Questions & Koans

Zen

Rinzai 123

Followers of the Way, if you wish to see this Dharma clearly, do not let yourselves be deceived. Whether you turn to the outside or to the inside, whatever you encounter, kill it. If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha; if you meet the patriarchs, kill the patriarchs; if you meet Arhats, kill Arhats; if you meet your parents, kill your parents; if you meet your relatives, kill your relatives; then for the first time you will see clearly. And if you do not depend on things, there is deliverance, there is freedom!

Commentary:

The Dharma is in fact not the Dharma, not the Buddha since it is formless and nameless. The Dharma and the Buddha are just names attached to it for the sake of convenience. So, ‘if you wish to see this Dharma clearly, do not let yourselves be deceived’ means that if we are to see the true-Self, the Buddha, we should not be deceived by illusions such as the Buddha, the patriarch, Arhat and the like. 

‘If you meet your parents, kill your parents; if you meet your relatives, kill your relatives’ implies not that we should shun them, or leave the house to be away from them but that if we see our parents and relatives without attaching any labels to them, we can realise clearly that they are more than just parents and relatives, that is, they are the Buddha we are looking for. ‘If you do not depend on things, there is deliverance’ means that if we don’t depend on illusions, that is, if we are not deluded by illusions, that is the Pure Land, the Dharma itself.

Student: “If the Dharma is formless and nameless, what is the Dharma?”

Master: “What is not?”

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Q. Can we get blessing by praying to the Buddha?

A. If you can offer true prayer to the Buddha, you will be sure to get more than blessing. The condition of offering true prayer to the Buddha is to see and hear him in person. Praying to him without knowing who he is no better than idolatry that is a kind of primitive religion. Praying to the Buddha, only after ascertaining his being by seeing and hearing him in person, is worth calling true prayer.

Paradoxically, the moment you see the Buddha in person, that is, as soon as you fulfil the condition for offering true prayer, the necessity for prayer will disappear since this is the moment of your realising that you are none other than the Buddha you have been looking for. Then, you are said to have gained the universe, much greater than any blessing, for nothing. The best prayer is to see the Buddha in person.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Dongsan’s ‘The Way’

Master Dongsan said, “The Way becomes one with a man and a man becomes one with the Way. Do you want to know the meaning of this? One gets aged and the other doesn’t.”

Student: “Which is the one that doesn’t get aged?”

Master: “The one who is shadowless.”

Commentary:

The one who gets aged is from the one who doesn’t.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Rinzai 122

Followers of the Way, the leaver-of-home must study the Way. I myself was formerly interested in the Hinayana and diligently studied the Sutras and Treatises. Then I realised that they were only drugs suitable for appeasing the ills of the world, only relative theories. At one stroke I threw them away, set myself to learn the Way, started Zen training and met great teachers. Only then did my eye of the Way begin to see clearly, and I was able to understand all the old masters and to know the false from the true. Man born of woman does not naturally know this. But after long and painful practise, one morning it is realised in one’s own body.

Commentary:

This part shows that Master Rinzai was once interested in seeking enlightenment through studying the Sutras and Treatises. After realising that such a method, just leading him to accumulate superficial understanding and knowledge of enlightenment, is far from leading to enlightenment, Rinzai started Zen practice and received good teachings from great masters. Through such processes he attained enlightenment, the eye of the Way and could both understand the old masters and distinguish Emptiness from forms, that is, the Buddha from illusions. ‘Man born of woman does not naturally know this’ means that man born of woman, the unenlightened man who is still subject to life and death, cannot know the Way, the Buddha. So, ancient masters would say that we should know the man who was not born of woman, the true-Self. ‘One morning it is realised in one’s own body’ implies that we encounter enlightenment all of a sudden, at an unexpected moment.

Student: “Who is the man who was not born of woman?”

Master: “He is standing naked before you.”

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Q. Where can we find the Way?

A. Where can you shun the Way, the Buddha? It is impossible to shun it even for a moment wherever you are. Even when you close your eyes and your ears, you cannot cease to see and hear it. At the very moment you are reading this, it is revealing itself before your eyes. When you drink tea, it is in the tea, in the cup, in the teaspoon, in the coaster and in the table.

In other words, there is nothing that is not the Way. Even your body is part of it. According to the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Buddha, the Way appears all around the universe in the various shapes, sounds and names of all sentient beings. That is why ancient masters would say that there is no other Way other than that which reaches your eyes and ears. The key problem is not where the Way is but how you can recognise it.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Jingqing’s Thirty Blows

Jingqing asked a monastic, “Where have you been?”

The monastic said, “Three Peaks.”

Jingqing said, “Where were you during the summer?”

The monastic said, “Five Peaks.”

Jingqing said, “I give you thirty blows.”

The monastic said, “What is my fault?”

Jingqing said, “The problem is that you go in and out of monasteries.”

Student: “Why is it a problem to go in and out of monasteries? We sometimes have to go in and out of monasteries to see other masters, or on errands for masters.”

Master: “Why are you out of the monastery in vain now? Come in quickly.”

Commentary:

There is no monastery in the monastery, but there are multiple monasteries out of the monastery.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Rinzai 121

There is still another lot of blind old rascals who do not know good from bad. They distinguish the east from the west, like fine weather and fancy rain, and like hanging lanterns and uncarved pillars. Look – how many hairs of eyebrows do they have left? If the students do not know that all are supplied with concurrent causes, their hearts run like a dog. Teachers like this are all like wild fox sprites or demons. But the good student gives a deep chuckle and merely says: “Blind old fools, beguiling the people.”

Commentary:

‘Blind old rascals who don’t know good from bad’ indicates unenlightened teachers who pretend to be enlightened. ‘They distinguish the east from the west, they like fine weather and fancy rain, and like hanging lanterns and uncarved pillars’ means that although unenlightened teachers like to talk about koans including the words indicating direction and weather such as the east and the west, fine weather and fancy rain, and the words signifying things in temples such as hanging lanterns and uncarved pillars, they, not knowing the core meaning of them, give wrong explanations to students since they don’t have the eye of wisdom to see things as they are. ‘Look – have they any eyebrows left?’ implies that such fake masters cannot have any eyebrows left since they have told too many lies, because according to a Chinese saying, telling lies causes the hairs of the eyebrows to fall out. ‘If the students do not know that all are supplied with concurrent causes, their hearts run like a dog’ means that if students just follow such poor teachers’ explanations without knowing that those koans have deep meaning different from these inadequate interpretations, they are like a dog which chases after a lump of clay while mistaking it for a lump of meat.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Q. Is it possible to attain enlightenment with love and hate?

A. Why do you think that you cannot attain enlightenment with love and hate? Love and hate are essential to enlightenment. Without them, enlightenment is impossible. The problem is not that you have love and hate but that you don’t know what love and hate are.

When you, unaware of the root of them, are deluded by them, they are referred to as illusions, whereas they are compassion itself when you, having realised that they are the functions of the true-Self, can enjoy them without being deluded by them, in the same way that you watch a film. Remember that enlightenment is not to remove them but to realise that the essence of them is no other than the true-Self, itself.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Shitou’s ‘Ask the Pillar’

Shitou was once asked by a monastic, “What is the significance of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”

Shitou said, “Ask the pillar.”

The monastic said, “I don’t understand it.”

Shitou said, “I don’t understand it, either.”

Student: “Why did Shitou tell the monastic to ask the pillar instead of answering his question?”

Master: “He was compassionate enough.”

Student: “What did Shitou mean when he said that he didn’t understand it, either?”

Master: “Poor Shitou is blamed for being too compassionate!”

Commentary:

The most valuable is not the rarest but the commonest.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography

Zen

Rinzai 120

There are everywhere teachers who do not distinguish the false from the true. When a student comes to question one of them on enlightenment, on Nirvana, on the Trinity, on illusions, or wisdom, the blind teacher at once begins to explain them verbosely to the student. And if the student abuses him, he takes his stick and rudely beats the student while shouting, “How rude you are! Where are your manners?” It is because the teacher doesn’t have the eye of wisdom that he is poorly treated. He should not be upset with the student.

Commentary:

Here Master Rinzai talks about the prevalence of unqualified teachers who, pretending to be enlightened, are misleading students. Such teachers, when asked about core aspects of Buddhism such as enlightenment and Nirvana, just beat around the bush, simply quoting from the Sutras without presenting clear-cut answers. This is because they don’t have their own wisdom from enlightenment. Such teachers are bound to be found fraudulent by students whose practice is well ripened. Unfortunately, when their incompetence is uncovered, they blame the students who disclose it for their bad manners so that they may hide their own ignorance.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

#zen #meditation #zenmeditation #enlightened #enlightenment #zenfools #photography