‘I went to the Temple of the Nature of Reality in Kuang Province. There I found the doctrinal master Yin-tsung lecturing on the Nirvana Sutra.
At the time there was a wind blowing and the pennants were flapping. One monk said, “The wind is moving.” Another said, “The pennants are moving.” They argued on and on, so I came forward and said, “It is not the wind moving, it is not the pennants moving; it is your minds moving.”
Everyone was startled. Yin-tsung invited me to the front seat and questioned me closely about the inner meaning. He saw that my speech was simple and my reasoning was accurate; and that this did not come from writings.
Yin-tsung said, “Workman, you are certainly not an ordinary man. For a long time I have heard that the robe and teaching of Huang-mei came south. Might that not be you, workman?”
I said, “I dare not presume.”
Now Yin-tsung bowed and asked me to show the community the robe and bowl that had been handed down to me. Yin-tsung also asked, “How is the legacy of Huang-mei demonstrated and transmitted?”
I said, “There is no demonstration or transmission; it is only a matter of seeing nature, not a matter of meditation or liberation.”
Yin-tsung asked, “Why is it not a matter of meditation and liberation?”
I said, “Because these two things are not Buddhism; Buddhism is a non-dualistic teaching.”
This is one of the most famous stories in zen; demonstrating how understanding is available to anyone – Hui-neng was a woodcutter’s son – and that authentic transmission from teacher to student was an essential part of establishing zen in China.
Be careful not to assume that when he says that meditation and liberation are not Buddhism, he is advising against them. He is cautioning, as Dogen does in many places, against assuming that those are the sole methods to understand or ‘acquire’ Buddhism.
Typing out the story this time, the phrase that stuck for me was, ‘They argued on and on.’ Never a good idea.