don’t have food and feel sorry when seeing the poor. However, their emotional ups and downs are even gentler than the unenlightened’s and they are not swayed by their emotions as the unenlightened are, since they see everything as empty. This is the way they enjoy their lives like seeing a film.

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Zen

Xuansha Hears the Sound of a Swallow

Xuansha was informally addressing his monastics when he heard a swallow singing. He said to the assembly, “This is the profound dharma of real form. It skilfully conveys the essence of the true teaching.” He then descended from the teaching seat. A monastic asking for an explanation said, “I don’t understand.”

Xuansha said, “Go away. No one will believe you.”

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Student: “What is the essence of the true teaching of the singing swallow?”

Master: “No one will believe you.”

Student: “Why does no one believe me?”

Master: “How can people believe you when even you don’t believe yourself?”

 

Commentary:

Why don’t you believe that your words are no less profound than the swallow’s song?

 

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Zen

Rinzai 59

Rinzai said, “An ancient master said, ‘Those who are turning to the outside and applying themselves to it are fools.’ If you master any situation you are in, wherever you stand, all becomes true; you can no longer be driven around by circumstance. Even if in your former, unregenerate days you had committed the Five Heinous Crimes, they turn into the ocean of deliverance.”

 

Commentary:

Those who are ‘turning to the outside and applying themselves to it’ means those who try to attain enlightenment depending on speeches and writings. They are going against Buddha’s teaching that His teaching is beyond words, the Sutras. ‘If you master any situation you are in, wherever you stand, all becomes true’ implies that if you can see a single thing around you as empty, or as it is, at this moment, you come to realise that everything, including yourself, is Emptiness, the true-Self. This is when you are enlightened. Then, you become aware that the Five Heinous Crimes are also empty, which means that they turn into the ocean of deliverance.

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Student: “Can I escape punishment if all the crimes I have committed are empty?”

Master: “When your crimes are empty, both the punishment for them and you are also empty.”

 

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Zen

How do you see this scripture as a Zen practitioner?

John 14:8 Jesus answered, “For a long time I have been with you all; yet you do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

 

When Jesus said, “Yet you don’t know me”, he didn’t mean that his students didn’t see his physical body but meant that they didn’t see what he is when his body is not him that is referred to as the Father, God and the true-Self, the Buddha in Buddhism. So, he went on to say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In Buddhism, the Diamond Sutra also has a similar phrase by Buddha ‘Those who try to see me through my voice and figure cannot see Buddha’.

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There is another scripture that can help us to understand this scripture. John 14:20 says, “I am in you and you are in me.” In conclusion, this scripture means that to see Jesus in ourselves is to see the Father. In other words, we should be able to see people around us as the God instead of being deluded by the illusion of God created by our imagination. Furthermore, if we can see what we are when our bodies are not us, we can see the Father.

 

Student: “Where is the God?”

Master: “In your mouth.”

 

 

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Zen

Was the second Patriarch Huike enlightened or not?

A monk asked Master Jangsa, “They say that all karma is empty in essence when we see it after enlightenment but that we have to repay our old debt when we are not enlightened. Was the second Patriarch Huike enlightened or not?” Master Jangsa answered, “Empty.”

 

Student: “I don’t understand the master’s answer. Was he enlightened or not?”

Master: “Not enlightened.”

Student: “He is one of Patriarchs. Why wasn’t he enlightened?”

Master: “Because you are not enlightened.”

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Commentary:

Even the Buddha is not enlightened until you get enlightened.

 

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Zen

Rinzai 58

Followers of the Way, in the Buddha-Dharma there is nothing to be learned hard. Just be your ordinary selves with nothing further to seek, relieving nature, wearing robes and eating. “When tired I sleep. Fools laugh at me, the wise understand.”

 

Commentary:

‘In the Buddha-Dharma there is nothing to be learned diligently’ means that there is nothing for you to learn hard so that you may become the true-Self, or be enlightened because you are none other than the true-Self just as you need not make useless effort to become part of the universe since you are already it. The harder you try to become the universe by accumulating knowledge, the further you go away from it because the knowledge can become a barrier that prevents you from seeing the true-Self. So, ancient masters would say, “You should not be deluded by words no matter how plausible they may sound.” Once enlightened, you realise that you can’t escape from the true-Self whatever you may do. Then, all you say or do, whether you wear robes, eat, or sleep, is the function of the true-Self. That is perfect freedom.

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Student: “What is the shortcut to the true-Self?”

Master: “Remove all the ways.”

 

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Zen

Q. What is idolatry? Is Buddhism a kind of idolatry because it keeps statues of Buddha in temples and are other religions not because they don’t?

A. Considering that all Buddhist temples have statues of Buddha and the members of these organisations worship them, Buddhism has every reason to be regarded as idolatry even though its essence is very reasonable and logical.

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Idolatry, however, is not to do with whether or not a physical image or a statue of the object of their belief and worship is used or kept. To believe that there is something or someone almighty with supernatural power that is responsible for and controls our destiny, worship it or him and beg it or him for happiness and security by praying is no other than idol worship. In other words, if you have any figure or an image to worship in your mind that doesn’t exist in reality, it is still idolatry even though you don’t have a physical image. I hope all of you ask yourselves whether you are worshiping an idol or not.

 

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Zen

Do we eat raw vegetables or cooked ones today?

One day Master Jojoo asked a kitchen-steward monk who was in charge of cooking vegetables, “Do we eat raw vegetables or cooked ones today?” The kitchen-steward monk picked up some of them and showed them to the master.

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Student: “What did the kitchen-steward monk mean by showing the master some of the vegetables?”

Master: “He blamed the master for talking about worldly food while residing in a temple.”

 

Commentary:

Raw food or cooked food is not monastic food but worldly food.

 

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Zen

Rinzai 57

The Dharma that I expound is different from that of all others. Should even Manjushri or Samantabhadra appear before me and inquire about the Dharma, I should quickly see through what he means as soon as he says, “Let me ask you.” I sit calmly and, when followers of the Way come and seek interviews with me, I see them through all. How do I do this? My seeing is different. In the outside world I do not hold on to either the worldly or the sacred; and inside, I do not stick to the original position. It is because I make no mistakes and have no doubt by seeing through everything clearly.

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Commentary:

‘The Dharma that I expound is different from that of all others’ means that his teaching is different from that of all others who deliver doctrinal teachings based on literal explanation. As Master Rinzai can see everything as it is, he is never deluded not only by the illusion of Manjushri or Samantabhadra but also by that of Buddha. That’s why he can see through them upon seeing them even before they finish asking their questions.

‘In the outside world I do not hold on to either the worldly or the sacred’ means that he is never deluded by the illusions of what meet his eyes and ears since he can see them as empty. ‘I do not stick to the original position’ implies that he is not attached to the original position as well which means Emptiness, the true-Self since he is aware that the original position is none other than he himself. In ‘I make no mistakes and have no doubt by seeing though everything clearly’, here ‘make no mistake’ means not to be deluded by illusions, ‘have no doubt’ means to be enlightened and ‘seeing through everything’ is to see everything as empty.

 

Student: “What will you do if Buddha comes to you?”

Master: “Are you still in touch with such a secular being?”

 

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