Koun Yamada

‘In olden times, Zen practitioners used to go about visiting Zen masters and having mondo [dharma questioning]; this was called angya, or pilgrimage. It was the custom to take along a staff. One day a monk from Baso’s monastery was in the mountains hunting for a branch of a tree to serve as his staff for angya, when he got lost. Eventually he came to a hut where he found an old man who he thought was a woodsman.
The monk asked, “How can I get out of this mountain?”
The old man replied, “Go on following the flow of water.”
And, indeed, by following the stream, the monk could get to the village, but the words of the old man were more than geographical directions. To “go on following the flow of water” is very valuable Zen instruction.
In the practice of Zen we must proceed every day, every moment, quite naturally according to the present situation. All our actions should be as ordinary as the flow of water. To go against the stream is not the way of Zen. When we meet a child, we must become a child. When we meet an old man, we must become an old man. When we are with a senior, we must pay him or her suitable respect. When we are with a junior, we must guide him or her with the utmost kindness. As I have said before, we must use the sword freely, now to kill, now to give life, according to the time, place and circumstances. That is the meaning of the old man’s words, “Go on following the flow of water.”‘ (Commentary on the Gateless Gate)

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