Questions & Koans

Zen

The National Teacher’s Stone Lion

Nanyang arrived at the front of the palace with Emperor Suzong. Nanyang pointed at a figure of a stone lion and said to the emperor, “Your Majesty, this lion is extraordinary. Please say a turning word.”

Emperor Suzong said, “I cannot say anything. Will you please say something?”

Nanyang said, “It is my fault.”

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Student: “Why couldn’t Emperor Suzong say anything?”

Master: “Because you mistake the extraordinary lion for the stone lion.”

Student: “What is the extraordinary lion that Nanyang meant if he didn’t mean the stone lion?”

Master: “An extraordinary lion.”

Student: “What was Nanyang’s fault?”

Master: “That is the roaring of the extraordinary lion.”

 

Commentary:

Why don’t you hear the roaring of the extraordinary lion while being so sensitive to the buzzing sound of a tiny mosquito?

 

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Zen

Rinzai 49

 

Venerable ones, time is precious! Yet you run about hither and thither, studying Zen, learning the Way, mistaking Zen for names and phrases, seeking the Buddha and patriarchs and good teachers, full of arbitrary judgments. Do not commit such errors. Followers of the Way, you each have a father and mother. So, what more do you seek? Turn around and look into yourselves.

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Commentary:

As mentioned many times before, enlightenment is to be able to see and hear everything as it is, which is to see and hear everything without any labels, names. You should know that the Way, enlightenment is not what can be achieved by learning academically and that Zen is not what can be practised by studying in the way we learn a subject at school. Enlightenment is to realise that you are the Buddha itself. Concentrating on confirming the truth that you are the Buddha is true Zen. If you try to find the Buddha externally, whatever effort you may make, it’s just exhausting yourself chasing shadows. This is no other than to grasp at the shadows and lose the substance. ‘You each have a father and mother’ means that you have the true-Self and that you should look into yourselves to see your true-Self instead of seeking it in vain externally.

 

Student: “Where is the Buddha?”

Master: “In the mug.”

Student: “Why can’t I see the Buddha in the mug?”

Master: “Because you see the mug.”

 

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Zen

Q. What do you, as a Buddhist, think of Christmas?

A. One of my favourite Bible scriptures is John 14:20 that says, “Jesus said, ‘I am in you and you are in me’.” Christmas should be a day when we can see Jesus; not the image of crucified Jesus from two thousand years ago but the eternal Jesus. We should see all people as Jesus by realising that each of us is one with Jesus just as John 14:20 in the Bible says.

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Even if Jesus were to be born into this world a hundred times, it would be of no use if we only follow his image without grasping the meaning of his teaching. That is no other than following dead Jesus whilst forsaking living Jesus.

Merry Christmas Jesus!

 

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Zen

The Essential Matter

Shiti asked his attendant monastic, “Where have you been?”

The monastic said, “I went to the monastics’ hall and had a meal.”

Shiti said, “Do you think I don’t know that you went to the monastics’ hall and had a meal?”

The monastic said, “What else could I have said?”

Shiti said, “I was asking you about the essential matter.”

The monastic said, “If you ask me about the essential matter, I say I went to the monastics’ hall and had a meal.”

Shiti said, “You didn’t miss it. That’s why you are my attendant.”

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Student: “What does going to the monastics’ hall and having a meal have to with the essential matter?”

Master: “It has nothing to do with it.”

Student: “Why then did Master Shiti approve the monastic when he said that he had gone to the hall and had a meal?”

Master: “Because you missed it.”

Student: “What is it?”

Master: “You are showing it to me now.”

 

Commentary:

When you don’t miss it, there is nothing that is not the essential matter.

 

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Zen

Rinzai 48

Not even for a fraction of a moment does he aspire to Buddhahood. And why? An old master said: “If you seek the Buddha by karmic actions, the Buddha will become a great symptom of birth and death.”

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Commentary:

‘Not even for a fraction of a moment does he aspire to Buddhahood’ means that the true man of the Way never attaches himself to the illusion of Buddhahood since he is firmly confident that he is Buddhahood itself. However, to those who pursue enlightenment, Buddha, the true-Self, the Emptiness and Oneness can sound so attractive and tempting that a lot of practitioners are deluded by the illusions of them. ‘Seek the Buddha by karmic actions’ means to seek the Buddha by doing good deeds whilst believing that the Buddha is somewhere in the universe. This is a good example of being deluded by the illusion of Buddha. That’s why the Buddha becomes a symptom of birth and death which are illusions. So, ancient masters would advise their students to kill the Buddha if they met Him so that they might prevent their students from being attached to such illusions.

 

Student: “What is the Buddha?”

Master: “The Buddha is not the Buddha?”

Student: “Then, what is the Buddha?”

Master: “The Buddha.”

 

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Zen

Q. What is religion? Why do we need it?

A. Religion is to help people escape from the suffering that all human beings are subject to. The way to help people to escape from their suffering varies according to each religion.

Buddhism, for example, is a religion that helps people to realise that they are happiness itself and perfection itself by leading them to see everything as it is by ceasing discrimination.

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However, unfortunately many Buddhists believe that there is Buddha with a lot of His assistants, Bodhisattvas and that they can achieve their wishes by praying or making offerings to them. This is far from Buddhism. A religious leader who leaves or leads his followers to go the wrong way can be compared to a blind man who is leading many other blind men.

Religion, as a means through which to attain happiness, is needed for our happiness.

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Zen

Shishuang’s “Transcendent Wisdom That Meets the Eye”

Shishuang went to study with Daowu and asked, “What is the transcendent wisdom that meets the eye?” Daowu called out, “Novice!” A novice monastic responded.

Daowu said to the novice, “Add some water to the jar.”  Then he said to Shishuang, “What did you ask?”

Shishuang repeated the question. Daowu stood up and walked away. At this point Shishuang had realisation.

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Student: “What did Daowu mean by telling the novice to add some water to the jar?”

Master: “He stood up and walked away.”

 

Commentary:

If you add water to the jar, you can’t stop being thirsty.

 

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Zen

Rinzai 47

And why is this so? Because, Followers of the Way, you fail to realise the emptiness of the whole universe of three aeons; this is the obstacle that blocks you. The true Man of the Way doesn’t do so. He lets old karma melt away by letting things follow their own course. He dresses himself as is fitting; when he wants to go, he goes; when he wants to stay, he stays.

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Commentary:

‘Why is this so?’ means ‘Why are you satisfied with merely completing the ten stages of the Bodhisattva and content with equality-awakening and subtlety-awakening?’ ‘This is the obstacle that blocks you’ means that failing to realise that everything is empty prevents you from seeing the true-Self. ‘He lets old karma melt away’ means that he lives his life without being deluded by illusions. ‘By letting things follow their own course’ implies ‘seeing things as they are’. ‘He dresses himself as is fitting; when he wants to go, he goes; when he wants to stay, he stays’ symbolises the life free from all suffering, which is called Nirvana, the Pure Land.

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Zen

Q. Masters say we should see the mind before a thought arises. How can we see it?

A. It is very easy. The mind that is anxious to see the mind before a thought arises is the very mind you are looking for. The mind before a thought arises is not different from the mind having a thought at this moment. Seeing the latter is seeing the former because both are oneness, non-duality as emptiness. As mentioned previously, everything is from the same root, whether it be a thought or a thing, and whether a living thing or a non-living thing. If you come to realise the root of only a single thing, that is the root of all things and the mind before thought that you want to see. Whenever a thought arises, trace it back to its root.

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Student: “Sir, what is the mind before thought?”

Master: “It is the mind that is asking me this question now.”

 

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Zen

Caoshan’s “Myriad Things”

A monastic asked Caoshan, “It is said in the scriptures that the ocean does not harbour a corpse. What is the ocean?”

Caoshan said, “It contains myriad things.”

The monastic said, “Then why does it not harbour a corpse?”

Caoshan said, “Those who have stopped breathing cannot stay.”

The monastic said, “If the ocean contains myriad things, why can’t those who have stopped breathing stay?”

Caoshan said, “Myriad things do not stop breathing.”

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Student: “Am I in the ocean, too?”

Master: “Considering your question, you are not.”

Student: “Why am I not in the ocean even though I am breathing now?”

Master: “The ocean contains a lot of stone. Can you breathe as the stone does?”

 

Commentary:

Ask any stone nearby how it breathes, and it will tell you the answer without fail.

 

©Boo Ahm

 

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

 

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